Dale Appleby

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Weekly Reflections

Who can keep the Ten Commandments? 6 June10

Who can keep the Ten Commandments?

Why do Christians make so much of the Ten Commandments? Or they used to. Many ancient cultures had laws similar to the last five or six. And until recent years few societies would have imagined condoning behaviour that went against these rules.

So do Christians own the trademark on them? Or Jews perhaps? Is there something unique about the Ten Commandments (even though there are two slightly different versions of them)? One of the things that makes them unique is the first four. These commandments centre obedience not in social theory but in the person of Yahweh the God of Israel.

It is a common trend in modern Christian religious discourse to focus “sins” on the horizontal, social plane, as though the essence of sin had to do with social disruption and discrimination. But ‘loving one’s neighbour’ is paired with, and in a sense dependent on, loving the Lord our God.

The Ten Commandments are unique for another reason which is to be found in the introduction. These are rules for a redeemed community. This is what God’s own people are to do now that they have been rescued from Egypt, from slavery. They are a rescued, saved people.

The rules are not conditions for being saved, but the description of the behaviour of saved people. So they are rules of grace. Messages of kindness to show God’s people how to live as his people.

But how can they keep them? The history of this people suggests they did not do very well at obeying these laws. Was it ever possible? Is it possible now? Is it possible for people who have not yet been rescued by God to keep them?

It is a big question which the Bible struggles with. It is not one which we can give a glib answer to, as though just anyone could live this way. But the Bible does give an answer. It is the same answer to the question as to how they come to be saved in the first place.

Put simply the commandments can, must, be kept by faith and by God’s grace (Rom 9.32). That is, by the Spirit. Those who are led by the Spirit are the keepers of the Ten Commandments.

Dale

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