How should we read the commands of the New Testament? A legalist will insist we read them as commands that must be obeyed. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “If you love me, you will obey my commands?” He did, but he wasn’t preaching law-based obedience. He was saying obedience is a fruit, not a root, of a healthy, loving relationship.
It makes no difference whether you keep the law to be saved, sanctified, or sanctimonious. Being faithful to the law is being unfaithful to Jesus. It’s walking by sight instead of faith. It’s walking after the old way of the flesh instead of the new and living way of the Spirit.
How should we read the New Testament commands?
Think of them as “House Rules.” Perhaps you have seen those posters that say things like, “In this house we love, laugh, listen, help others, say ‘thank you,’ and that sort of thing. That’s what the New Testament writers are giving us in their letters. They are giving us the house rules for our Father’s House of Grace. They are painting a picture of the new and wonderful life that is ours to enjoy in Christ.
Just as you would not kick your children out of your home or deprive them of your fellowship if they neglected to laugh, listen, or say “thank you,” nor will God punish you for failing to keep his house rules. That’s not the way to read them. The only way you could interpret Paul’s Rules (or Peter’s, James’s, John’s, etc.) as commands to be obeyed is if you approach them with a law-keeping mindset.
This is true even when the New Testament writers quote the Ten Commandments, as Paul does here:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph. 6:1–3)
That wonderful promise is lifted straight out of the law. But what about the flip-side? What if we don’t honor our father and mother? What happens then?
What if we don’t keep the rules?
If you know the old covenant, you will be aware that there are serious consequences for law-breaking. But since we aren’t under that old covenant, Paul doesn’t mention them.
What the law says will happen: “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death” (Exodus 21:17).
What Paul says will happen: “________”
Do you see? Under the law you got carrots and sticks, but under grace, it’s just carrots, and carrots that Jesus paid for.
While it is true that Jesus quoted the curse associated with this commandment in Matthew 15:4, he did so while talking to religious people and law-teachers living under the law. You are not under the law.
Jesus and Paul preached different parts of the same law to different audiences for different purposes. There’s a wonderful symmetry here. One used the law to silence the self-righteous; the other used it to illustrate a timeless truth which is that honoring your parents is always a good idea. Whether you’re under grace or law, it’s a good thing to do.
We are not righteous because we honor our parents; we honor our parents because we are righteous. It’s one of the things we do in the House of Grace.