THE GOD OF GRACE EXODUS 20:1-2
Every well-taught English schoolboy knows that Admiral Lord Nelson defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar. Although mortally wounded by a French sharpshooter, Nelson was able to send a final signal from H.M.S. Victory to his navy. At 11:15 A.M. on the 21st of October 1805, just minutes before the commencement of the battle, this flag signal was raised on the mizzenmast: ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY.
And so in the performance of duty they pushed on to victory and bore testimony to the love of country that filled their hearts. Their motivation was love, but that love was defined by their obedience to command and the fulfillment of duty.
This simple illustration provides an immediate challenge, because, if we are prepared to be honest, we face the fact that in contemporary evangelicalism duty along with truth has fallen in our streets. The average church attendee has grown accustomed to responding to sermons that appeal to their sense of well-being. They are prepared to be coaxed but not to be commanded, particularly if the call to duty would prove a source of personal inconvenience. Neil Postman observed that effectiveness in TV preaching was in part tied to making sure that the preacher avoided making any demands upon his listeners.
The cultural climate is one in which there is plenty of room for personal preferences and little if any for eternal principles. Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 24:12, that in the last days “lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” This is something that is very noticeable in today’s society. Lawlessness does abound. People are bent on doing as they please. There is an anti-authority spirit which prevails among us. Discipline is something that is outdated.
Ted Turner has declared the Ten Commandments obsolete, “We’re living with outdated rules. The rules we’re living under are the Ten Commandments, and I bet nobody here even pays much attention to them because they’re too old. When Moses went up on the mountain, there were no nuclear weapons, there was no poverty. Today, the Ten Commandments wouldn’t go over. Nobody around likes to be commanded. Commandments are out!”
This seems to ring true for a majority of Americans. Today, in America, many believe that there are no “moral absolutes.” Many hold to a philosophy of “moral relativism.” How many times have we heard statements like these: “What’s right for you may not be right for me;” “If it feels good do it;” “Anything goes;” Nothing is right or wrong, there are just different opinions.” All of this is the result of the feeling that there is no absolute truth. You are entitled to your truth and I am entitled to mine. A recent poll found that 67% of Americans do not believe in moral absolutes. Among “Baby Busters” those born between 1965 and 1983, the percentage was even higher at 78%. Even 62% of professing Christians said that there was no absolute standard of right and wrong. No wonder America is in a moral mess. Yet, this country was founded on biblical principles. James Madison, the 4th President of the United States said, “We stake the future of this country on our ability to govern ourselves under the principles of the Ten Commandments.”
Yet, even a superficial historical survey reveals the fact that the legal systems of the United States begin with the conviction that there is a transcendent principle of right (natural law) to which all people are subject. In the United States, “liberty and justice for all” was a consequence of being a nation, UNDER GOD, we might say, under God’s Law. When we move “from God’s standard to considerations of mere social convenience, the inevitable outcome will be laws which degrade and dehumanize.” For example, the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe V. Wade came down on the side of convenience for the woman’s choice rather than the moral basis of God’s law. If the decision was based on the moral laws of God, then the court would have had to recognize that the sixth commandment had been violated, which states “You shall not kill.” That law would have had precedence over a woman’s rights of sexual freedom and her body. In America, the courts function “as little more than traffic cops, keeping people from bumping into each other as they do their own thing” (Chuck Colson).
But today, society seems to scream what was the familiar theme of the sixties which was “all you need is love.” This love is supposed to be an all-embracing tide, which we are told would pick us up and propel us into a new era of harmony and peace. But just like the sixties, today selfishness has won the day. In the sixties, folk heroes suggested that times were changing and issued a warning to mothers and fathers all over the land not to criticize what they did not understand and to face the fact that their sons and their daughters were beyond their command and that their own road was now a road less traveled. After all, who would want to return to the enslavement of biblical ethics? History over the past four decades proves that we are not better off without God’s law. Macleod said, “People tend to imagine that the moment we move away from biblically controlled legislation we will get more freedom and more tolerance. That is not the lesson of history. What we will get is more inhumanity, more barbarism, and more savagery.” And we are definitely reaping the consequences of removing biblical ethics from our laws.
