The Ten Commandments are not to be ignored. It’s important that we study and understand them. But, of course, it’s more important that we obey them. God isn’t impressed by an intellectually careful analysis that puts the Decalogue at the center of Christian discipleship. He expects disciples to actually follow these commands.
But for the right reasons. Working hard to obey the Ten Commandments from the wrong motivation and for the wrong end is a surefire way to live out our relationship with God in the wrong way. God gave the commandments that they might be obeyed—not to earn salvation but because of who we are, who God is in himself, who he is to us, where we are, and what he has done.
Reason 1: Who We Are
Don’t miss the obvious: Exodus 19 comes before Exodus 20. God has already identified the Israelites as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). They are a people set apart. The same is true of us. As Christians, we too are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9). We must be prepared to stand alone, to look different, and to have rules the world doesn’t understand. Of course, we aren’t always the holy people we should be, but that’s what he has called us to be. That’s who we are. We are God’s people, set apart to live according to God’s ways.
Reason 2: Who God Is in Himself
The opening verses in Exodus 20 are not just filler before the commandments start rolling. They establish who God is and why we should obey him. In verse 2 God reveals himself again as “the LORD,” that is, as Yahweh their covenant-keeping God. This is the God who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. This is the God who said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). This is the sovereign, self-existent, self-sufficient, almighty creator God. This is the God of the plagues and the Red Sea and the manna in the wilderness. This is not a God to be trifled with. If there is a God, and if he is anything like the God who is revealed to us in the Scriptures, then it would be extremely presumptuous, foolish, and (by all accounts) dangerous for us to crowdsource our own ethical code.
The law is an expression of the Lawgiver’s heart and character. We must think about that before we say, “I don’t care for laws,” or before we bristle at the thought of do’s and don’ts. The commandments not only show us what God wants; they show us what God is like. They say something about his honor, his worth, and his majesty. They tell us what matters to God. We can’t disdain the law without disrespecting the Lawgiver.
Reason 3: Who God Is to Us
The God of the Ten Commandments is revealed not just as the Lord, but as the “LORD your God” (Ex. 20:2). We are his treasured possession (Ex. 19:5; 1 Pet. 2:9). This God of absolute power is not a capricious tyrant, not some cranky deity who wields raw and unbridled authority without any regard for his creatures. He is a personal God, and in Christ he always is for us (Rom. 8:31). It would be frightening to the point of death if God thundered from the heavens, “I am the Lord!” But the divine self-disclosure doesn’t stop there. He goes on to add, “… your God.” He is on our side. He is our Father. He gives us commands for our good.
Kevin DeYoung, The 10 Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 27–28.
We have just released a new Bible study on The 10 Commandments.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.