This post is by Matt Capps (M.Div., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). Matt serves as a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship and the Brand Manager for The Gospel Project. Matt is currently finishing his D.Min. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
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For too many Christians the Ten Commandments are impossible imperatives. While we would affirm that God’s commands are good, they seem to bring nothing more than a moral burden that crushes us under the weight of God’s holiness. Our difficulty with the Ten Commandments can be resolved by understanding the aim of God’s law in the context of redemptive history. Furthermore, when we fail to see the context in which the law was given, we tend to overlook the relationship of the law of God to the grace of God.
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me…I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. –Exodus 19:4; 20:2 (HCSB)
These are the words of the God of Israel to Moses as he stood on Mount Sinai and looked back at what God had done for His people, how He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. It is important to remember that when God gave the Israelites the law, their status as God’s people had already been established.
Since Israel was given a new life after God delivered them out of Egypt, the law functioned to show Israel what this new life was to look like. And the laws given at Sinai were not arbitrary but stemmed from the character of God and His original purpose for humankind in creation. The purpose of Israel’s obedience was to reflect God’s nature to the world around them as a concrete expression of their devotion to God. The same is true for Christians today; God’s law establishes a separate and unique identity for God’s people.
However, the history of Israel (and our own hearts) confirm that the ideals of God’s law cannot be achieved without God’s divine intervention. The Ten Commandments expose our sinful motives and behavior for what they are, namely, transgression of specific commands. And we know from experience that the Ten Commandments do not have the power to transform us or liberate us from the power of sin. So, the law is like a teacher who shows us God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and our need for salvation. And the needed divine intervention ultimately comes through Jesus Christ. This is the good news of the gospel.
By faith we receive the gift of Jesus’ law-keeping, which was perfectly achieved on our behalf, and in Him we become righteous. Therefore, we uphold the law by turning our backs on our own warped efforts to keep the law and by putting all our confidence and trust in the One who satisfied all the laws demands on our behalf (Romans 3:31). Thus, when one is saved through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ, they are released from the power of sin and the condemnation of the law. In salvation we are given new hearts to know and understand God’s order for creation. The spirit of rebellion against the authority and rule of God is replaced by a spirit of obedience. Gospel-driven internal motivation replaces external moral constraint (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-27).
Therefore, God’s law is still authoritative and necessary for Christians today. Jesus did not so much replace the Old Testament law as make explicit its proper application to the heart and not just external behavior (Romans 6:14, 8:1-4). Jesus’ idea of obedience moves beyond religious observance, focusing not only on the things we do but on who we are (Matthew 5–7). Only the gospel changes the heart and can lead to lasting change in our lives.
You will remember that when asked by one of the religious leaders to identify the greatest commandment in all of the law, Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. –Matthew 22:37-40 (HCSB)
In many ways, Jesus’ response summarized the heart of the Ten Commandments. The first four of the Ten Commandments have to do with our relationship to God, while Commandments six through ten addresses our relationship to one another. Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). Jesus is the true Israelite who perfectly loved God with all of His heart and perfectly loved His neighbors (Luke 22:42; John 15:13). The Old Testament law pointed to Jesus Christ and is only properly revealed in Him (Romans 8:3; 10:4; Galatians 3:24).
In fulfilling the law through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus enables us to attain righteousness greater than that of religious obedience. Jesus has delivered us from a slave master greater than Egypt—that of sin and death. Jesus was crushed under the weight of our sin so that we could be free to obey God’s commands. Our gospel-empowered desire to obey God’s commands creates a separate and unique identity for us as God’s holy people sent out in His name into the world. Those who love God will express their love for Him in obedience and missionally in their love for others.
In response to what Christ has done, knowing that our status as God’s people is secure, we submit to the words of Paul, who declared in Romans 12:1, “by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”