The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)

Editor's note: This was written by Diana Andino, chairperson of the Dormitories Christian Fellowship, and delivered to the Centennial Christian Movement on the 6th of September, 2011. 

I.             Purpose of the Law
From the beginning of time, God created mankind to have a personal relationship with Him. Of all His creatures, man alone was created in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). 

In Genesis 2:16-17, God gave simple instructions about how Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, should live. Unfortunately, they ignored God and went their own way (Genesis 3). From then on, sin entered the world and as its grave consequence, death engulfed all mankind (Romans 5:12).

But even with the entry of sin, God’s purpose of calling people to Himself remained the same. Out of Abraham, God made a nation who would declare His marvelous works to the entire world. In Isaiah 43:21, God calls Israel “… my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

A large portion of the book of Genesis is devoted to the life and biography of the four patriarchs of Israel, namely Abraham, his son Isaac, Jacob (Isaac’s son), and Joseph (one of the 12 sons of Jacob). The nation of Israel was named after Jacob, who was named Israel by God Himself in Genesis 32:28. 

Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 gives us an excellent summary of Israel’s history. From a small family of only seventy five, God made Israel increased greatly in Egypt. When the Israelites were maltreated in Egypt, God raised Moses to lead them out of that country. Through a series of miracles never before seen, God delivered Israel out of the land of slavery (Exodus 5-15). In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt, God made a covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai. In Exodus 20, God spoke to all people the covenant which is later known as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28).

Originally, the Ten Commandments (also called the law) were given to teach the Israelites how to live rightly before God. As a new nation emerging out of Egypt, God gave them the law to set them apart from other nations. In Exodus 19:5-6, God stated both the condition and purpose of the law.

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

In the course of God’s progressive revelation, He revealed to us several purposes of the giving of the law particularly in the New Testament.  The Law reflects the character of God. It shows how holy and set apart He is from us. These commandments give us an idea of His standard, which is perfection. He demands perfection from us in our relationship with Him (1-4) and with our relationships with other people (5-10).

Another purpose is to make us conscious of sin. Romans 3:20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” So here, it is clear that we cannot be saved by obeying the Ten Commandments. It was given for us to see the contrast between God’s holiness and our sinfulness. It allows us to realize that no matter how hard we try, we cannot fulfill the Law by ourselves because we are not perfect.

One more purpose is to lead us to Christ. Once the Holy Spirit convicts a person of sin, He would also lead that person to look for a Savior. Galatians 3:24 “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”  This is why in days gone by, parents taught their children the Ten Commandments. The children should learn the Ten Commandments, not because they would be saved by keeping the commandments, but because the commandments would show them their need to be saved by the matchless grace of God. 

II.           How the Law should be obeyed
Since God is holy, he requires that we obey His commandments both externally and internally at all times. In His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), our Lord Jesus Christ corrected the wrong interpretation of the Pharisees concerning obedience. 

For example, in Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus gives an explanation and extension of the seventh commandment (adultery). The male Jews then thought that adultery can only be committed by having an affair with another woman. However, Christ said that while that is true, it is not limited to that. They also committed adultery even when “only” looking lustfully at a woman.

The same is true with verses 43-44. The Law tells us of loving our neighbors, but the Jews added that we should hate our enemies (Deut 23:6). So Christ was trying to correct their interpretation of God’s laws. He explains that loving a neighbor means loving all of them, whether they are your enemies or not.

So God requires that we obey His laws completely. Even before the giving of the Ten Commandments, God has always intended that His laws be fully obeyed and kept (Exodus 19:5).
We have already established earlier that God demands perfection in fulfilling these commandments. So now, the question is, “Is there any person capable of obeying the law?”  

Because of our sinful nature, we have become incapable of fully obeying the commands of God. He requires that we perfectly obey all His commands all the time; otherwise we are under a curse.
Galatians 3:10 “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’” 

If you wanted to be right with God by obeying the law and by good works, do you know how good you would have to be? Jesus says in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

III.        Should we still obey the Law?
Knowing that the Ten Commandments were originally given to the Israelites of the Old Testament, and that observing it cannot justify us, should we still obey the Ten Commandments?

Galatians 2:15-16 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

Romans 7:12 “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.”
We know that Paul was not saying that the Law is bad, because in Romans, he said that it is holy. Instead, he was saying that the Law can never make us acceptable to God. However, the law has still an important role to play in the life of a Christian. It:

a.       guards  us from sin by giving us standards for behaviour
b.      convicts us of sin, leaving us the opportunity to ask for forgiveness from God
c.       drives us to trust in the sufficiency of Christ, because we can never keep the Ten Commandments perfectly.

The law cannot possibly save us. But after we have become Christians, it can guide us to live as God requires.

Summary of the Ten Commandments:
Mark 12:30-31 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  
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  1. In Christ we have fulfilled the Law. Jesus said that all the law could be summed up in loving God, and loving our neighbor. Rather than a mechanical keeling of the specific commands, a new spirit or attitude of love will prevent violating the law, as we see in Romans 7:6. "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter."