Question: I am confused about the Ten Commandments and their present application. Romans 6:14 says that Christians are "not under law, but under grace." Does that mean that Christians are not under the Ten Commandments? If so, then why try to have a Christian country operating on Christian principles?
Answer: The moral behavior required by the Ten Commandments is still binding on Christians today. Jesus Christ and His apostles affirmed every one of the Ten Commandments, with the exception of the fourth commandment, the commandment that says, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8).
The Ten Commandments are covenant Law. That is, they provide the moral obligations that God imposed upon the Jewish people in His covenant with them. Deuternomy 4:13 explains: "So he declared to you his covenant which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments" (see also Deuteronomy 9:9-11; Exodus 34:27-28).
Every one of the Ten Commandments, along with the specific penalties threatened for disobedience and promises granted to those who were obedient, had legal authority over those people who were in covenant with God at that time. Moses reminded the people of Israel of this when he said: "The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all of us alive here today" (Deuteronomh 5:2-3; see also Exodus 34:27-28).
This makes it quite clear that the Ten Commandments were covenant Law only for Israel, all who were alive in that day. Because this is true, it is correct to say that the Ten Commandments are not covenant Law for the church in the present dispensation.
John G. Reisinger, in his book Tablets of Stone, pp. 98-99, uses an excellent illustration of this. At one time the American colonies were under the laws of England until 1776. The laws of England formed the basis of the covenant document, or legal document, that was to govern the behavior of individuals and regulate the legal system in the colonies.
However, when the colonies became "The United States of America" they united under a new rule and were therefore under a new constitution. When that happened, the laws of England no longer had any binding legal authority over Americans. The laws of England were no longer in force. No one could be prosecuted for breaking any of the laws of England. No doubt, the U.S. Constitution contained many laws that were similar or identical to the laws of England, but that is not the point. American citizens were responsible to the new constitution, the U.S. Constitution.
Question: But what about the sabbath commandment? How does it fit in?
Answer: To put it in its most basic terms, the sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant. Since the sabbath was a sign of that covenant, it had to be a part of the covenant document of which it was the sign. Exodus 31:12-18 tells us that the children of Israel must keep the sabbath because it is a sign between the Lord and the children of Israel forever.
Ezekiel 20:12-20 shows the particular application of this. Israel had committed many serious and grievous sins, but it was not until they had profaned the sabbath that they went into captivity. Again, this demonstrates the significance of the sabbath as a sign to Israel. Breaking the sabbath was proof that Israel despised God's covenant with that nation. In fact, one of Israel's period of captivity was measured in terms of how many years they had refused to observe the sabbath year (Jeremiah 29:10; 2 Chronicles 36:21).
It is important to note that laws and commandments do not establish morality in the heart of man, though laws may create conditions that are conducive to morality. A nation of God-fearing people will fare better than a nation populated by a people given over to flagrant wickedness. The Bible states, "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn" (Proverbs 29:2).