A Fresh Glance at the Ten Commandments
Those whom God redeems, He also sanctifies. Those whom He sets apart to Himself, He also sets apart from the world. That is a theme throughout Scripture (See, for example, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 18-20; 1 Pet. 1:14-16). Like these, there are many more calls to holiness. But all of them are rooted in the holiness of God, and a well-known portion of the Old Testament known as the Ten Commandments. Having redeemed His people by His grace alone, God now gives the standards of holiness which reflect His own character.
An Introductory Summary of the Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments define love for God and neighbor, and categorize God’s moral law.
- They form the core of biblical ethics and holiness which God expects from His redeemed ones.
- They introduce and cover “families” of sins. They are not limited to a single violation, but serve as the larger blanket under which multitudes of sin exist.
- Though all but two are stated in the negative, the commands imply opposite virtues.
Two commandments summarize all the moral/ethical teachings in the Bible (Matt. 22:35-40)
- Love God
- Love your neighbor
So, it should come as no surprise to find that the Ten Commandments are divided into these two categories: Love God. Love neighbor.
Not only did Jesus group all of God’s laws into two categories, He also made it clear that obedience to God’s law never consisted merely of outward conformity, but included inward reality. In other words, the truest form of obedience flows from the heart. Ultimately, we should long to follow the spirit of the law, not merely the letter.
LOVE GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART (Commandments 1-4)
- Respect for God’s unique position (20:3)
Forbids idolatry in any form, putting anything in place of the one, true God (1 Cor. 10:14)
Requires wholly trusting, loving, and worshiping God (Mk. 12:30; 1 Jn. 5:21)
- Respect for God’s spiritual nature (20:4-6)
Forbids using visual representations of God in worship (Jn. 4:24) [God is spirit, and cannot be seen.]
Requires worshiping God in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24)
- Respect for God’s holy name (20:7)
Forbids empty worship, or using God’s name irreverently and carelessly (Matt. 12:36)
Requires reverence for God’s name and person (Matt. 6:9)
- Respect for God’s special day (20:8-11)
Requires setting aside one day a week for rest (intermission), and intentional worship (Heb. 10:24-25)
Forbids unnecessary employment and the neglect of worship on the Lord’s Day (Heb. 10:24-25)
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF (Commandments 5-10)
- Respect for neighbor’s authority (20:12)
Requires godly attitudes and responses toward human authorities (1 Pet. 2:17)
Forbids disobedience or disrespect of human authorities (Rom. 13:7)
- Respect for neighbor’s life (20:13)
Forbids taking innocent human life [Note, murderers are not innocent and, therefore, worthy of the death penalty, Gen. 9:6. Romans 13:7 – God gave governing authorities “the power of the sword.”]
Requires preserving, protecting, and caring for human life
- Respect for neighbor’s sexuality (20:14)
Forbids any sexual activity outside of one man with one woman in marriage (Heb. 13:4)
Requires physical intimacy within marriage, and proper gender roles (1 Cor. 7:3-5)
- Respect for neighbor’s property (20:15)
Forbids taking any possessions that do not belong to us, or acquiring or keeping wealth through fraudulent means (Eph. 4:28)
Requires acquiring property through ethical means (Eph. 4:28)
- Respect for neighbor’s integrity and reputation (20:16)
Forbids lying about, or to, others (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9)
Requires speaking truthfully about, or to, others (Eph. 4:25)
- Respect for neighbor’s assets (20:17)
Forbids desiring anything that belongs to someone else (Rom. 13:9)
Requires being content with what God provides for us (1 Tim. 6:6-10)
Works of Grace
This brief look at the Ten Commandments should accomplish three works of grace in our hearts.
- It should convict us. We are guilty sinners. We are lawbreakers.
- It should drive us to Jesus who took the guilt of lawbreakers upon Himself.
- It should make us realize there is no way we can fully obey God from the heart. First, we need God to create within us a new heart. Then we need to learn to walk by faith, in the power of grace. Even then we long for the fullness of redemption.
The holy Son of God did what we could never do for ourselves; He kept the Law on our behalf. By doing so, He removed the Law’s curse from us.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” … Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:10-13)
And the book of Colossians reminds us that Jesus took the law’s condemnation against us and nailed them to the cross—through His own flesh (Col. 2:14).
What this means is that lawbreakers like you and me may come to God through faith in the One who perfectly fulfilled the law on their behalf. God is holy, and we are not. But in Christ we may be reconciled to God through faith.
[This post is adapted from last Sunday’s last Sunday’s sermon on the Ten Commandments.]