The Ten Commandments


It was Christmas Day and also the Sabbath. I had to drive about 100 kilometres to one of my churches, and I was in too much of a hurry. A flashing light appeared in my rearview mirror. I pulled over and waited for the police officer to come to my window. I’m embarrassed to say, I was 20 kilometres an hour over the speed limit. I apologised and explained that I was on my way to speak at a church service in the next town. He looked away for a second, then turned to me and said, “So I don’t have to tell you about funerals, then, do I?

What he meant, of course, was that the law is there to protect us and others, not to restrict our freedom, and that deviating from it has dire consequences. Just so with God’s law—the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17).

1. Why does God want us to keep His commandments?

Deuteronomy 6:24 “The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees . . . so that we might always prosper and be kept alive.”

The Ten Commandments are the only part of the Bible that was written by God Himself (Exodus 31:18), and they provide a hierarchy of values for our good: God first, family second, others next, material things last. They tell us that people are more important than things. Our materialistic society has reversed this order. “These Commandments, particularly coupled with the teachings of Christ, are still the best guidelines for practical daily living known to humankind” (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary).

2. Which are the two “positive” commandments?

Exodus 20:8, 11, 12 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth the sea, and all that is in them,” and, “Honour your father and your mother.”

The first four commandments summarise our duty to God, and they are based on the fourth—that He is the Creator. The last six tell us of our obligation to others, built on the fifth—family relationships that are the foundation of society. This is the way human beings would naturally act if it weren’t for sin.

3. How did Jesus summarise these two sections?

Matthew 22:34–40 “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”

4. While God wants us to keep His commandments, can we be saved by obeying them?

Romans 3:20 “No one will be declared righteous . . . by observing the law.”

The law is never a method of salvation, but it is forever a standard of righteousness.

5. How are we saved?

Romans 3:24, 25 “[We] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

Paul says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

6. How are those waiting for Jesus’ second coming described?

Revelation 14:12 “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”

I received a Christmas present that day. The police officer graciously let me off with a warning. But that’s not what God did! His law, as a transcript of His character, cannot be broken with impunity. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The only way God could be gracious and forgive us our sins was by Jesus, who “had no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He kept God’s law perfectly and then He died, paying the penalty in our place. When we accept by faith what Jesus did, God counts us as perfect, crediting us with Jesus’ perfect obedience (Romans 4:1–8).

I’ve driven more carefully since that incident. The police officer’s graciousness was not an excuse for me to speed again. (I’m thankful to now have cruise control). Just so with God’s law: faith doesn’t do away with the law. Rather, it upholds it (Romans 3:31).

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