Are the Ten Commandments a bond? Must one follow them in order to be saved?

“The Decalogue is a living path”, “If you love your Lord, walk in His ways, and keep His commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous(Dt. 30, 16)”, states the Catechism in Nº 2057. In the New Law, the way of the commandments with the help of the Holy Spirit which Jesus Christ conquered for us, the route is even more a way of liberation of our spirit, a way which can be walked and which opens our heart under the smile of God, our father, who looks pleased upon us. Furthermore, the fidelity to the Decalogue guarantees us salvation and eternal live.

A big mistake of some sects or even of some actual theological trends which differ from what Christian people have always believed is to deny one has to follow the Ten Commandments in order to be saved.

Instead, we can read on  Matthew 18, 17-19 the answer given by Jesus to the rich man who asks what to do in order to be saved “…but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He (the young rich man) said to him: “Which?” And Jesus said: Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour your father and your mother. And thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. And in Matthew 5, 17, Jesus says that he“has not come to destroy the Law but to fulfil it”.

The Lord suggests to us not only to literally follow the ten commandments but to inscribe them in our hearts, therefore, not just not to commit adultery, but not to look at somebody else’s woman with desire, not only not to kill, but not to insult, which means that the Ten Commandments are still compulsory in order to become saved, although other secondary aspects of the Law are not anymore in force (for instance, not to eat pork, for Christ proclaimed all foods pure (Mc. 7, 14-19; 1 Tim. 4, 4-5 and Acts 10, 5-9) or the sacrifice of animals, replaced by the sacrifice of the Pure Host of Christ, immolated for the salvation of all men).

Saint Paul refers to those old fashioned features of the Old Law when he says that the Law is abolished: (Ef 2, 15-18), since Saint Paul himself states in other passages that the Ten Commandments are still valid: So, he praises the heathens or gentiles who, following their reason and their natural moral sense, abide by such commandments, criticizing on the other hand those who, boasting about the Law, don’t follow it. (Romans 2, 13-15):

“For it is not they who hear the Law that are just in the sight of God, but it is they who follow the Law that will be justified. When the gentiles, who know no law, do by nature what the Law prescribes, these having no law are a law unto themselves. They show the work of the Law written in their hearts. Their conscience bears witness to them…”.  (if the precepts of the Law, the commandments, are written  in their hearts, they cannot be abolished, but they oblige, since man can never act against his conscience).

On the other hand, in the writings of Saint Paul we can also state, that it is said that those who don’t fulfil the deeds required by the Ten Commandments, will not be saved.

So, in Galatians 5, 16-21 he warns:“But I say: Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh…But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are immorality, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, jealousies, anger, quarrels, factions, parties, envies, murders, and drunkenness, carousing and suchlike. And concerning these, I warn you, as I have warned you, that they who do such things will not attain the kingdom of God”.

Here, the Apostle refers directly to the 1stcommandment, “You will love God above all  things and only Him will you worship”, to the 6thcommandment, you will not fulfil impure deeds, to the 5th commandment, you will not kill and indirectly, he refers to the rest of commandments by saying “and suchlike”. As far as the sentence “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”, it must not be understood as they who are led by the Spirit  would not be obliged by the Ten Commandments, because he says that those who don’t follow them, those who fornicate or kill will not attain the kingdom of God, but in the sense that these who are led by the Spirit, who is the Spirit of Love, already love God and their neighbour, wherein the whole Law is resumed- the Ten Commandments are a law of love- They accomplish, therefore, the Ten Commandments  not by fear, but by love: Whoever loves, doesn’t kill nor commit adultery. (See also Rom 13, 8-9)… The sentence must be also understood in the sense that not essential parts of the Law, rites and prescriptions of the Old Testament do not oblige those born by the Spirit.

In the sense that one has to follow the Ten Commandments under the threat of not reaching the kingdom, we can also quote another passage of Saint Paul:“.. Do not err; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor sodomites (we must understand not the tendency, that can be involuntary, but the lack of chastity), nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor the evil-tongued, nor the greedy will possess the kingdom of God “(1 Cor 6, 9-10) (All this has to be understood as that those who, having committed such sins do not repent, will not reach the kingdom of God.) (On the other hand, we must point out that the mentioned list of sins is not exhaustive, although only disobediences to the first, fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth and tenth commandments are mentioned).