Yet, I want to suggest that the situation is not hopeless. We should not throw in the towel or wave the white flag, yet. We know that Christ will return the One who “is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). Times are unique since we live in a post 9/11 society which has no answers to the problems that plague our society. For example, we have politicians who are good at identifying the problem, but offer no real solutions. Brian Edwards told of former British Prime Minister John Major telling his nation after a particularly horrific crime against a three-year old boy, that the nation needed to “get back to the basics.” But as Edwards pointed out, “he offered no suggestion as to what the “basics” were, or where they were to be found, and not surprisingly, the whole crusade collapsed untidily under the ‘revelations’ of the private lives of government ministers. Not long afterwards, another wave of violence spurred a Member of Parliament to suggest that what they needed was “something like the Ten Commandments,” as though they no longer existed or were insufficient for our day.
So this morning, I want to start a series of messages on the Ten Commandments. As we have seen in recent years many in the public do not want to reminded that they are created in the image of God and there is a standard which God will hold us all too. The best way to forget that there is a standard of right and wrong is to remove them from public square and this is what is happening across the country. But there is another dilemma about the Ten Commandments which impacts Christians and that is “Are the Ten Commandments still relevant today?; or Are we no longer under law, but under grace?” Those are the questions I want to try to answer this morning.
There are two pitfalls that must be avoided by Christians concerning the Law of God, yet many churches fall in one of the pitfalls. First, you have the legalists, who take the law too seriously in that it can rob the believer of his freedom in Christ. The legalist believes that salvation hinges itself on the observation of the law, which many in the early church did, such as the Judiazers, who Paul addressed in Galatians. Paul wrote, “We. . .know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:15-16).
The other pitfall that people fall into is antinomianism, which means against law. These people set the law of God aside and believe that it no longer has a place in the life of a believer. In other words, they do not take the law serious enough.
May I suggest that these are not the only two options available to a believer in Christ? There is a balance between the requirements of the law and the freedom of the Spirit. Samuel Bolton, a Puritan, made a statement which I believe to be helpful to us: “The law sends us to the Gospel that we may be justified, and the gospel sends us to the law again to enquire what is our duty in being justified.” What Bolton was saying is that the law tells us we are sinners in need of a Savior, which is found in the Gospel. And the Gospel, once accepted, enables us through the indwelling of the Spirit to obey the commands of God.
Therefore, the law is relevant for the Christian today. The Ten Commandments still has a place in the life of the believer. We are not to be legalists who think that somehow in keeping the law we get or secure our salvation. And neither are we to be anti-law who think it has no place in our lives. The law has a two part function. One it is to be a tutor leading us to Christ. In Roman culture, children had slaves who would take them to school. In much the same way the law leads individuals to Christ.
Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, pictured the law as a big axe which cuts down the monster of self-righteousness, which has a hard time accepting the gospel of free forgiveness. John Calvin, another reformer offered this picture of the law. He imagined the law as a mirror showing the spots on our faces and sending us to Christ for cleansing.
The other function of the law is that it is a rule of life for the believer. D. L. Moody in "Weighed and Wanting" remarked, "The commandments of God given to Moses in the mount at Horeb are as binding today as ever they have been since the time when they were proclaimed in the hearing of the people. The Jews said the Law was not given in Palestine (which belonged to Israel), but in the wilderness, because the Law was for all nations."
We must clearly understand that the Christian is free from the Law as a means for salvation. We are saved for keeping the law, but once we are saved we will keep the law through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The Law serves the purpose of constantly leading us to Christ.
Now that you have been given a background for why the Ten Commandments are necessary in the life of the believer and before we begin to individually talk about each one, I want to set the context in which the Ten Commandments were given. So if you will turn in your Bibles to Exodus 20. The Hebrew Bible addresses this section as the Ten Words or the Ten Pronouncements. Yet, for us to have an appreciation for these commands, we need to know that they are set in the context of grace. In chapter 19, God has freed the children of Israel from the land of slavery in Egypt. “The great thing is that God did not take them out of the land of Egypt because they kept the Ten Commandments: they were to keep the Ten Commandments because God took them out.”
In verses 1 and 2, which is known as the prologue or preamble there are several things that we learn. The first thing we learn is that God spoke His will. In verse 1, we read then God spoke all these words. As you work through the book of Exodus you will notice God speaking to His servant Moses and Moses communicating to the people of Israel, but here we read that God spoke His Ten commandments to His people. This is the voice of God speaking. It is God doing the communicating. This is not man’s idea about what they think God wants, it is not Moses’ will or the tradition of men. This is God clearly speaking His will to His people.
I have to admit that there are some things about God’s will that are difficult for us to discern until God works them out such as an illness in a child or God’s plan for our future. Sometimes we just have to say, “Your will be done.” But then there are other times in Scripture where God clearly spells out His will and here is one of them. God is saying you should live this way or you need to behave this way. So we need to recognize that this is exactly what God wants us to do. This is His will and not someone else’s.
