What’s the Purpose of the Ten Commandments?

What good are the Ten Commandments? This is a much discussed question that solicits many answers. Let us consider some of the answers.

A popular answer in this post-modern culture is, “The commandments are of little or no value in our society where people think everything is relative. There are no absolutes for all situations. It is astounding to hear someone say, “Stealing and lying are not always wrong if these acts benefit a good cause.” Unfaithfulness in marriage might not always be wrong if the relationship between the husband and wife is already gone.”

Because this is the conviction of millions of people in our society, we have a very confused society.

A second answer to the question, “What good are the Ten Commandments?” comes from the more moralistic or legalistic religions. Live obediently with God’s rule and you will win his favor. “The golden rule is my religion. What a world this would be if only people would live with the ethic Ð Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

While the Golden Rule does not summarize the Christian faith, many people prefer Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,” to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Since the Law was given by God, what does his Word claim is the purpose of the Ten Commandments? Paul raises this question. He writes, “What then is the purpose of the Law?” (19). God had established a covenant with Abraham that he would bless him and make him a blessing to many. From Abraham would come the Jewish people and from these people would come the Savior who would offer salvation to all in the world who would believe in him. The relationship between God and his people would always be built on faith and not the obedience to the Law.

However, four hundred and thirty years after God had given the Covenant Promise to Abraham, the people in His Kingdom were so rebellious that he gave to his appointed leader at the time, Moses, the Ten Commandments. This Law revealed what God’s will was for their lives. This was the way the Almighty wanted them to live. These were the absolutes, the rights and wrongs. But the Law had another purpose. Paul writes, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be saved through faith.”

According to the Bible, the law reveals who I am. I am a sinner. I cannot keep these laws. I need a Savior to forgive my sins. This Savior is Christ, who is my only hope. When I trust Christ and his grace takes over and builds a relationship between God and me, I am saved and am his child forever.

If we examine our lives in the light of society’s behavior, we fair pretty well. However, examine our lives in the light of God’s Law, and we are in spiritual trouble. The Golden Rule is fine, but the problem is, I cannot live by it. My selfish nature does not permit me to be as concerned about another person as I am about myself. Therefore, in a destitute spiritual condition, we cry out to the Lord for mercy and through faith in Christ, the Savior, we are forgiven. Then we seek to live out of love for this Savior, who is also my Lord. We used to sing a chorus in Bible school:

Open mine eyes, O Lord

Open mine eyes.

Into my darkened heart let thy light arise.

Show me myself, O Lord. Show my Thyself, O Lord.

Show me thy truth, O Lord.

Open mine eyes.

This song pretty much says it all.

Now that we live in a relationship with God through faith in Christ, there are other questions that Paul answers.

Is the Law opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not. It is simply that our salvation is not dependent on the Law. The law shows us how God wants us to live. But it is the relationship with Christ Ð not the law Ð that gives us the power to live by these commandments.

As Christians, we thank God for the Law of God. It shows us what is right and wrong. We lament that our culture thinks it can live with some semblance of order without the law. But seeing our sinfulness as pointed out by the Law, we praise God for the Gospel.

Is there a patriotic use of the Law? Maxie Dunman writes, “The law becomes the code of conduct by which the social structures are ordered and by which we order our lives in relationship to God and others.”