The Ten Commandments

It’s Monday Grace!

If you grew up in the church, you probably memorized a few things. Some churches focused on certain Bible verses, like John 3:16. Others wanted you to know the books of the Bible in order. Almost all learned the Lord’s Prayer. And most of us learned the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are an interesting collection of rules. We treat them as though they are more important than the rest of the Law, but I can’t seem to find where the Bible does that. They were somehow distinct, and they were reaffirmed in the Law, but they were not meant to be separate from it.

When Jesus met the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, the man assumed that the commandments that must be kept were the Ten. He even lists some of them in much the same way a church member would today. “I haven’t killed anyone or committed adultery. I don’t steal or lie. I honor my parents.” He does add one, “I love my neighbor as myself,” from Leviticus 19. This is the list to live by, according to the young man. Yet, he knew there was something more.

Jesus doesn’t seem to be particularly impressed with the man’s list. Some might suggest that Jesus knew the truth about compromises to which the man would not admit. But we understand that keeping the Law, even the Ten, was not sufficient for salvation. If you want to be saved, follow Jesus. That’s always the invitation.

But what do we do with the Ten Commandments? I have heard legalists say that we need to nail these all around town to try to force people to keep them. I have heard grace teachers say that they are no longer binding on us, that we should just leave them behind as we do the rest of the rules and rituals of the Law. How are we supposed to view this list under grace?

It was Einstein who said that “God is not capricious.” He meant that God is orderly and consistent, rather than arbitrary or cruel. I do not believe that God set up the Ten Commandments as impossible rules so that we would bang our heads against the walls in frustration until we cry out for a Savior. Nor do I believe keeping the Ten, or the rest of the Law, will save us or even earn points for us with God.

No, the same Heart that sent Jesus gave us the Ten Commandments. We cannot ignore the intent of that Heart just because they were given as part of the Law long before the cross.

To be fair, I don’t hear grace teachers suggest that we should just go out and kill people or steal things or even lie. When they say that we can leave the Ten behind as we do the rest of the Law, most of them simply mean that we no longer have to memorize the list or try to be saved by it. Nor are we condemned for breaking one or more of the Ten either before or after we come to Jesus.

In a general sense, grace teachers are right to tell us not to worry about the Law today. Paul certainly wanted us to understand the difference between being under the Law and under grace. As early as his ministry, just twenty or so years after the Resurrection, the believers were setting aside the simple gospel of God’s grace and love in Jesus to add laws and rules to their salvation. They chose, much as the legalists do today, to go back under the Law. And Paul battled that error.

So, my grace teacher friends are right to challenge the Law in the church today. It no longer has a place in our lives because Jesus fulfilled the Law for us in His life and death. Yet, we all know it would not be right to kill that demanding boss or irritating neighbor. We still know that the Ten are important.

Where do they fit in our understanding of grace? As I said, I believe that the same Heart who gave us salvation in Jesus gave the Jews the Ten Commandments. The motivation of that Heart is the same since the beginning. He loves the people of His creation. He calls them to Himself. The Lord God Almighty called the people of Israel and the world to follow Him, just as Jesus called the people to follow Him.

For the next few weeks, I want to walk through the Ten Commandments to listen for the Heart of God toward us. I will say at this point that I acknowledge some distinction between the Ten and the rest of the Law. I don’t intend to go into other parts of the Law of Moses, even though I think those rules were also given to the people by that great Heart. Instead, I want to look at these commandments that still feel so important to us even as believers under grace.

In every step of this journey, we are grateful for the love of God in Jesus. He has given us everything we need “for life and godliness” in Jesus. Whatever we discover about these Ten famous rules must affirm both our need for and God’s provision of our Savior.

1 Comment

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One response to “The Ten Commandments

  1. Helen

    Thank you for writing about this. I’ve been in the church all of my life and have observed that we still talk about which of the Old Testament laws we are bound to obey today. We want a list of rules, externally applied boundaries. We’re like those kids in a study who were on the playground with no fence, huddled by the building. The kids with fences played on the entire lawn.

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