The Giver of Law and Liberty
To faithfully read and respond to the Ten Commandments, we must first understand what they are and are not. We find clarity in the truth that lies at their head: “I am the LORD your God.” This reminder of who God is precedes the instructions that follow. In other words, the I am of God’s person grounds the you shall of His commands. He can command us because of who He is. The psalmist further expresses this: “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psalm 100:3). God created us, and His being our Creator grants Him rights and authority over His creation. Regardless of the efforts of our world to reject the creational handiwork of God and thus His authority over our lives, His role as our Ruler remains unthreatened. He has made us; we are His.
When we remember who spoke the law, we are in a position to grasp the purpose of the Ten Commandments as well as to understand what they are not.
First, the commandments are not a formal list of dos and don’ts given to restrict our personal freedoms. God is not some cosmic killjoy. In fact, if you wanted to provide a heading for the Ten Commandments, you could call them “Guidelines to Freedom.” They do not restrict our freedom but rather give us a blueprint for joy, showing us how life works best. Second, the commandments are not intended as a ladder up which we climb to attain acceptance with God. No such ladder has ever existed! God brought His people out of slavery—from Egypt in the exodus, and from sin and death at the cross—before He called us to obey Him. So we obey because we’ve been “brought out,” not in order to persuade Him to do so. Rather than being rules that save us, the Ten Commandments serve as a mirror in which we see ourselves, revealing the depth of our sin and our need for a Savior—and they show how we can live to please our Savior. Third, the Ten Commandments have not been rendered obsolete by the coming of Christ. When Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and love our neighbor, He was summarizing the Ten Commandments (Mark 12:28-31). What does it mean to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength? The first four commandments tell us. What does it look like to love our neighbor as ourselves? The final six commandments flesh that out. Jesus, master teacher that He was, summed up the ten with the two.
When you see all this, you are ready to read the Ten Commandments and let them transform your life. You must see the sin that the commandments reveal and respond in repentance and faith in the one who fulfilled the law and offers Himself as your Savior. He, the Lord Jesus Christ, will ensure that this law is not merely etched into your conscience but also inscribed on your heart. Give yourself to the Lord and His ways, and you’ll find everlasting joy and liberty.
The Ten Commandments
1And God spoke all these words, saying,
2“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3“You shall have no other gods before1 me.
4“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands2 of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13“You shall not murder.3
14“You shall not commit adultery.
15“You shall not steal.
16“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17“You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.”
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