This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:
Introduction to the Ten Commandments
Luther writes in the preface to the Large Catechism, ‘The reason we take such care to preach on the catechism frequently is to impress it upon our young people, not in a lofty and learned manner but briefly and very simply, so that it may penetrate deeply into their minds and remain fixed in their memories.’ (p. 386; The Book of Concord, 2000)
Luther wrote the Catechism to teach others what he thought were the basics of the faith. And he encouraged people to return to them frequently so that they are on the forefront of our thoughts. Because of this, I plan to use this year to take time to reflect upon one part of the Catechism (the Ten Commandments).
I want to begin by clearly and definitively stating that the commandments are not a requirement for salvation. I am amazed the number of times that I have heard people when ask about how one is saved will respond by saying, ‘following the Ten Commandments.’ Following the commandments does not save us, for we are not saved by works, our own effort, or our own righteousness—we are saved by grace through faith. We are saved through Jesus’ death on the cross as he took upon the sins of the world to redeem and reconcile it to himself.
So, what is the purpose of the commandments if it not to save us?
Originally, the commandments were given by God to Moses to share with the Hebrew people after escaping from slavery in Egypt and prior to their entering into the Promised Land. I think that the purpose of the commandments was to help shape and instruct the people about what it means to live as a community centered around God. The Ten Commandments can be divided into two parts: 1) commandments about how we relate to God and in essence—‘how we love God’ and 2) commandments about how we related to our neighbors—helping us to know ‘how we love our neighbor.’
I think that this is also true for us today—these commandments teach us about how we should live in community which is centered around God. The other aspect of the Ten Commandments for our world today is that they are given in order to point us to Jesus and drive us to the foot of the cross. Luther talks about the law being a mirror. The commandments are to be a mirror for us. They show us God’s desire for us and they reflect back to us how we fail to live up the commandments (sin) and thus convicting us that we are in need of redemption and driving us into the merciful arms of Jesus, the one who gave his life so that our sins and failing can be forgiven.
While the commandments are meant to teach about how we should live out our lives, there is nothing magical about the actual commandments. I am amazed at times when people talk about how the world would be different if we just went back to posting the Ten Commandments in schools and in courthouses and in various other public places.
I do not believe that the world would be different if we post the commandments in all kinds of place. I do believe that the world would be completely different if people followed the commandments and attempted to live out these commandments in their daily interactions. Getting people to do this comes not simply by posting them in places but by following the advice of Luther and having churches and parents teach them and help others to understand them in ways that they ‘penetrate deeply into their minds and remain fixed in their memories.’
I invite you to reflect and seek to learn and grow in your understanding of the commandments throughout the year so that we may grow in our love of God and neighbor.