Do the Ten Commandments excite you? I’m guessing that your answer might be a quick and flat “No.” For many of us, the commandments are ancient regulations that make us feel guilty. Their impossible clarity commands us how to live, showcase our failure, and prove our need for rescue. We may question their modern relevance since Jesus’ life and work has delivered us from their consequence.
…they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes — Amos 2:4
Do they offer more than assuring our guilt? Even today, the ten commands reveal more than just our inadequacy. They reveal God’s beauty, his longing for intimacy, and the power of grace.
God’s Commands Describe His Beauty
Symptoms are manifestations of what lies behind them. Fever may indicate infection. Pregnancy enlarges a belly. New buds show the coming of spring. The commands are more than a master To-Do list that establishes civil law. They are expressions of God’s underlying character which can fill our hearts with awe.
The reason we shouldn’t lie is because God is truth. The reason we must not covet is because God is complete. We dare not betray because he is perfectly faithful. Every command that proves our failure reveals the specific beauty of the One who never does.
God’s Commands Call Us to Intimacy
Like oil repelling water, the perfection of God cannot coexist with our sinfulness. God’s rules are His instructive heart-cry on how to maintain togetherness. When we sin, it’s personal. Our sin doesn’t break stone tablets; it breaks God’s heart because rejecting His rules means rejecting His relationship. The experience of God interacting with Moses echoes a scriptural pattern between rules and intimacy that we can see in a variety of creative ways.
The meaning of the word ‘law’ is instructive with the related idea of the connection between teacher and pupil. God regularly communicated with Moses as a teacher and friend (Exod 33:11). The commands weren’t tossed through the clouds for Moses to review while God stood at a distance. God carved them with his finger while Moses watched in shared experience (Exod 23–24).
After God described himself on tablets of stone, he shone out His character to be powerfully seen and felt (Exod 33:22–23). In fact, the Israelites feared to look at Moses because of the awesome presence of God that continued to radiate personally from Moses’ face (Exod 34:29–30).
God’s commandments not only instruct us in relational harmony between us and God but between us and others. Broken rules break others because when we choose to break the law––sin, someone is always being sinned against. Emotional upheaval and fractured community outpour as a repeating pattern since the curse of Genesis 3.
Mishandling God’s Commands
In spite of the beauty of God’s character and call, we continually mishandle His laws and twist them into something they were never meant to be. We can become idolatrous by exalting their obedience via ritual and routine. When we strive to uphold the law by human strength, we become passengers on an emotional roller coaster of pride if we succeed and insecurity when we fail.
The Pharisees loved the words of the law more than the Lawmaker who the words described. This perverts holiness and leads to a misshapen religion of legalism and trust in human tradition. We can also take too much license with the law––we acknowledge our clear failure to be perfect and become lax toward even trying. The book of Titus reminds us that God’s holiness is worth contending for, not by human effort but by leaning into Jesus’ grace. Floored and compelled by his lavished love upon us, we strive in grace toward living excellently as both our duty and delight.
The Ten Commandments of Grace
We have added perspective to God’s rules today. Because God looked at Christ on the cross and saw me, now when He’s looking at me, He sees Christ (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus’ life and work make God’s longing for relational intimacy a possible, ongoing reality. Unlike the Old Testament where God’s presence went before us as something to behold, we now enjoy the presence who indwells us and has us firmly held.
Our repentance ushers in his presence at salvation and seals our future choices as perfect. In Jesus, it is our names, not his rules, that become personally and intimately engraved into his book of Life (Rev 21:27) and onto His palms (Isa 49:16). At last, we can stand in God’s presence because we’ve been gifted with holiness that is not our own. The ten condemnations that we should have upheld have turned into ten promises that Christ perfectly did.