This year for upper school chapel we will start the year by going through the Ten Commandments—the classic summary of Christian ethics.
The contemporary church has often struggled with how to apply God’s law with some taking the view that we can earn our way to heaven by doing good works, and others believing that the moral law is irrelevant for us who are in Christ.
The legalist, such as the Pharisees of the New Testament, or the Pelagian of the 3rd century AD as well the Muslim believes that the doing of the moral law justifies oneself before God. There is a famous passage in the Qu’ran, the Muslim holy book, that explains that in the last judgement Allah will weigh all of our deeds on the scales of justice and those whose deeds are ‘heavy’ will be condemned to hell (Qu’ran 21:47).
The antinomian (anti- νομος; the Greek word ’nomos’ means law) believes that since we are saved by grace, God’s law no longer applies to us. Our own island, Aquidneck Island, was a refuge for a group of antinomians led by Anne Hutchinson who were expelled out of Boston by the decedents of the Puritans.
There is, of course, a third and better way. Scripture tells us that the moral law was instituted by God and is eternally applicable today. Against the legalist, we do not believe that our actions to obey the moral law are not to get into heaven but because we know that the law was instituted for our good. “Honor your father and your mother,” Yahweh says, “so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving.” But we are also not antinomians, for we hold that while the law was fulfilled in Christ, Christ himself re-articulated a summary of the 10 Commandments in the Greatest Commandment and what some call the “golden rule:” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all our strength.’ The second is like this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
Some questions to discuss at the dinner table with your children might be:
- What is the role of the law in the life of the Christian?
- Why are there certain laws from the Old Testament that we do not follow?
- How is our approach to the 10 Commandments different than our Muslim friends?