The Ten Commandments — Their Purpose

“God gave the Ten Commandments because everybody was so bad, right?”  In part, yes, but let’s get a little historical and theological perspective first.

When God chose to work through a single nation to make His glory known, to foster the seed of the woman (the Messiah, Genesis 3:15), and eventually to lead the world into righteousness, He did not do it on the basis of law.  He did it with a promise.  No one has ever been able to keep God’s law perfectly and so no one could ever merit having God as their God unless He promised to bring it to pass on His own.  Salvation has never been by works, only by faith.  However, God gave the Law to this infant nation when He redeemed her from Egypt for the following reasons:

  1.  Mankind needs a moral standard of what God expects of us.  The tendency of the human heart is to twist or deny the truth (Romans 1:1;8).  It must be carved in stone, written down, preserved in a way that makes it hard for us to hide from it.  Though God’s purpose for Israel was based on a promise, Israel still needed to know how God’s people are supposed to act. The problem is, by Jesus’ day, the Jews had distorted even this firmly communicated law.  They had come to believe that obedience to the Law secured salvation.  Paul refutes this in Galatians 3:10 by showing that no one could measure up to the Law.  For Paul, the Law had a more radical purpose.
  2. The Law teaches us our need for a Savior.  The Law is so good at reflecting God’s character that it shows up our own as inadequate.  It drives us to look for another way to God.  In this way, Paul says, “the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).
  3. The Law serves as a standard for the believer’s righteousness.  Once we come by faith to Christ and are justified, we have in the Law a guide for our growth in Christlikeness.  Are we still then under the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments?  Yes and No!  We’ll consider that more fully in the next article.
  4. The Law was and is the basis for Israel’s worthiness to inherit the promises of God.  Because God made a promise to Israel, He will see to it that Israel is made to be a Law abiding nation.  Individual generations have been allowed to remain in the land or promise (Canaan or Israel), or have been cast out of the land, based on their obedience to the Law.  But God promised they would inherit it forever (Genesis 17:8), so in His sovereignty He will draw Israel to Himself at the right time, giving them hearts to obey His Law and so fulfill His promise in the Millennial kingdom (Romans 11:26).

The Law is God’s good gift to humanity.  It shows us what the character of God is like and challenges us to move toward it in His power.


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