The generally accepted number of commandments, or laws, in the Old Testament is 613. Collectively, these commandments are often referred to as the Mosaic Laws or The Law of Moses. These laws were divided several different ways. One division was laws you should do and laws you shouldn’t do. Another division was ceremonial laws, civil laws, and moral laws.
Several of the moral laws specifically state that homosexual practices are detestable and an abomination to God. Those advocating for the acceptance of homosexual practices are left with two options when discussing these laws:
Use a reformed interpretation to alter the meaning of the words.
Use Jesus’ death as a means to state that we are longer under the ‘law’ so 613 laws are no longer in effect. This option is the one most commonly employed.
It is impossible to follow all 613 commandments 100%; everyone fails somewhere along the line. God acknowledged this impossibility by sending his Son, Jesus Christ to die for us. Through His death we are granted salvation through God’s grace and forgiveness. During Jesus’ ministry he stated, in Matthew 5:17:
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.’
With Christ’s death we are no longer ‘under the law,’ God gave us a new Covenant where our salvation is based on faith in Jesus Christ, not by the works of the law. This is covered in Galatians 3:10-11:
For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.” Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith.
This begs the question, if we are no longer under the law,
What sins are we asking God to forgive when saying the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?’
What sins are being referenced in Romans 6:1: ‘What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?’
What sin is John talking about in John 1:8: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’
To answer these questions we need to better understand the Mosaic Laws, or the 613 commandments. The section of Mosaic Laws, ceremonial, civil, and moral, had a distinct place within the Jewish life as described in the Old Testament.
The New Testament frequently provides insights about Jesus and his disciples ignoring both the civil and the ceremonial laws.
Jesus speaks directly to the Civil Law in Matthew 23:23: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
Jesus is questioned about ignoring the Ceremonial Law in Matthew 15:1-2: Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’
The New Testament provides no evidence that Jesus ignored, or broke, the moral portions of the Mosaic Law. In fact, he stressed the importance of those laws and frequently took time to explain in detail that obedience to them should come from the heart and not a book of rules.
This is seen in Matthew 5: 21-22: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Jesus talks to the lady accused of adultery in John 8:11: . . . Then neither do I condemn you, go now and sin no more.
Jesus discussed the difference between observing God’s commandments externally and following them from the heart in Matthew 23:25-26: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter so the outside may be clean also.
If Jesus talked extensively about keeping the moral portions of the Mosaic Law how do we reconcile this with the fact that He came to free us from the law?
On the one hand we read in Romans 6:14: For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
The answer is contained in Romans 8:2-4: For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
The ‘righteous requirements of the law’ are fulfilled in those who ‘walk according to the Spirit’. This is echoed in Titus 2:11-12:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
Jesus talks about obeying His Father’s commandments in John 15:10-11:
If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.
This text from John leads back to Mark 12:29-31:
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
At no point does Jesus say there are only two commandments. In fact, in the last line, He says, ‘No other commandment is greater than these’. This one statement is quite telling in that He indicates there are other commandments below these two. If we go back and read the first line above this passage we have Mark 12:28: One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
In His reply, Jesus does not indicate that other commandments do not count; he answers the question as asked, ‘Which is the most important.’
Through Christ’s death and our acceptance of Him as our Savior the Holy Spirit enters our lives. Our sins are forgiven through God’s grace. As we walk according to the Holy Spirit we reject godless ways and worldly desires and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. As Jesus said, ‘obey my commandments . . . as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments. We read in James 1:22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself. Do what it says.
Through our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior we become free from the legalism of the Mosaic Law and gain an understanding of God’s will through the Holy Spirit acting in our life. By following God’s will we accept His love for us, and are able to show His love, grace, and forgiveness of sins to others.