Three Keys to Understanding the Ten Commandments

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History has shown that the Ten Commandments in the Bible has significantly influenced and shaped our Western world. But the Ten Commandments are perhaps most significant for a reason you may not suspect: they teach us how to be truly free. We tend to find laws and commands negative and unappealing with its restrictions and limitations. So you may be surprised that God’s commands actually show us how to be free to live the right way, the best way and the most loving way to live.

Here are three keys to understanding the Ten Commandments as a way to live in the freedom that God intended for us.

1. Rules for Freedom not Duty

The Ten Commandments are not rules for us to dutifully obey in order to be saved and get to heaven. The Ten Commandments were given to the people of Israel after God saved and freed them from slavery in Egypt. God bought their freedom with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. The Ten Commandments were then given to Israel after being freed for them to stay living as God’s free people.

This is also true for Christians. We’re told in the New Testament that God has saved and freed us from the slavery of sin and Satan by the sacrifice of Jesus to live freely as God’s people. Obeying the Ten Commandments is not how you get saved to become God’s people. Obeying the Ten Commandments is how you live as someone who is saved as God’s people.

True freedom is doing what we are made to be.

When we think about freedom, we tend think that freedom is doing whatever you want. But true freedom is doing what we are made to be. Freedom cannot be doing whatever you want, because some choices are destructive and enslaving.

American philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart explains this very well in his book Atheist Delusions. He says:

“In the more classical understanding of the matter, whether pagan or Christian, true freedom was understood as something inseparable from one’s nature: to be truly free, that is to say, was to be at liberty to realise one’s proper “essence” and so flourish as the kind of being one was. Whatever separates us from that end — even if it comes from our own wills — is a form of bondage.”

We experience true freedom by honouring the essence of God’s design for us. So when we obey the Ten Commandments we doing what we are made to be as God’s people.

2. Rules for Loving God and Loving Others

The Ten Commandments are also rules for loving God and loving others. Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments as:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” - Mark 12:30-31

The Ten Commandments shows us that the essence of our design is to be in love relationships. When we obey the Ten Commandments we learn how to have flourishing and loving relationships with one another and we learn how to have a flourishing and loving relationship with God. The first four commandments show us how to love God and the following six commandments show us how to love each other. How the commandments are ordered is also important, it shows us that how we worship God will relate to how we treat each other. When we rightly love and worship God we will rightly love others. But when we fail to trust God and worship other things we will fail to live rightly towards others. Therefore sin, disobedience, failing to live according to God’s design has its roots in failing to worship God.

3. Jesus Fulfils the Rules of Freedom and Love

The most important key to understanding the Ten Commandments is that Jesus came to fulfil the rules of true freedom and true love. Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” - Matthew 5:17

In other words, Jesus life and teaching enriches and completes the intent of the Ten Commandments. The major aspect with how Jesus Christ fulfils the commandments is that Jesus gets the commandments into our hearts. Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection makes obedience less about external behaviours and more about changing our hearts, our desires and our motives to freely love God and others through the Spirit of God when we receive Jesus Christ as our Saviour.

Rules for Freedom

Are you curious to learn more about the Ten Commandments? Then join us this Sunday as we learn how the Ten Commandments are not rules to reach acceptance with God, but the way to live with fullness and freedom that God intended.

Michael Nhieu