At North Life, we are getting ready to study “Top Ten: A Study on the Relevance of the Ten Commandments. Why would we, as New Testament believers “under grace,” still study these carved-in-stone laws of antiquity that many have discarded or disavowed?
Kevin DeYoung, one of several authors I am currently reading on this subject, provides five foundational reasons:
Reason 1: General Ignorance
First, most people are simply ignorant of the Ten Commandments. Fewer and fewer churches read the Ten Commandments in worship. Children are not made to memorize the Decalogue anymore. It would probably be embarrassing for both children and adults if we randomly picked people on a Sunday morning to come up front and recite the Ten Commandments. And if ignorance is a danger in the church, it’s almost a certainty outside the church. A recent survey found that only 14 percent of Americans could name the Ten Commandments.
Reason 2: Historical Instruction
The church has historically put the Ten Commandments at the center of its teaching ministry, especially for children and new believers. For centuries, catechetical instruction was based on three things: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. In other words, when people asked, “How do we do discipleship? How do we teach our kids about the Bible? What do new Christians need to know about Christianity?” their answers always included an emphasis on the Ten Commandments.
Reason 3: Centrality to Mosaic Ethics
There are going to be many more laws in the Old Testament. But these first ten are foundational for the rest. The Ten Commandments are like the constitution for Israel, and what follows are the regulatory statutes. The giving of the law changes sharply from chapter 20 to chapters 21 and 22. The Ten Commandments are clear, definite, absolute standards of right and wrong. Once you get to chapter 21, we shift to application.
Reason 4: Centrality to New Testament Ethics
The law drives us to our knees, shows us our sin, and leads us to the cross. We need forgiveness. None of us keeps these commands perfectly. At the same time, however, for those who have been forgiven and know Christ, we see in both the Old and New Testaments that the Ten Commandments are foundational for living an obedient life pleasing to God.
Reason 5: The Law Is Good
Finally, we ought to study the Decalogue because the commandments are good. How strange, we think, that the psalmist should say that his delight is in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2). We can understand delighting in God’s love or his grace or his promises, but in his law? Who loves commandments? Well, the psalmist does. He understands that God lays down his law for our good, not for our groaning. The good news of law, C. S. Lewis once remarked, is like the good news of arriving on solid ground after a shortcut gone awry through the mud, muck, and mire. After fumbling about in the squishy, stinky mess, you’re relieved to finally hit something solid, something you can trust, something you can count on.