Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Reasons to Obey
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18NKJV
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.” Today we examine more closely how Reformed Theology has historically affirmed that God gives us reasons to obey Him.
Notice how the Westminster divines call attention to three specific things regarding the believer’s consideration of The Ten Commandments. That is, believers wanting to please God by keeping His commandments for righteousness should especially give their attention to these three things:
The preface to The Ten Commandments, which is the verse immediately prior to them.
The substance of them, which is what each one actually says.
And the “several reasons annexed to some of them the more to enforce them.”
Thus, the third thing we should consider in The Ten Commandments, according to the Westminster divines, is the fact that some of the commandments have reasons added to them in order to more effectively move God’s people to keep them. Here we should especially see that the way in which God would have His people to obey Him includes the giving and receiving of reasons for our obedience. Think of it: our God created us from nothing and owes us nothing. By definition we should immediately and unquestioningly obey everything He commands. He does not owe us a single reason as to why we ought to do whatever He would think to order us to do, and for us to ask Him to first give us a reason before we should think to obey Him would be immeasurable arrogance on our part! And yet, our God is so good and so generous to our nature, in its weakness and frailty, that He does not shrink from condescending so low so as to even give us reasons why we should obey Him. In other words, some of God’s commandments to us include additional information to show us why obedience will be good for us and/or why disobedience will be bad for us.
Thus, for example the second commandment, which forbids the making of graven images, gives us two reasons why we should heed this law. Both of these reasons are ascribed to God’s revelation of His nature wherein He tells us: “for I am a jealous God.” The “for” tells us the reason why we should keep this command, which is God’s jealousy. And then the potential impact of God’s jealously to our lives is further spelled out in both a negative and positive way. First, God’s jealousy for His worship leads Him to the “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,” which is to say on those who break this commandment (Exod. 20:5b). Thus, we have a negative reason that will result in what is sometimes referred to as a negative motivation against breaking this commandment in all those who believe what God here threatens. But also, second, God’s jealousy leads Him to the “showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Now we have a positive reason that will result in a positive motivation towards keeping this commandment in all those who believe what God here promises.
Thus, hear and believe the two reasons to obey the second commandment from the mouth of God Himself. First, breaking this commandment will result in God’s judgments coming upon your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Second, keeping this commandment will result in God’s mercy coming upon a thousand of your generations (the word generations is implied as Deut. 7:9 proves). Both of these reasons flow from God being jealous to maintain His holy worship. Consider how gracious God is to provide us reasons to obey Him and may He grant that we would be persuaded by those reasons to His glory and our benefit!