Monday, November 20, 2006

The Forgotten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are alive and well in the earth today. They are not among the long list of dead and forgotten artifacts of the past. They are just as powerful and pertinent today as they were in the days of Moses. The Ten Commandments are not just a prop in some insignificant Sunday school class. They are the unwavering force behind all the triumphs and tragedies of world history. The centerpiece of all civilized and ethically stable cultures throughout history has been the old two tablets of stone.

These tested and tried Commandments are not some set of totalitarian and tyrannical laws that men should struggle to be set free from. Many see the Ten Commandments as the opposite of grace. The Bible makes it clear that they were given out of grace. In fact, the very first thing God said before He gave the first commandment is “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”[1] In other words, He is contrasting His Law with slavery. He freed them and gave them the great laws of liberty. The Ten Commandments were not given to slaves so as to imprison them but to free men so as to guide them.

About 1,400 years after being given to Moses, the Ten Commandments were summed up in the New Testament when Jesus was confronted by the religious "experts" of the day: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[2] Jesus was just revealing that the first four commandments given to the children of Israel are summarized in the statement: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The last six commandments are summarized in the statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

One terrifying yet trendy misconception about the Ten Commandments today is that they were only relevant to and required in the Old Testament age. When we look into the New Testament, though, we easily find the Ten Commandments still full of life and authority. The apostle Paul makes this clear when he warns, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” [3] The Ten Commandments are just as relevant in the New Testament as in the Old.

In fact, if it weren’t for the Law of God, we “New Testament” Christians would have no way of identifying what exactly sin is - “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[4] Without the Law we are completely ignorant about sin, for “through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[5] If we are not able to identify sin we will not be able to recognize our need to have our sins forgiven. If we do not recognize our need to have our sins forgiven we will not see our need for a Saviour. The law, indeed, is our “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”[6]

In our postmodern world, where nearly all of the population (including Christians) cannot even recite the Ten Commandments from memory, we desperately need to be reminded of what they are. Recent surveys have shown us that in the typical church congregation less than 1% of the people can list on a sheet of paper the Ten Commandments, in any order or form. How can we ever expect our country and its leaders to adhere to a moral code that most Christians have forgotten? This is why we must follow the advice in Deuteronomy 6:7-9 and teach the Law diligently to our children, and talk of them when we sit in our house, and when we walk by the way, and when we lie down, and when we rise up. We need to write them on the doorposts of our house and on our gates.

Displaying the Ten Commandments is not the answer to all our problems but it is a giant first step in the right direction. Many revivals in the Bible were a direct result of God’s people rediscovering God’s Law. We must all do our part in whatever way we can to remind our nation about her ethical history and her moral foundation. It is sad that non-Christians have removed the Ten Commandments from the schools and the courthouses but the real tragedy is that Christians have unknowingly removed them from the walls and from the minds of their own homes and churches. The Ten Commandments are not burdensome and oppressive. They form the launch pad of liberty and the springboard of morality. It is just as true today as it has ever been that “…Happy are the people whose God is the Lord![7]

[1] Exodus 20:2 (ESV)

[2] Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

[3]1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV)

[4] Romans 7:7 (ESV)

[5] Romans 3:20 (ESV)

[6]Galatians 3:24 (KJV)

[7] Psalms 144:15 (NKJV)

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