And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“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. You 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, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“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.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but 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. For 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.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
“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” (Exodus 20:1-17).
These words from Scripture are familiar to anyone who has read the Bible for any length of time—and even if one has never read the Bible, they are likely familiar. This section of Exodus, known as the Ten Commandments (literally “ten words”), forms the beginning and basis of God’s law (specifically the moral law). Over the next several posts, we will look closely at the commandments, including the original intent and how they are to be applied to the life of a believer. In this post, we’ll take a broad view of the passage, including its purpose and relevance to the life of the New Testament Christian.
The Context and Purpose: Deliverance
It’s important as we begin to acknowledge the context and purpose of this passage. The context is given a short summary statement: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The Lord had just brought Israel out of slavery. The sentence of death He decreed on the firstborn had broken the will of Pharaoh (though he would quickly change his mind, resulting in the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea). That night would mark the first Passover (“pass over”). The Lord had conquered Egypt and claimed Israel as His own. Thus, He gave the covenant to Moses at Sinai to teach Israel how to live before Him.
Though many people try to live by the Ten Commandments to “be good,” that is not, nor ever was, their intent. Note that the first thing God says is that “I have [already] saved you.” The Ten Commandments, and indeed the law in general, was never intended as a means of salvation (Gal. 3:21). In fact, Paul says, that the law is not for the righteous, but the unrighteous. He writes,
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:8-10).
Why does the righteous person not need the law? Because the law is already written on his heart. His obedience is not from an external standard but simply comes from who he is. In the same way, Israel’s response to the law was to proceed from the ground of deliverance, rather than the other way around. Those who exercised faith in the Lord would obey His commandments, showing the reality of their faith.
The Ten Commandments for Us
If it’s true (and it surely is, coming from Scripture), that the law is not for the righteous, then what relevance does this passage have for us, or is it even relevant at all? Though one pastor recently made headlines by stating that the Ten Commandments are not for believers, the Word of God disagrees:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Taking this passage at face value, we must conclude that the Ten Commandments (and indeed all Scripture) is relevant to the follower of Christ. Its value for us lies in Paul’s statement of purpose: “Scripture is profitable [useful] for . . . training in righteousness.” When one is saved, he does not automatically know how to live as a believer, though the desire to obey God’s Word is present. Scripture, then, is used by God to show us what it “looks like” to walk in obedience to Him. (For a look at this, see “Growing in Christ: Our Training Manual”).
To use James’ picture, the law is like a mirror that one looks at to see his reflection. The mirror shows us what we look like in comparison to God’s eternal standards. When we fall short (as we always do), we are to confess and repent, adjusting our thinking and our behaviors to align with Scripture. It is this mirror into which we will look throughout this series, finding the areas that God is calling us to look more like Christ.