Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
How do you read the Ten Commandments?
He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" Luke 10:26NKJV
Question 100 of the Larger Catechism asks, "What special things are we to consider in the ten commandments?" It gives the answer, "We are to consider, in the ten commandments, the preface, the substance of the commandments themselves, and several reasons annexed to some of them, the more to enforce them." Last week we considered our duty to help others obey God. This week we look at how we are to read and apply each of the commandments to our lives.
We have already seen in previous questions that the Christian is duty-bound to keep the commandments of God. We are saved by grace alone apart from any merit accrued by our works, but there is simply no such thing as a truly converted and saved person who does not live by the commandments of God. The Christian cannot live comfortably and willfully in rebellious sin against his Lord. Every believer remains an imperfect sinner until his death, but he is also a new creature with a heavenly-born nature, and that new nature will desire to obey and try to keep the Law of God. The way of life for the Christian is "the way of righteousness," (2 Pet. 2:21). It is "the path of Your commandments," (Ps. 119:35). All those who love Jesus will "love Thy law," (Ps. 119:97). Here we should remind ourselves that the Ten Commandments are simply a summary of the entirety of the moral law of God, which itself is nothing more than a reflection of the very character of our Triune God; the God who loves righteousness and hates sin. Consequently to love God is to keep His commandments: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments," (1 John 5:3a). The Christian loves God and longs to glorify and enjoy God. Therefore, every Christian has a great interest in how to consider the Commandments of God in order to better keep them for the glory of God and the delight of our new natures.
According to today's question the first thing we need to observe as we seek to obey the Ten Commandments is the preface. Lord willing, we will look more at this point next week, but suffice it to say here that the preface to the Ten Commandments sets the stage for how we are to read and interpret all that follows. The preface of the Ten Commandments reads: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage," (Exod. 20:2). Here is the grand reason for obeying all of the Commandments: they come from God, our God; the God who delivered us from slavery to sin. Here we notice that the God who commands His people commands them in a relationship where they are already His people and He is already their God. God does not come to His people and say, "I will be the Lord your God, if you show yourselves worthy of me by keeping all of these commandments," but He says in effect: "I am already your God. I have already delivered you from Egypt. I do not give you these commandments in order for you to earn your standing before Me by your good works of obedience, but I give them to you as those who are already, by My grace, My people. Therefore, keep these commandments not to become My people, but because you are already My people."
Second, we need to notice the substance of the Commandments; that is, what they actually say and what they actually apply to. Accordingly, we will seek to interpret God's Commandments in harmony with His intention when He gave them. We will not seek to wrongly limit them or misinterpret them so as to allow sin. So, for example, we will not exempt everything but actual sexual intercourse from the seventh commandment. We will recognize that the commandment is speaking against all forms of sexual sin, including desiring any of them in the heart.
Finally, the Christian who wants to improve his keeping of God's Commandments out of love for his Savior will especially consider "the reasons annexed to some of them," which are there in order to more or better enforce them. Here, we will see that some of the reasons are promised rewards, while others are threatened punishments. Thus, against many modern experts, God believes in using both "positive" and "negative" incentives to enhance our obedience. May we be humble enough to appreciate and make a proper use of both as well, to God's glory and our fuller enjoyment of Him!