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Rev Julian Mann: The Ten Commandments give spiritual and moral shape to our lives


This is an edited version of a sermon preached today at the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge:

When did the Ten Commandments first register with you? When did you first become aware of their existence?
They first registered with me through Cecil B DeMille’s 1956 blockbuster called the Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. I watched it as a school boy in the early 1970s and that’s when I first became aware of the Ten Commandments. I might have been told about them before that but they certainly didn’t register with me. I didn’t grow up with them – at the time I was growing up our culture was fast letting go of the spiritual and moral importance of God’s Ten Commandments.

We’re beginning this morning a summer sermon series on the Ten Commandments, the ten spiritual and moral rules God gave his people Israel through his servant Moses. They were written by the finger of God on two tablets of stone whilst Moses was on Mt Sinai soon after God had rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

As Christians we need to understand the Ten Commandments through the prism of the gospel, through the lens of the fullness of God’s revelation that we have received in the saving good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Christians the Ten Commandments perform three very important spiritual and moral functions for us.

First, they reveal the character of our God. Take for example, the First Commandment, ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20v3 – NIV). This commandment reflects the character of our God because our God, who is Trinity, one God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the only God. He is the only sovereign creator and ruler of the universe and of our world and of us. There is no God apart from him. He is our Lord, and that commandment to his people reflects his character.

‘Do not commit adultery’ because the God we worship is faithful to his chosen people so we should be faithful to our wife or husband.  ‘Do not steal’ because our God is a generous God. He is a giving God so we his people should not steal. God willing, we will see the glorious and wonderful character of our God reflected in his commandments as we progress, he enabling, with this sermon series. The Ten Commandments reveal the wonderfully good character of our God.

Secondly, the Ten Commandments reveal our sin and thus drive us to Christ for the forgiveness that we need. God’s commandments shine a light into our hearts and reveals the darkness in them. For example, in relation to the first commandment, I have not in my life given God the devotion he deserves. I have had other gods apart from him, I have put my ultimate confidence for meaning and purpose in life, my ultimate confidence for security and significance in life,  in things other than the great and glorious God in whom I should have put my ultimate trust and confidence, the God who has made himself known in the Lord Jesus. I have put my heart and soul into things other than the one true God.

So that first commandment reveals the idolatry, the false worship in my own heart and thus drives me to Christ. The commandment shows me that I need the forgiveness that can be found and only be found in God’s one and only Son the Lord Jesus Christ.

The other commandments also function in that way even the ones we think we might have kept, for example ‘you shall not murder’. I have not committed murder in the legal sense, you will no doubt be relieved to hear. But the Lord Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount gave that commandment a heart depth, if I can put it that way, that certainly includes me as a commandment breaker. He said – Matthew chpt 5v21&22 – ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement’ (NIV).

Unrighteous, selfish, uncontrolled anger in the community of God’s people at the heart depth breaks the Sixth Commandment. At that level, the commandments certainly shine a light into our hearts, revealing our sin and thus driving us as Christian people to the forgiveness that we need and wonderfully receive in our Lord Jesus. The commandments reveal our sin and drive us to Christ.

Thirdly, the Ten Commandments give spiritual and moral shape to our Christian lives. They show us the good way God wants us to live as Christian people.

It is important to stress that we are not saved by keeping the Ten Commandments. We are saved, put right with God, given his gift of eternal relationship with him through faith in the Lord Jesus, who died for our sins. We are not saved by keeping God’s rules.

But once saved in the Lord Jesus, these commandments show us what should be the spiritual and moral shape of our Christian lives. I should have no other gods apart the God who has saved me in the Lord Jesus. My ultimate trust and confidence should be in him and in him alone because he and only he has saved me for eternity in the Lord Jesus.  I should be a generous person because the God who saved me in the Lord Jesus is a generous God. I should be a faithful person because the God who saved me in the Lord Jesus is faithful. I should be a truthful person because the God who saved me in the Lord Jesus is the God of truth.

These commandments reveal the spiritual and moral shape of the Christian life, God’s good life.

We’re going to focus this morning in closing on the first three verses of Exodus chapter 20, the announcement of the Ten Commandments and the first commandment:

‘And God spoke all these words. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.’

God spoke all these words. We need to take on board the origin of these commandments. We don’t make the rules. God does. Don’t we need to hear that in our narcissistic, self-worshipping, self-centred society and culture? ‘No one tells me what to do because I am the captain of my ship, I am the master of my destiny, I am the king of my castle’ or, to put it in more contemporary terms, ‘I’m the guy who makes it happen for me in my life’.

God spoke all these words. There is a supreme being called God who rules the universe, irrespective of whether I recognise him or not, irrespective of whether I believe in him or not  – he is there and he is in charge and ultimately I am accountable to him. We all are.

It’s so counter-cultural, isn’t it? The Ten Commandments are not a human invention. They have their origin in God, so I am not free to trim them, to edit them, to play pick and mix with them in order to suit myself. God spoke all these words.

And note secondly in God’s announcement of the Ten Commandments that they are his gift to his people. God’s people did not earn the right to be in relationship with God and to receive his gift of the good life as reflected in these commandments. ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’

God saved his people and then showed them how to live the good life.

We don’t earn God’s good life, we don’t deserve it. God out of his love and mercy chooses to save us in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give us his gift of the good life, his right way to live in his world.

The people of Israel were saved first and then given the Ten Commandments. They did not earn the right to be God’s people – neither do we.

That’s the firm spiritual foundation of the FirstCommandment – you shall have no other gods before me. That doesn’t mean of course that we are allowed other gods after God, as it were. He’s the first in line but we are allowed some others after him. No, the God who has saved us in the Lord Jesus is our only God, the only One in whom we place our ultimate hope and confidence for life.

My job or my possessions or my social connections or my education or even my marriage and my family – they are not to be my God. I am to have no other gods besides the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, the God who has saved me and who has the right to rule my life. And that’s true for all of us.

‘And God spoke all these words. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.’

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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