Two Wrong Ways to View the Ten Commandments

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Exodus 20 is one of two places in the Bible where we find what is known as The Ten Commandments. The other place you can find the Ten Commandments is Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The actual “commandments” are found in Exodus 20:3-17. They are listed as the stipulations for keeping the covenant that God established with his people in Exodus 19:4-5. Many people are familiar with the Ten Commandments, but there are two common errors that come along with thinking about the Ten Commandments. Let’s think for a moment about two wrong ways to view the Ten Commandments.

First, we should not view the Ten Commandments as a list of rules to follow as the basis for our relationship with God. There used to be a kid in my school years ago that would say things like, “I’ll be your friend if you go get an extra milk for me.” I remember he actually convinced another kid to run around the school two times in return for his “friendship.” In the case of this kid, friendship was the prize, but it was all based on what someone would do for him. The Ten Commandments are not like random or meaningless rules to follow so that we will be friends with God.

Instead, we are friends with God because God makes us his friends. God lets his people know loud and clear that their relationship to him is due to his work when he says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). Having a relationship with God is a work of God. So, following the commandments of God is not a way to earn his love. His love is what rescues us.

Second, we should not view the Ten Commandments as old rules that have no contemporary significance for the Christian. Even though most people in the world have heard of the Ten Commandments, even many Christians struggle to name them all. Could this be because we view them as part of the Old Testament, and therefore unimportant for living as a Christian? After all, since Jesus obeyed all of God’s law for us, do we even have to worry about trying to obey them ourselves? It is easy to think this way. But the gospel isn’t good news that God forgets about his law. The gospel is the good news that God himself fulfills the law in our place as the basis of our relationship with him, but then empowers us to keep his law as the evidence of our relationship with him.

In the gospel, God does not say, “Based on how well you follow my commands, I will be your God and friend.” In the gospel, God say, “Because I have become your God and friend through my work alone, you are now expected to live according to my will.” One of the greatest sources of assurance comes through obedience to the law of God. The Ten Commandments are therefore not a test to pass in order to be with God, but a test that shows we are already with him. John puts it this way:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

The Ten Commandments are not a heavy burden placed on our shoulders as we try to climb the mountain to get to God. They are a grace that shows us who God is and what life with God is like. They are the evidence that proves God has chosen and people for himself and has chosen to reveal himself to them.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

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