October 1, 2013

Thou Shalt?

Sometimes listening to sermons can be confusing. One Sunday we hear a sermon on one of God’s Ten Commandments, and the importance of keeping it … and we begin to take measures to be more serious about obeying the Law of God. But then, a few weeks later, the same preacher preaches about salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone … and not by our ability to keep the Law. And so maybe we back off our zeal for the commandments, and are tempted to lean in the other direction. And it can be confusing! How do we beware trying to work our way into favor with God … and, at the same time, avoid throwing out the commandments of God altogether? Well, the answer is surely fuller than I have space for here. But let me suggest a few word pictures that may clarify things just a little bit.

1. The commandments of God are NOT a ladder. In his sermon series, Pathway to Freedom, Alistair Begg says it best: “The commandments are not a ladder up which we climb to acceptance with God.” In other words, trying to keep every commandment will never make you right with God. Why? Because you can’t do it. By your sin, says Begg, you’ll break every rung on the ladder! Indeed, you’ll never go even a single day without breaking the commandments, either in your actions, or in the attitudes of your heart. So do not read God’s commandments as though you might actually climb to heaven by them. See Romans 3.10-26 ... and run to Jesus alone as your salvation!

2. The commandments of God are NOT a microscope. In other words, God did not put the commandments in the Bible so you could go around examining everyone else’s life and judging them. Don’t use the commandments as a microscope through which to nit-pick others who are sinners like you! “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7.5).

3. The commandments of God are a mirror. To complete Alistair Begg’s aforementioned saying, and once again borrow his analogy: “The commandments are not a ladder up which we climb to acceptance with God, but a mirror in which we see our sin.” This is what Paul has in mind when he says: “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3.20). One reason the Law (or commandments) of God exists, in other words, is to show us the sin in our own hearts and lives. For, without the commandments, we might convince ourselves that we are pretty decent folks … with few, if any, marks on our faces. But, says Begg, when we hold the Ten Commandments, like a mirror, in front of our faces … we realize that we don’t look as good as we thought! We see black marks and stains that we never thought were there. And, praise God, we are therefore reminded of how badly we need Christ … so that we might flee to Him! And that is good reason for taking the commandments seriously – even though they don’t save us! Because they show us we need to be saved by Christ!

4. The commandments of God are a fence-line. No, the commandments do not get us into the narrow way that leads to life. That happens only by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2.8-9). But once we are, by faith, on that narrow way … the commandments serve as a kind of fence, lining both sides of the road, and helping to keep us on the straight and narrow. Perhaps that’s why the Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites after they had been redeemed from the Land of Egypt. They were meant, not as a means of redemption, but as a safeguard for those who had already been redeemed … to keep God’s people in happy, smooth, and safe places all the days of their lives. And so they will be for the redeemed, today, if we will joyfully keep them!

So, the commandments are a tremendous blessing from God, if used properly – not as a ladder or microscope, but as a mirror and a fence-line. Let us, then, make full use of this precious gift from our heavenly Father!

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