As we approach Easter we will be looking at the Ten Commandments. They are the foundation of our legal system and morality. But has their time been and gone, to be archived in a museum? Or should they be updated for the present day?
Often our thinking about God’s Law, the Ten Commandments, is muddled because we don’t think clearly about the purpose of the Law. The Law is God’s gracious gift to teach his people the way of righteousness and urge them forward in it. There are two errors we can fall into when thinking about God’s law. One is to think it is irrelevant, that we don’t want any limits to our freedom to choose. So we reject the Law. The other is to treat it with too much reverence and believe that we can be made right with God by obeying it. So we become legalistic. How then are we to treat the Law?
The Law is very useful for us as we learn to love God, but it starts to damage us if we use it to earn brownie points with God, rather than relying on his grace to us. The Law has three main purposes:
The Law restrains evil – having good laws protects communities from unjust people. God provides for our peace and tranquillity by keeping evil at bay through the rule of law.
The Law as a mirror shows us our sinfulness. By convicting us of what we have done wrong, we learn that we are unable to fulfil God’s standards. As we try to fulfil the Law we become wearied in our weakness under it, led into despair at ever being righteous in God’s sight. The law condemns us as sinners. Yet by accusing us, the Law moves us to seek God’s grace. We learn that we are powerless to make ourselves right with God, but he is able to bring life and wholeness. The Law is like a schoolteacher which brings us to salvation. By showing us how far we have fallen, we can rejoice all the more in how high Christ – who kept the Law perfectly – has raised us.
The third use of the law finds its place in believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns; the Law as guide. The Law lays out for us God’s will for our lives, showing us his priorities and character. The Law admonishes our wrong and spurs us on in doing good. By learning from the Law we are able to live more thankfully, gratefully and give glory to God in the highest.
God’s Law rests on his grace towards us. For all that the Law condemns us, even that is a gracious wound that prompts us to seek healing. As we grow up in it we discover that the Law is not a narrow, constricting set of rules. Rather it shows us how to be free to love and serve God. As the Collect for Peace puts it – the God whose service is perfect freedom. As we study the Ten Commandments let us taste that freedom for righteousness which Christ has won for us, finding the sweetness of God’s ways in his Law.