Bible Studies

How to Make Sense of the Bible’s Commands

Brian Williams

 

Have you ever heard a certain command in the Bible and asked yourself, “Am I supposed to follow that?” Take these verses, for example:

“Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable” (Leviticus 11:42, English Standard Version).

“If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering” (Numbers 15:27, ESV).

“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14, ESV).

Thankfully, the same book that lists all these commands also helps us understand how to think about them today.

When looking at any law in the Bible, try placing it in one of the following categories. This will bring some initial clarity as we think through the issue.

  1. Moral laws.
  2. Laws about ceremonies and religious rituals.
  3. Food laws

The Moral Law

When it comes to the Ten Commandments, we can say with confidence that these apply at all times and in all places. Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount help us to see this. Far from lessening the weight of these commandments, Jesus shows that they go far deeper than mere outward behavior. They force us to examine our desires and our intentions before we take action.

For instance, a man can commit adultery before committing the physical act (Matthew 5:27-28, ESV). If he consents to lust in his heart, he is already guilty. The same is true of anger and murder (Matthew 5:21-22, ESV).

During this sermon, Jesus says that anyone who rejects these unchanging commandments is guilty, and He praises all who follow them and teach them (Matthew 5:19, ESV).

Laws About Ceremonies and Religious Rituals

These laws include animal sacrifices, feast days, priestly duties and related matters. We know that they have now all been fulfilled by Christ (Galatians 3:23-25). These were only the “street signs” pointing people to the right destination.

Every animal sacrifice, every priestly duty, every piece of furniture in the temple points beyond itself to Christ. He is the sacrifice once and for all (Hebrews 9:11-12). He is the great high priest who goes to God on behalf of humanity.

Dietary Laws

In the Old Testament, certain foods were considered “unclean.” That is, God’s people were not to eat them. These laws taught the importance of purity in a symbolic way. In Mark’s gospel, we read that Jesus “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19, ESV).

It’s helpful to remember that while the particular prescription has gone away, the principle behind it has not. Purity is no less important today than it was in Moses’ day. Everything that stood as a symbol of purity in the Old Testament was always meant to point us to Christ.

While the moral law remains and the other categories do not, our hope never lies in our ability to obey any law. It lies in Christ’s perfect moral life and the unblemished sacrifice He made, giving up His own body for all who would put their confidence in Him.

If you would like to read more about what it means to put your confidence in Christ and begin to follow Him, here are some helpful resources:

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