From Pastor to Elders

Keeping the Commandments

James A. Cress was the General Conference Ministerial Secretary when he wrote this article.

We applaud the renewed interest in God’s commandments as evidenced by the upcoming, first-ever “Ten Commandment Day” and its sponsors’ keen interest in godly living, spiritual renewal, and the challenge of turning hearts and minds toward our eternal God and His unchanging law. As longtime advocates of a grace-motivated observance of the entire Decalogue by born-again Christians, Adventists can and should enthusiastically affirm those who are now standing up for God’s law in the midst of a world that appears to ignore it.

This renewed emphasis on the moral law of God stands in welcome contrast to the messages all-too-frequently heard in some pulpits, which give distinct impressions that Christians can safely ignore the requirements of the Ten Commandments because they have all been “nailed to the cross” and are no longer of importance to followers of Jesus. At the same time, those of us who have labored in this field for some time can and should humbly offer a few crucial observations to this growing movement of sincere believers who share our deep concern for the role of faith and Christian influence in culture. “What would Jesus do?” is still the most helpful guideline as we communicate to our secular society the clear mandates of God’s eternal law. All other observations grow out of this conviction.

Emulate rather than legislate. Jesus didn’t lobby the Roman Senate for legislation requiring observance of the commandments by citizen and subject alike—and not because He believed the world at the turn of the last millennium wasn’t truly decadent and in need of the moral law. Jesus did, however, frequently invite people everywhere to follow Him, to emulate His perfect observance of the commandments through a life of abiding trust in His heavenly Father.

Repose rather than impose. No one held the law of God in higher esteem than Jesus. He consistently kept the law and taught others to do the same. To those who sought to nullify the Ten Commandments, our Lord underscored their unchanging verity. For those who mistakenly believed that law-keeping was a means of salvation, He described his Messianic mission as laying down His life for the sins of the whole world, including scrupulous law keepers. 

To those who had turned the law into a tiresome list of do’s and don’ts, Christ said in clear, liberating tones, “Come unto me and you will find rest for your souls.” He taught that the Sabbath of the Decalogue was for celebrating God’s salvation, not earning it. His spiritual rest was about reposing by faith in God’s grace through His appointed, perfect, paschal Lamb. Never once did Christ dismiss or diminish the law, and not once did He seek to impose it on others. His kingdom, He proclaimed, was one of grace, truth, and the awesome freedom to choose.

Show rather than tell. Jesus didn’t print up bumper stickers so His disciples could “share their faith.” He wasn’t bashful about the law; it’s just that the Creator knew best how to win back His wayward creatures. The integrity of His faithful life of obedience to His Father’s will made ordinary people want to follow Him, not a petition drive, not a lapel pin, not a two-ton monument in a public building, and not a national holiday. Jesus “walked the walk”! And His relatively few words on this subject had power and authority precisely because they were consistent with His example. When He encouraged others to thoughtfully observe God’s law, He had already shown them how by the way He lived His life.

Shine rather than whine. Our Savior didn’t moralistically whine about the moral decline of the world around Him or the evils of a secular government. He didn’t join the picket lines, He didn’t form a political action committee, and He didn’t rally the troops to decry the decay of culture. In fact, He directed His most severe critiques of culture at the very folks who should have been most positively influencing culture but who, in attitude and action, appeared to have conformed to the spirit of this world instead. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Influence, is a matter of shining, not whining. 

Motivate with love rather than with law. Better than any of us, Jesus understood that law is a terrible motivator. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “you will want to keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Love is the great motivator in our lives and the great transformer of culture. Not law. Not guilt. Not shame. Not rhetoric. Not slogans. Just love!

It is ironic that the zeal of our advocacy for something inherently holy and just and good (Romans 7:12) could easily turn into just another form of legalism and defeat the very purpose for which we strive unless we look to Jesus’ example. If we insist that people who claim no connection with Christ must nevertheless observe the Ten Commandments, we end up advocating legalism, a form of godliness without the power of a living relationship with God, wrought by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

James A. Cress
Ministerial Association Secretary