Where I’m headed with the Ten Commandments

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I’ve been so excited to have men I respect and have learned from over the years come in and preach at Mars Hill for Best Sermon Ever. I hope they’ve been a gift to you as they have to me. It was also nice to get a break and vacation with my family. I’m feeling refreshed and excited to get back in the pulpit to preach on the Ten Commandments. Here’s some background on where I’m headed with the series:

To catch you up to speed

Four hundred years is a long time. That’s how long God’s people lived away from their home, suffering bondage at the hand of the Egyptians. At long last, the Lord delivers the children of Israel from physical slavery—and they promptly fall into spiritual slavery, worshiping false gods instead of the true God.

In a great demonstration of patience, love, and grace, the Lord responds by providing instruction and wisdom for his people. He gives them the law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, to help them understand that God is the one who liberates them, not only from the shackles of Pharaoh but ultimately from slavery to sin.

New era, same old story

Like ancient Israel, God’s people today often receive the gift of salvation but remain enslaved to sin. We find ourselves following in the same patterns of depression, jealousy, lust, anger, or fear. Thankfully, through his word, God reminds us that Jesus is our greater Moses who delivers a larger nation to a greater freedom. According to the Bible, our biggest problem—the problem underlying all of our other problems—is worshiping the wrong things:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

Exodus 20:3–5

These are the first two of the Ten Commandments. Actually, the Old Testament records over 600 commandments, often reduced to the Ten. But everything hinges on the first two: “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make idols.” Many people—including hundreds of years of Jewish tradition—approach God’s law as a moral checklist.

It boils down to one thing

The truth is, our behavior is merely the result of who or what we worship. Our god influences our priorities, our values, our morality, our choices, and ultimately our eternity. Everyone worships something, be it money, self, comfort, sex, a significant other, children, sports, or whatever. These false gods will not only disappoint, they will imprison us to a life of addiction, greed, jealousy, insecurity, and other effects of sin. Only the one true God can break the cycle and set us free.

All of the commandments that follow the first two are simply applications of God’s overarching call to “have no other gods before me.” We cannot steal, murder, commit adultery, or lie if we’re loving God and worshiping him. In counseling, in small group, in church, or in conversation, we can address an infinite number of moral issues, or we can boil it down to this: there’s one God—worship him.

Our gracious, loving father

There’s a common notion that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are two different deities, as if Old Testament God is angry and vindictive while New Testament God is gracious and loving. Throughout Scripture, however, we see that “I the Lord do not change” (Mal. 3:6), and in God’s character “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas. 1:17). This is absolutely evident in the story of the Ten Commandments.

God prefaces the Ten Commandments by saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2). This sentiment echoes throughout the New Testament for God’s people today. To paraphrase Galatians 5:1, “I just set you free, so now live free.” The big idea has never changed: the pathway to true freedom has less to do with physical liberation and everything to do with the object of our worship.

God’s people in the Old Testament and God’s people in the New Testament can enjoy a worshipful relationship with their Father, thanks to his grace and mercy—not our merit, works, or law-keeping. The Ten Commandments are not a formula for clean living; they’re a picture of what it looks like to live in freedom of worship under the protection, wisdom, and goodness of a Father who loves us.


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