Some brethren claim that the written Word should not be approached as a legal document, insomuch that the New Testament should be considered a book of principle and not a book of law. It is true that the New Testament stands in contrast to the law given by Moses. It is also true that our salvation does not rest upon perfect obedience to law; we are not saved by meritorious works. The most religious Christian must depend upon the shed blood of Christ to remove the stain of sin from his soul. Furthermore, the written New Testament is not in the form of law, at least not in the form of human civil law. It is written in the language of the common man, and intended to be read and understood by the use of common sense. Otherwise, most of us would be dependent upon theological lawyers to explain its meaning to us. This is why many now stumble at the Word, because they look at it as a legal document hard to be understood. This is why many preachers have their congregations searching through lexicons as much if not more that the bible itself to explain their doctrine. The new testament is not written, as is civil law, with the intention of closing every possible loophole. The man who understands the intent of the law, but still seeks a loophole, has transgressed already in his heart.
These facts notwithstanding, it can be clearly established that the written New Testament is a book containing law. It contains history, it contains prophecy, but it also contains law. In the Great Commission, Jesus told the apostles to teach all nations “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. . .” (Matt. 28:20). A command is not a suggestion or a piece of friendly advice. It is a directive from a person in authority to a subordinate, which the subordinate must obey or suffer the penalty. One of the definitions of law is “a commandment or a revelation from God.” So any commandment of God is a law of God. Jesus commanded the apostles, and the apostles command us. Paul said, “the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).
The New Testament contains much teaching which is not in the form of direct commands. Paul delivered relatively few direct commands, yet he said that all of his inspired writing consisted of “the commandments of the Lord.”
Having seen that the New Testament is a book of commandments, or laws of God, we must now ask ourselves whether it is important that a Christian keep these commandments. Perhaps, as some seem to imply, being a Christian, saved by grace through faith, exempts one from the necessity of keeping God’s commandments. Perhaps the Christian is not subject to the penalty of the lawbreaker. In that case, though the New Testament consists of law, it is not binding law insofar as the Christian is concerned. I believe that all brethren would agree that love for Christ is necessary in order for a Christian to be eternally saved. Jesus said in John 14:21, “He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father . . . .” He continued in verse 23, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” 1 John 2:4 says, “He that says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Where do liars spend eternity? Rev. 21:8 tells us that they shall have their part in the lake of fire. Paul delivered certain commands, in the name of the Lord, to the Thessalonians. He then said, “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thess. 3:14). Rev. 22:14 says, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Thus, Christians must keep God’s commandments if he intends to receive eternal life (e.g. Mk 16:16).
The following things are specifically identified as commands in the New Testament: to love one another (John 15:17), to withdraw from the disorderly (2 Thess. 3:6), to work and to eat our own bread (2 Thess. 3:12), to remain married to one’s spouse (1 Cor. 7:10), to be baptized (Acts 10:48), for a woman to be in subjection (1 Cor. 14:34), to repent (Acts 17:30), to keep the teachings of the apostles (1 Cor. 14:37 ff; 2 Pet. 21:21; 1 Tim. 4:11; 2 Pet. 3:2).
The great truth which should be presented concerning the New Testament is that it is a book of law, but it is not merely a book of law. It is written to regulate our conduct, but more basically, to regulate the thoughts of our hearts. It is a book which reveals Christ, the gift of God’s love, and is designed to remold the intellect, the emotions, and the will of man. The obedience demanded by the New Testament is, in some cases, as specific as the obedience demanded by the Law of Moses.
If one hates God, they will of necessity hate his commandments. Those who hate God are an abomination to him and worthy of death (Rom 1:30-32). If one’s heart is right toward God, there will be no reluctance to follow the pattern laid down by Christ and the apostles, even to the most specific details. After all, if we love God, we will keep his commandments (Jn 14:15)!