Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 2
If God promises to forgive me, why should I obey his commands? Does the gospel free me from my obligation to obey God’s laws? How does God’s gospel relate to God’s law? Why does God command me to obey his laws when he knows I can’t? How can I obey God’s commandments?
In this fifth lesson, you’ll learn three ways to be transformed by the Ten Commandments.
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Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 2
By Steve Childers and John Frame
The highest virtue of love looks like someone who obeys the Ten Commandments out of a sincere love for God and others. But because of sin, no one can fully obey these commands. So why did God give them to us? What is the relationship between God’s law, which demands our obedience, and the gospel, which promises us forgiveness?
Distinguishing between law and gospel in Christian theology is challenging. God’s law must not be used to deny the gospel, and God’s gospel must not be used to deny the law. This is because the Bible presents aspects of the law in the gospel and aspects of the gospel in the law. The gospel is both a gracious offer of salvation to all who believe and a royal summons for everyone to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. Likewise, when the Bible presents God’s law, it’s often in the context of the gospel of redemption.
With this in mind, we return to our earlier question, “Why does God command us to obey his laws perfectly when no one has the ability to fully obey them? There are three important ways that God uses his laws to advance his gospel of redemption and restoration in Christ. These three biblical “uses of the law” are: 1) to restrain evil in society, 2) to convict people of sin and lead them to Christ, and 3) to guide believers in how they should live.
First Use of The Law: Civil Use
The first use of of God’s law is called its civil use, and it applies to both Christians and non- Christians. When God’s moral laws are upheld in society, such as laws not to murder, steal, and lie, it inhibits lawlessness, protects the righteous from the unjust, and secures civil order. (Deut 13:6-11, 19:16-21) This is especially true when God’s laws are reflected in civil laws that punish offenders. (Rom 13:3-4)
Second Use of the Law: Conviction of Sin
The second use of God’s law is to convict people of sin and lead them to Christ. This also applies to both non-Christians and Christians. The law is like a mirror that reflects to us both God’s perfect righteousness and our sinfulness, thereby leading us to Christ in repentance and faith. Augustine writes, “the law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements, and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help of grace.”
God’s moral law in the Ten Commandments requires our obedience and condemns us but gives us no strength to obey. The Apostle Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20). John Calvin teaches that no one except Jesus has ever fulfilled the demands of God’s law to love perfectly.
Though we don’t have the ability to obey fully even one of the Ten Commandments, God, in his mercy, has done that for us in the person and work of his only Son. Jesus perfectly obeyed all of God’s laws for us so that he could fully satisfy all of God’s just demands of us through his death on the cross in our place.
God provides for us in Christ what he justly requires of us in his law. Jesus fulfilled all the righteous requirements of God’s law on our behalf, so that God would consider the perfect righteousness of Christ to be ours when we believe in him. (Rom 3:21-22) God’s amazing declaration is that all who are in Christ are righteous, based on the forgiveness of their sin by Jesus’ blood and the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness to them by faith. (2 Cor 5:21)
The good news is that God the Father promises to accept and love all who are in Christ as he accepts and loves his one and only Son, and there is no greater love than the eternal love of God the Father for his Son.
So, if all the requirements of the law have already been met for us by Christ, and God now sees us as his children, clothed in Jesus’ perfect righteousness, why should we obey the law? This leads us to a third use of God’s law.
Third Use of the Law: Guide for Believers’ Good Works
The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus Christ are now “free from the law” as a way of salvation. (Rom 6:14, 7:4-6, 1 Cor 9:20, Gal 2:15-19, 3:25) We are no longer under the condemning curse of the law because Jesus took that curse on himself for us. However, we’re always under God’s loving authority revealed in his law as our rule of life.
The difference now is that God’s law tells us, his children, what pleases and honors him as our heavenly Father. God’s law is now our family code to guide us so that we flourish in all our relationships. Obeying God’s commands is not our way of trying to earn God’s love. Instead, it’s a display of our love for God who first loved us in Christ. The Apostle John wrote, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
There is a great contrast between obeying the law as a religious duty to earn God’s love and acceptance and obeying the law as an expression of gratitude for God’s love and acceptance of us in Christ. Tim Keller writes, “Religion says, ‘I obey; therefore I’m accepted.’ The Gospel says, ‘I’m accepted; therefore I obey.’”
However, our obedience is often motivated by either fear of punishment or promise of reward in this life and the life to come. So it’s easy for us to wonder why we should obey God if he has already promised not to punish us and to bless us now and forever. Godly fear of our loving Father’s discipline for our disobedience as his children is a biblical motivation (Heb 12:5-11), as is godly hope of being rewarded for our obedience. (Matt 16:27, 2 Cor 5:10)
But our primary motivation for obeying God should be our love for him who promises not to punish us, but always to love us in Christ, even when we disobey him.
However, to obey God’s commands we need more than forgiveness for disobeying them. We also need power beyond ourselves. The good news is that God promises to give us not only forgiveness of sins but also the gift of his indwelling Holy Spirit, so that, springing from a new heart, we’ll be empowered to obey God with new motivations and desires (Acts 2:38, Ezek 36:26-27).
God’s moral law requires our obedience, condemns us, and gives us no strength to obey. But God fulfills the law’s demands in Christ, forgives us, and then gives us strength by his Spirit to obey his demands with delight and joy. The poet and hymnwriter William Cowper summarizes this good news in a line from one of his hymns.
To see the law by Christ fulfilled,
And hear His pard’ning voice,
Transforms a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.
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