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How Christians Live: Keeping the Ten Commandments - Exodus 20:1-17

When David thought about God’s commandments, he exclaimed “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” He composed the longest single section of the Bible, Psalm 119, as a hymn to God’s law, celebrating God’s rules for living. The Ten Commandments used to be one of the three main pillars of Christian discipleship, along with the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer, and yet even in faithful, Bible-believing churches, many people cannot even list all ten, much less understand them and love them like David did.

And so as a re-introduction to the Ten Words, I want to explain the division of the commandments, comment on a couple of the tricky spots, point us to how Jesus viewed the Ten Commandments, and then challenge us to know and love God’s righteous rules.

The commandments are often divided this way: the first four have to do with the right worship of God, and the final six have to do with how humans treat one another. It seems that Jesus recognizes this division when the rich young ruler asks Him how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus starts in by bringing up commandment five before revealing that the rich young ruler’s problem was actually with commandment one, since his wealth had come before God in his heart. We can also see why Jesus summarizes the whole law in Matt. 22:37-40 with the two commandments to love God (1-4) and love your neighbor (5-10).

Taken in themselves, the commandments are not hard to understand, but several of them need a deeper look. The second commandment has caused a lot of debate, with some people arguing against any representational art at all, others arguing that images and art are forbidden in places of worship, and others arguing that the use of images in worship is what is forbidden. But God loves art, and He filled the temple with it, so it’s clear that this third position is correct: we may not attempt to worship God by means of images or art. It’s fine to have pictures of Jesus for artistic or educational use; but we may not use those images for worship.

The issues over the fourth commandment are complicated, and there are heroes from Church history on all sides. The heart of the matter concerns whether we are still called to observe one day in seven as a day of rest, or whether this was part of the ceremonial law that is done away with in Christ. A secondary issue has to do with the change of the day from Saturday Sabbath to Sunday Lord’s Day.

Many books have been written about these things, but for today, I will just point out that v. 8 calls us to remember the Sabbath day; meaning that it’s not a new thing, and then vs. 11 grounds it in God’s own rest in creation. It’s not a Moses thing or a children of Israel thing; it’s a creation thing, and that’s also our clue for the change of day – the only thing that could possibly change a day of rest based on creation would be a new creation, and that’s exactly what happened when Jesus rose from the dead: the beginning of a new creation. That’s why Christians today are still called to observe the Lord’s Day as a day of rest and worship.

When Jesus came, He said that He had not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). He goes on to correct shallow understandings of the law, using commandments six and seven to show that a bare minimum approach to law-keeping isn’t what God intended. Obeying God involves not just our outward actions, but our hearts – murder is the fruit, but anger is the root, and we need to cut sin off at the root! Even more, we need to replace negative hatred with positive love: love your neighbor, and even your enemy, Jesus taught. That’s how you keep the Ten Commandments.

So here is a challenge for you: commit to memorizing the Ten Commandments, and as you’re working on it, spend some time as a household going through a version of the Westminster Catechism, reading and discussing the questions and answers surrounding the Ten Commandments. Allow your mind to be filled with and your heart to be formed by the law of God, until you can say along with David that you love the law.

God didn’t give us the law to restrict us or oppress us; the Ten Commandments are a gracious gift that guides us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and live a life that pleases God. So let’s ask God to help us keep His commandments and walk in His ways, to the glory of our Lord Jesus.

Posted on Wednesday, June 24, 2020 by CJ Bowen