The Ten Commandments: Where Are They Now?

On Sunday morning, our overview of the Old Testament in church brought us to Exodus 20: the Ten Commandments, and I have been desperate to blog about it ever since!

“1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness [of any thing] that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, 6 and showing lovingkindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

7 Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.12 Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.”

Our pastor took a little tangent from his sermon to address the current debate surrounding removing the Ten Commandments from classrooms and courtrooms. I wasn’t taking notes, so you’ll just have to settle for a healthy mixture of paraphrased sermon and my thoughts on the matter.

When our pastor began talking about the ‘Commandments Debate’, I have to admit I began to fidget in my seat a little.  The truth is, it’s not an issue I’ve ever really felt was worth fighting for, and I was a little afraid I was going to be told that I ought to feel that it is.  Instead, he articulated (*way* better than I could have) exactly how I’ve always felt about this issue (and so many others like it that many Christians take up arms about in the political arena), and went on to put these amazing commandments into their proper context for a redeemed person.

God never intended the Ten Commandments to fix society, or even to fix individuals.  No one can cure their own sin problem by obeying these commandments or any list of rules, and God certainly knew that when He gave them to Moses.  These rules would do two things: show the people the extent of their own sin, and give an already redeemed people (freed, in the Israelites’ case, from slavery to the Egyptians, and in the Christian’s, from slavery to sin) a picture of God’s holiness to model their lives against.  In either case, these rules are not for society; they are for God’s people.

There is undeniably some value in people being aware of the Ten Commandments – I am certainly not suggesting Christians should grab their picket signs to have them removed from public display.  But there is also a very real danger that those who do not know of God’s incredible grace in sending Christ might get the impression that if they are keeping these rules, they can earn God’s favor.  If we want to display this list of rules for the outside world to see, wouldn’t we do better to also display Christ’s own words regarding these commandments right next to them?

From Matthew 5:

“21 Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.

27 Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

In fact, as difficult as it is to keep the Ten Commandments, they are only the tiniest tip of the iceberg that is God’s standard of holiness.  We are doing Him and those around us a huge disservice if we present these commandments as some sort of divine self-help guide.  The fact is, we cannot help ourselves.  We can only be right with God because Jesus lived the perfect life that we could not, and died to pay the penalty that we could not pay.  Christ earned our salvation, because we could not.  We cannot restore our broken relationship with a holy God by following rules.  The relationship can only be restored by complete faith and trust in the One who never broke any of the ‘rules’.  No exceptions.

So where does that leave the Ten Commandments?  Is the believer in Christ off the hook for trying to live these commandments because He already did?  If you’ve ever been tempted by this thought, check out Paul’s reiteration of the Ten Commandments to the church woven through this passage.  I was once again blown away by the consistency of God’s Word when I heard these verses with fresh ears.  God’s standards have never changed, although on this side of eternity, they seem to get higher all the time as we grow in the knowledge of His holiness.  How amazing that His grace is big enough to cover all of my failings!

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