Christians, even the most devout, have an uneasy relationship with the Old Testament. We rhapsodize over the psalms and spin heroic tales from Israel’s hall of fame, but to be honest, we’re queasy over discussions of slavery, God-sanctioned Canaanite slaughter, the exclusion of women from worship spaces, and all manner of bizarre customs. We’re far more confident talking about Jesus and his gracious words from the Beatitudes–entirely forgetting that Jesus frequently referred to the Law, reminded his listeners that if they loved him they would keep his commandments, and even claimed to be, himself, the fulfillment of the Law.
Author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin describes our estrangement from the Ten Commandments as “a PR problem.” In her latest book, Ten Words to Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands, she admits that “we have trouble seeing any beauty in the Ten Words.” She counters the popular sentiment that “Christianity isn’t about rules, it’s about relationship” with the truth that “rules show us how to live in those relationships. Rather than threaten relationships, rules enable it.”
What we now know as the Ten Commandments, the Torah and rabbis have historically called the “Ten Words.” They were given to a nation steeped in Egyptian paganism for four hundred years and headed into the land of Canaanite idolatry. Moses handed down the inscribed tablets fresh off Mt. Sinai as a basis for the people’s moral law, and I read them with new eyes as Wilkin’s commentary pointed my heart back to God, the loving Law Giver.
God alone is worthy of worship and we worship a lie if we remake or diminish his attributes to make him more pallatable or crowd pleasing (#1 and #2). To misuse the name of God is to misrepresent his character (#3). He is a good God who has ordained regular rhythms of rest (#4). As a Father, he has provided the church as the “family your family of origin could not be” (#5). And as we do good (and not evil) to and for one another, we honor the image of God in humanity (#6-#10).
Ten Needful Words
Has there ever been an era in which all of this is more needful?
Like Israel, we are a people steeped in paganism, so the Ten Commandments are more relevant today than ever. Examining what God forbids, we discover what God values. “The Ten Words show us how to live holy lives as citizens of heaven while we yet dwell on earth. For the believer, the law becomes a means of grace.”
“In the church today, there exists a great forgetfulness about the role of the law in the life of the believer.” @jenniferwilkinTweet
Just as all biblical study invites us to love God more and to avoid error, by understanding the Ten Commandments as part of the narrative arc of redemption, we see that Jesus is our “true and better Moses,” and a life of obedience to God’s Top Ten is a life of peace with God and others–but only with the understanding the “without faith, it is impossible to please God.”
Because Christ has met for us the requirements of the law and dwells in us by his Spirit, we are empowered to live in an expansive obedience, not committing murder, certainly, but also not falling into the sin of contempt for others; not being merely a “not-thief, [but becoming] a provider of abundance.” Our New Covenant lives are shaped by the Ten Words, carved on our hearts, holding us in right relationship with God and others, helping us to hunger for a holiness that keeps us longing for our true home.
Holding you in the Light,
Our New Covenant lives are shaped by the Ten Words, carved on our hearts, holding us in right relationship with God and others, helping us to hunger for a holiness that keeps us longing for our true home.Tweet
Many thanks to Crossway and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.
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