I plan to take a closer look at each of the 10 Commandments over the next few posts, considering their application to believers in the church today. My goal is not to cover every issue in one post, but deal with specific issues as I work through the commandments. This first post will deal with the overall purpose of them.
First, let’s consider one of the reasons why God gave the people of Israel the Ten Commandments in the first place.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
What is the often the most overlooked and yet important parts of Exodus 20? The key line is verse 2 of Exodus 20. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
The context in which the commandments were written is key! In verse 2, God is reminding His people that He has already brought them out of bondage. In other words, before God gave the people of Israel any rules, He was already their God. God had set His grace on people who were in prison, or “bondage” with no hope, and He rescued them. That is what God does for all those who have been redeemed by Christ. God looked at us like He looked at Israel in bondage, and He set His people free from their taskmaster–sin. Christ “breaks the power of cancelled sin” and sets the “prisoner free” as the well-known song goes.
God’s chosen people in any time period were not going to gain favor with God through obedience, but out of a response to the unmerited grace of God. There is a wrong and right way for us to obey the Ten Commandments. The right way is to obey God because He is your God. The wrong reason is to obey to get Him to be your God. To follow the rules to get to heaven is not how God intended things to work, for attempting that is impossible and will only bring despair! No lifestyle can ever inherit God’s love.
Notice that Exodus 20 is a parallel to Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and the rest of the New Testament. In the NT, what is the pattern we always see? First, God expounds on spiritual deliverance and victory, and then He lays out what obedience should look like. Ephesians 1-3 teaches us about God’s deliverance and grace, while chapters 4-6 teach how believers are to obey in light of God’s deliverance. In Colossians, the first two chapters are proclaiming the sufficiency of those who are in Christ, while the remaining chapters focus on obedience and a changed life because of that deliverance. In Exodus 20, we see deliverance in verse 2, and the following verses laying out the obedience. You must first be delivered in order to be genuinely obedient, and it’s always been that way in God’s plan. A person can only earn favor with God by being born-again, given a new nature by God.
In the game of baseball, when the ball is coming home to the catcher with a man rounding third base attempting to score, players are taught to “Catch the ball before you tag.” Yet often even professional baseball players find themselves in trouble when they get ahead of themselves, when they see the runner coming down the third base line at full speed. They get too worried about the collision with the ball coming their way, and somehow the ball gets away from them before applying the tag. As hard as it can be sometimes, baseball players must concentrate on catching the ball before they tag. The sequence is critical.
Spiritually, the sequence is critical. Deliverance before obedience is the correct sequence. Both are important, but if you flip–flop and never repent of your sin and trust in Christ and His finished work, it’s the difference between heaven and hell. What happens when you get these out of order? If you try to obey before you have been delivered from your sin, either you will be self-righteous, or you will quit the Christian life. When you find yourself angry as you obey God, just angry at living the Christian life, you likely have the sequence out of order. You are trying to obey without His deliverance in mind.
The 10 Commandments Reveal the Sinfulness of Man
If we go to random people on the street and ask them if they are a sinner, they will often say no. I don’t believe that they are lying most of the time, I just think that man’s heart is incredibly sinful and deceptive.
The Ten Commandments were not given to us to show us how awesome we are, but how sinful we are and how much we all need a Savior. They reveal God’s holy, righteous and just character. None of us are perfect or even close to God’s standard, for even the good things that we do are not done for the ultimate good of God’s glory. Sin is not ultimately a falling short of obeying the Ten Commandments, but is actually much more serious, for sin is rebellion against the holy nature of God. You could say the Ten Commandments act as a mirror or an X-ray machine, revealing to man their true condition before God.
Let me put it this way: People are on their way to hell for rejecting God, and specifically for rejecting God in the person of Jesus Christ…NOT for breaking the laws given to Israel on Mt. Sinai. The law merely reveals to us God’s character. The standard is perfection, and the only way for salvation is through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Which leads us to the final point.
The 10 Commandments Lead Man to Christ.
God graciously gives us the Ten Commandments to show man their need for Christ’s finished work on the behalf of sinners. Eternal destiny is determined by what you do with Jesus, not what you do with the Law. Paul writes that, “the law [which includes the Ten Commandments] was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Again, he says, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). In other words, the most important purpose for which the Lord gave the Ten Commandments was to show us that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Thus Paul insists that, “Through the law we become conscious of sin” (Rom. 3:20; cf. 4:15), and again, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet” (Rom. 7:7).
In this sense the Ten Commandments are intended to lead us to despair in our ability and attempts to earn salvation by our own efforts. Rather, we must cast ourselves upon the mercy of the sinless Son of God who alone can save. James declared, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10); Paul insisted that no law breaker “will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10). In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that these commandments reach beyond mere outward behavior and strike the very depths of our hearts. For example, most of us have never taken a human life. However, all of us have unjustly thought evil of another (Matt. 5:21-30). We are all law breakers.
As the Lord Jesus bore our sin, he also did so as a sinless Savior. He kept the law perfectly in our place. Hebrews states that Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22). Jesus is thus supremely qualified to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). When we receive him by faith his righteousness becomes ours. Thus, each of the Ten Commandments provides for us a reason why we need Jesus. May each one of us consider each of them in turn and allow them to point us to him who “is the way and the truth and the Life” (John 14:6).
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long (Psalm 119:97).
This love comes not because the Ten Commandments are the source of life, but because they are the means God uses to open our hearts today to the life that is in Jesus Christ. My friend, do you see your sin for the evil that it is against your Creator? Do you acknowledge that deliverance is out of your reach by your own efforts? Do see your need for Jesus? Respond without delay to the freedom found in Christ, for He will freely pardon (Isa. 55:7).