And God spake all these words, saying, I am the
LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the
house of bondage. (Exodus 20:1-2)
You and I are beginning 2008 wisely: we are commencing a study of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, so that we may evaluate our lives in the light of God’s expressed will for us. We’re taking a spiritual inventory, so to speak.
Examining the Ten Commandments is always a profitable venture.
But it is equally a risky venture.
We Americans simply don’t know what to make of the Ten Commandments. We laud them in the public realm, even championing monuments built with the Decalogue inscribed on them – yet you and I don’t know how to handle the Commandments properly. We think that if only you and I could somehow keep them perfectly, then God will be pleased with us. Then we’d get into heaven, just as those Israelites of old had to keep the law in order to get into heaven.
It’s that unbiblical, flawed thinking that often prompts you and me to loathe God’s law when we should love it.
In the New Testament, there are plenty of guidelines for holy living for us Christians: see Ephesians 4-6 or Romans 12-16, for example. You and I tend to misinterpret and thus avoid those sections just as we do the Decalogue in the Old Testament, because we categorize these scriptures as rules God gave us to get into heaven.
In truth, they are authoritative guidelines for your life because you are headed to heaven.
Don’t miss the “therefores” of Scripture. The Holy Spirit has given you and me the moral law as a consequence (“therefore, present your bodies …”) of our salvation – not as a means to earn salvation. This morning, you and I are going to study the preface to the Ten Commandments to understand that they were given in the context of God’s grace. You are to walk according to God’s ways because of who He is as your Creator and as your Redeemer.
This study will be most profitable for you – but only as you first understand that living by the Word is a response to the gracious character of your Creator and Redeemer.
The preface to the Decalogue first teaches you that holy living – honoring father and mother, not worshipping idols, to name a few – is your response to God your Creator.
God spoke the words you and I are about to study, we’re told in verse 1. And in verse 2 the Lord sets forth His authority over you by describing Himself as the LORD your God. As Creator, He alone has the right to dictate authoritative truth to you and me. Indeed, He alone is the Source of all truth.
The Psalms in particular express a creaturely humility that is foreign to our modern minds. Think of Psalm 100, which calls you and me to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” In that psalm, we are reminded that it is “God who hath made us, and not we ourselves.” What an alien concept in 2008!
These days, you and I are taught that we are the products of random evolutionary process. Material, the unbelieving world posits, always has existed; creation out of nothing is a dated and ignorant concept. Much as the ancient Egyptians ascribed their existence to false gods, you and I credit our existence to the god of science or to the god of Darwinian evolution. We then think we are free to live as we please, free of the dictates of anyone or anything.
The fact is, you always answer to some authority. St. Paul in Romans 6 says you are the slave of whomever or whatever you yield your body to serve. Modern Americans, even Greene Countians, do whatever feels pleasurable to them physically, or they obey the dictates of pride (“You’ve got to have this job/house/car to be somebody”), or they craft their own religion (“My ‘God’ wouldn’t do this or that”).
There are many competing sources of authority in your heart and life right now. Your body cries out for one thing, your ego for another, the culture still another.
But just as in ancient Israel, there is only One Source of authority you must obey, and He graciously has revealed Himself to you in these Ten Words.
Holy living, or walking by the Ten Commandments, secondly must be your response to God your Redeemer.
When the Lord introduces these commandments to His people (both Old and New Covenant believers), He does so only after speaking these words: “… Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Likewise in the New Testament, Paul tells husbands to love their wives and wives to submit to their husbands only after he first tells them (us!) who they are in Christ Jesus. The “therefores” of Scripture are indispensable, because holy living is your necessary, or consequential, response to God’s grace, not your effort to earn salvation.
The Lord had a gracious and eternal plan for His people Israel: they were to be His peculiar people, His special treasure on the earth. They were to reflect His holiness and goodness as they lived in the best land on earth, free from fear of their enemies. To reach that point, though, God had to lead them out of the land of Egypt.
Now Egypt was not just any old land. You and I move around with great freedom these days; you might live in Los Angeles for a few years and then move to New York without a second thought. A house is a house, right?
Not back then. And not in Egypt.
Egypt was the house of bondage for Israel, because the Egyptians worshipped handcrafted gods who were no gods at all. The Egyptians hated God’s people and enslaved them, consigning the Jews to bitter and spirit-crushing servitude. Israel could not worship the one, true God as she was intended to worship; and when the Lord spoke sweet promises of comfort earlier in Exodus, the people could not even respond to those promises because their souls were so heavy with enslavement and bitterness.
But the Lord, true to His gracious promises to the fathers of Israel, delivered the Jews from the world’s mightiest army by a miraculous redemption. Plague by plague, He obliterated Egypt’s idols, and eventually He overruled nature and sent death to the Egyptians in order to lead His people out of slavery and into freedom. This salvation came because Israel was God’s chosen and privileged nation, and they were to be on mission for Him in His earth. Hence the Decalogue was their guide in living the redeemed life before the nations of the earth.
Your deliverance from spiritual slavery, however, was far greater.
St. Paul doesn’t mince words in Romans 6 as he describes you and me as once the slaves of sin. When you were “free” from righteousness, you actually weren’t free at all. You were bound to the cruelest of masters – sin – and earned the wages of that sin: shame and death. What Adam earned in Eden, you and I earned before our conversion to Christ.
How bitter it would be if the shame of your rebellious past had the last word. How bitter it would be if Freeman Funeral Home had the last word. How bitter it would be if you, in this life, were bound to serve a master that only robbed you of life and rewarded you with the wrath of God in the world to come.
Thanks be to God: Jesus Christ died once to death, suffering for your sin, and death has no more dominion over him. Likewise sin, and its attendant despair, shame and hopelessness, no longer run your heart and life.
Jesus has set you free from your enemies that you may serve him with a glad heart forever.
“Therefore” is a vitally important word in the Bible. You see, the Scriptures aren’t a collection of rules you must follow in order to get into heaven. If you tried to love your spouse enough or think purely and lovingly enough to get into heaven, you forever would fail.
The guidelines for Godly living – both in the Old Testament (here in the Decalogue) and in the New – come only after the “therefore.” First, you must take to heart who God is and what He has done for you in Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, can you understand the role the Commandments should play in your life.
“Therefore” means that because God has chosen you and redeemed you in Christ as His peculiar treasure, your life has a glorious purpose: to reflect God’s character and goodness in a world of sin and death. If the “I am” statements of Scripture give you hope in Christ, the “therefore” statements give you purpose in life.
Yet there is another key phrase in Scripture you need to mark: “thanks be to God.” In Romans 6:17, Paul – almost parenthetically – inserts a note of thanksgiving to God for the Roman Christians’ conversion as he calls them to redeemed living. The heart of living by the Ten Commandments is gratitude for the mercies of God in Christ.
Lord willing, next week we shall examine the First Commandment – along with our own hearts and lives. But before you understand the commandments, you must understand the importance of these two words: “therefore” and “thanks.”
Because of who you are in Christ, and because the Lord has accomplished the salvation you could not gain yourself, give Him your life.