If it is, then we have all failed because that only places us where the Pharisees were! They were - make no mistake - scrupulous about keeping the commandments. We really must remember that the Old Testament had already delivered the Ten Commandments to Israel; If that is all there is, what purpose, then, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? This is quite a basic point, it does concern me how many Christians find it a somewhat confusing one. Galatians 2:21 states that, 'if righteousness came through the law, Christ died in vain.' The misunderstanding here is quite serious! The underlying idea that keeping the law leads to Eternal Life has no place within bone fide Christian theology.
I must admit that I sometimes worry when I see plaques and signs in certain churches saying things like, "Keeping the Ten Commandments is the whole duty of man." Obviously, that comes from the Old Testament; the commandments are of great importance, but if we are going to act upon many of the things which our Lord stated, especially in the 'sermon on the mount,' we should quickly understand that obedience to the law is not enough. Reformed churches have a particular problem in this area because of their acceptance of 'covenant theology' which means that - if they are going to be consistent - they must still see themselves as being under the law. I cover that topic in some depth here. Now it might well be true that to keep the commandments is the 'highest duty' of unconverted men and women, but we should not - in my opinion - place such signs and plaques in Christian churches. I think I would say that the highest duty of men and women is to commit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ for the remainder of their days; such an ongoing path of commitment clearly demonstrating their being covered by the grace of God, and amounting to a strong indicator of entry into the Lamb's Book of Life.
Let us look at Matthew 19. By a pure coincidence, I recently used that chapter in another article which I just put together.
Mat 19:16: And behold, one came and said to Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?
Vs. 17. And He said to him, Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.
Vs. 18. He said to Him, Which? Jesus said, You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness,
Vs. 19. honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Vs. 20. The young man said to Him, I have kept all these things from my youth up; what do I lack yet?
Vs. 21. Jesus said to him, If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven. And come, follow Me.
Vs. 22. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
Vs. 23. Then Jesus said to His disciples, Truly I say to you that a rich man will with great difficulty enter into the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 19:16-23. MKJV).
Firstly, Jesus made it clear that obedience is the starting point (verse 17). This young man had already been obedient to the commandments, but he already knew in his heart that that was not enough (verse 20), and, of course, he was correct. But, now, in verse 21, Jesus offered what we might call an 'advanced spiritual crash course' for His kingdom! For when Jesus suggested that he give his possessions, or their value, to the 'poor,' He was inviting the young man to join His disciples right there and then! How so? because this is exactly how the early Church operated! The more wealthy pooled all their resources and out of that, the poor who were becoming Christians were supported (becoming a Christian frequently meant the loss of employment for many poorer new converts), and the spreading of the gospel was also financed out of that 'pool'; that is simply how early Christianity worked; we may note, in passing, that tithing is conspicuous by its absence here.
To read more about how the first Christians financed themselves, please consult Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35, and also note the 'A Better Way' section of our tithing article.
So obedience to the commandments can never be enough for a follower of Jesus Christ, if any readers really believe so, then an in-depth study of the 'sermon on the mount' and a concentrated reading of the entire New Testament is urgently required.
Robin A. Brace, October, 2008.