Recently, Pope Jean Paul II has ratified the obligation to follow the Ten Commandments in the “Veritatis Splendor” encyclical. There, he observes that “in the sphere of post-council theological discussion, some interpretations of the Christian moral have appeared, which are not compatible with the “sound doctrine”” (Veritatis Splendour Nº 29)

He explains how the Church gives wider currency to Saint Paul’s exhortation to Thymoty: “For there will come a time when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but having itching ears, will heap up to themselves teachers according to their own lusts and they will turn away their hearing from the truth and turn aside rather to fables” ( 2 Tim 4, 1-5; cf. Tit 1, 10, 13-14).

The encyclical describes some moral theories which, appealing excessively to conscience or to an exacerbated freedom, or to artful moral criteria (“consequentalism”, “proportionalism”, the so called “main option”, etc.) sustain -specially the theory of the so called “main option”- that man could stay morally good, persevere in the grace of God and obtain his own salvation even if some concrete behaviour were deliberately opposed to the commandments of God” (Veritatis Splendour Nº 68).

The Pope answers to this question as follows: “In fact, man falls into perdition not only because of the refusal to the main option of having surrendered “freely and entirely to God”. With any deliberately committed deadly sin, man offends God, who has given the law.“For whoever keeps the whole law, but offends in one point, has become guilty in the whole Law”(James, 2, 8-11);“even if he keeps faith, he looses grace, charity and     eternal beatitude””.

In another passage of the same encyclical, it is said that “the commandments, therefore, constitute the basic condition to love your neighbour, as well as being, at the same time, the verification of such love” (Veritas Splendour Nº 13). Similarly, in another place, that the way to the love of God and of your neighbour must be founded on the observation of the Ten Commandments (nº 24).

To confirm that there are commandments which always oblige (the negative ones), the examples of the holy saints of the Old and the New Testament are given: Thus, in Daniel’s book (Dan 13, 22-23) we can read that Susanne, forced to fornicate under the threat of being killed, preferring to stay loyal to God and die guiltless at the hands of her judges, gives testimony not only of her faith and her trust in God, but of her obedience  to the truth and to the absolute moral order: with her availability for martyrdom, she announces publicly that it isn’t right to do what is qualified as bad by the law of God in order to get some advantage” (Vertitatis Splendour, Nº 91).

On the same paragraph, we read about two Christian martyrs: “The Church proposes the example of several saints, men as well as women, as John Nepomuceno and Maria Goretti who preferred to die rather than commit a deadly sin betraying the secret of confession or fornicating. Exalting them and raising them to the honour of the altars, the Church has canonized them for their testimony and has declared true their judgement that love necessarily implicates the respect to its commandments and the refuse to break them, even facing the hardest circumstances, even to save their own life”.

The Councils of Trent and Vatican II  teach the need to follow the commandments in order to be saved: “The Council of Trent teaches that the ten commandments oblige Christian people and that the justified man is also obliged to follow them” (cf. DS 1569-1570). And the Vatican II Council asserts that “the bishops, as successors of the apostles, receive from our Lord…. the mission to teach all the nations and to preach the Evangel all the world through, in order that all men reach salvation through faith, baptism and the accomplishment of the commandments” (LG 24), (Catechism)


The Ten Commandments “are essentially immutable and their liability is always and everywhere in force. Nobody could dispense from them. The Ten commandments are engraved in man’s heart”(Catechism Nº 2072). And in a private revelation, it is said that “although man were to discover in the future some rays which could strike a target thousands of kilometres away, it will still be true that one must not kill. Even if man were to reach far-distant asters, it will be still true that he must not commit adultery” (we quote by heart).

God’s will, Eternal Law, doesn’t change, as well as God’s being is immutable. (Some people pretend that God’s Law changes with time and try to accommodate the commandments to fashions and human weaknesses, giving them the meaning that most flatters the corruption of our times).

The Pope tells us that we cannot reach the accomplishment of the commandments by our own forces, but that we certainly can do it with the help of God and, especially, keeping in sight the person of Jesus Christ and following his steps, since He suffered and died for us.