A second thing we learn in these verses is that God is sovereign – I am the Lord your God. Why in the world would God have to introduce Himself to them? These people knew who He was and were terrified because of the thunder, lightning, the trumpet blasts and a smoking mountain. The reason God spoke to them about who He was to remind them of His sovereignty, His ownership over them, and their and our obedience to Him because He is our Lord.
Today, we are not very familiar with someone given the title as Lord. There is something about the world that does not like hierarchy. Yet, this is what God was saying to the people of Israel. He was saying, “I am Lord and you belong to me, you are mine.” This past Wednesday night Peter, my youngest son, was going around the house singing at the top of his voice, “I’m in the Lord’s Army, yes sir.” How true this song that God is the commander-in-chief and we are his soldiers, yet when many grow up they do not act like it. We do not salute or execute the marching orders that the Lord lays down. He, indeed, is our Lord and He owns us and this should impact the way that we obey Him.
A third thing we learn in these verses is that He speaks these commands to His children. In other words, God had established a covenant with the people of Israel because He specifically became their God. He made Himself personally known to those He had rescued out of the land of Egypt and therefore they became personally responsible to Him. Yet, many people are suspicious of law by thinking it is restrictive and non-relational. But we must remind ourselves that God is a heavenly Father who is issuing household rules for His children. From the very beginning the law did not function in a way to bring us into a relationship with Him, but the way that relationship would be expressed because He has brought us into His kingdom.
We can all relate to this in our own families. Crysta and I have established rules in our house for which we expect our boys to behave. But they do not have to obey the rules to become our children, but we pray and hope they will obey out of love for us.
There is a story of a little boy riding his tricycle furiously around the block, over and over again. Finally a policeman stopped and asked him why he was going around and around. The boy said that he was running away from home. Then the policeman asked why he kept going around the block. The boy responded, “Because my mom said that I’m not allowed to cross the street.” The point is clear – obedience will keep you close to those you love. You see we can obey out of fear because we have to or we can obey for reward because we get something out of it or we can obey with love because we want to honor and please the one given the command. I hope it is the latter for us when it comes to God.
A fourth thing we learn from these verses is that God is our redeemer. God said, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. God here is stressing that he was the nation of Israel’s redeemer. Once again, God is showing us that grace comes before law. This is a pattern seen throughout the Bible. In Deuteronomy 6:20-25 we read, “When your sons asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the Lord our God commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. . .He brought us out from there to bring us in. . .so the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.”
We notice is these verses as well as in the verses we are studying this morning that God did not say, “Obey these Ten Commandments and then I will bring you out of Egypt.” Nor did he state a condition on their salvation such as “I’ll love you and I’ll save you if you earn it.” No what you hear is “I brought you out of Egypt, therefore obey these words.” What he is saying is “I have saved you by grace, you contributed nothing so therefore this is what my children look like.”
Sometimes God calls us to do very difficult things and we need to remember that he is our Redeemer. Maybe the Lord has called you to live in harmony with a difficult person and you need to remember it is your Redeemer, who calls you to do that. Or the lord calls you to act with integrity and to live uprightly in a business situation and because of your integrity it will cost you dearly. You do it because your Redeemer ask you to do it. It is the One who bled and died for you asking you to live this way or do this thing.
Finally, we learn from these verses what we have been saved from and saved for. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. In the Old Testament, Egypt becomes a symbol for worldliness and sinfulness and Israel’s from Egypt’s slavery is a separation from sin. When you look at the physical deliverance of Israel, I am reminded of the spiritual deliverance of myself and every one who belongs to God. It is freedom from the slavery of sin. My obedience to God is helped when I remember what I have been saved from and saved for.
You have seen and heard and maybe one of those people who was in a lifestyle or sin that can only be helped by the transforming power of grace. In fact, all have been transformed by the power of God’s grace, but there are certain behaviors that bring terror to our society.
Therefore, we are saved from sin and misery and saved to and for obedience. Paul said it this way in Ephesians 2. Remember that we are saved by grace and not by works, but Paul said, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Jesus said if you love me keep my commandments.
So God is not a cruel tyrant who makes harsh demands on His people. No, he reveals who He is in them which drives us to the Savior. Apart from the law the gospel seems unnecessary. Apart from the gospel the law seems impossible. Therefore, law and grace go together.