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You Can’t Do It! Reflections on the Ten Commandments

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As I have spent the last couple of months reading and reflecting on the Ten Commandments while writing this series of blogs, I have been reminded again that I have not been able to keep these commandments.In fact, I realize I have broken them more often than I would like to admit. No, I haven’t killed anyone or robbed a bank, but I have certainly coveted many things over the years and have at times, concealed rather than testified to the truth. My thoughts have been more focused on my gain rather than the good of others, and there are many times I have put other things before the God who brought His people out of Egypt. I definitely would need another multi-month series to write about all my mistakes and shortcomings.

I’m a perfectionist who sometimes obsesses over small mistakes and is haunted by them for a long period of time. Yet, this deep journey into my failures has not left me completely devastated…I am surprisingly okay! Guilt and shame have popped up, but they have not remained because the Ten Commandments do not comprise the entirety of the Christian faith. They were given to us to show us how to love God and our neighbor, and give concrete ways of how to live when we are tempted to put other things/persons ahead of God and ourselves ahead of others. The commandments also reveal to us the extent of our sinfulness…and point us to the work of Christ. You see, we are imperfect and none of us have kept these commandments, but Jesus has! This does not mean we shouldn’t even bother trying to keep them, but as we do, we need to remember two truths – Jesus offers us forgiveness for the times we have disobeyed, and the Spirit transforms us so we can follow God’s ways more and more.

Forgiveness for Our Failures
The Ten Commandments are a gift to us in that they prevent us from thinking that we are okay — something that hinders us from running to Christ in faith and experiencing the blessing of forgiveness. I recently read a book that repeatedly highlighted that humans have a tendency to rationalize, finding ways to affirm (rather than challenge) what we already believe and finding ways to excuse any flaws rather than admit that we have done wrong or not lived up to our standards. The Ten Commandments confront that tendency, offering an itemized list of things to prevent us from being able to justify ourselves in our own eyes and before God. It is only when we see our failures and are unable to excuse them that we see our need for a Savior and truly understand the meaning of Christ’s death. The offer of forgiveness only makes sense when we see our guilt that the Ten Commandments make clear. Seeing our failures allows us to experience the joy of forgiveness. Therefore, the Commandments show us the depth of our failures but also the incredible extent of God’s forgiveness through Jesus’s death.

Transformed to Be Able to Follow
An additional way the Ten Commandments help us is by directing us to rely upon the transforming work of the Holy Spirit as we seek to follow God. We read through the list of commands and recognize not only that we have failed to keep them, but also that we will not be able to keep them by simply trying harder. It is not an issue of ignorance or lackluster efforts, but of a fallen, sinful nature that is our natural estate without Christ. But through faith in him, we not only experience forgiveness of our sins (past, present, and future), but also the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms us so that we no longer are in bondage to sinful desires; we are set free to obey and follow the Law. As we do so, we need to remember that we can not do this alone — it is the Spirit of God at work in us. Not only have we not kept the Law but Christ has, we also can’t keep the Law but the Spirit can.

We Can’t Keep the Ten Commandments, but We Need to Keep Looking to Them
Studying the Ten Commandments should lead us to recognize that we haven’t – and can’t – keep them. However, that news does not lead us to despair and resignation but to hope and an endeavor to follow them more and more each day. I like the way the Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 115 notes we can’t keep the Ten Commandments, but yet we are called to keep on studying them so that we look to Christ and strive to follow him more faithfully throughout our lives.

Q & A 115

Q. Since no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God want them preached so pointedly?
A. First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness. Second, so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.

As we move on to explore other subjects on the blog, may we not forget to think about the Ten Commandments, and in the process, be led to deeper faith in Christ and lives that are more reflective of Him. This is God’s desire for our lives until the day we meet Him face to face and have finally achieved that goal of perfection.

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