I admit that this is a very dangerous title for a newspaper column from a pastor, so please read on and see if the meaning does not become clearer.
Almost everyone, when they first hear of the Ten Commandments, thinks “this is a list of the things that God requires of me in order to be accepted and approved by Him.” I’m afraid that we in the church sometimes propagate this same idea. We want to get the Ten Commandments out in our courthouses and schools, because we want people to know what God requires of them, and we imply that if our nation will keep the Commandments God will set His love on us and bless us. Even though the Ten Commandments are sacred, this understanding is wrong, and it was wrong 3,400 years ago when God gave Israel these commands. God did not say to Israel, “Here is my law. Obey my commands and I will redeem you and bring you to myself and bless you.”
Read the beginning of the Commandments (the prologue): It is Exodus 20:2 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other God’s before me.” Do you hear? “I am the Lord who has rescued you from bondage. I have set my love and salvation upon you,” and then God begins to talk about the Law. It is not that we obey the Law first and then when we measure up and have done enough, God loves us. Instead the order is that first He loves us and redeems us. Then, after He has set His love on us in Jesus, and we begin a relationship with him, in the context of that loving relationship, He gives us His Law.
There are two ways that you can approach the law of God. You can look at it and go, “This is what God requires of me. If I will obey His commands then God will bless me and love me and be for me.” Or we come to law and we say, “Because I am received in Jesus, because he has pardoned me out of his sheer grace rather than anything I have ever done or can do, because he has forgiven my sins through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, now I want to know Him better and please Him by following His commands with the strength He provides, and daily walk in and experience His love.”
These two approaches are actually two different religions. One is Christianity and the other is Morality. Christianity (the Gospel) says “I cannot keep the law. I am a law-breaker. There is no hope for me if I must keep the law to be saved. The law is not my way of salvation. Jesus is the only way. He has kept the Law for me. He loves me and cares for me, and has paid the penalty for my law-breaking. It is not my doing, but God’s grace in Jesus that saves me.”
Morality says, “I must be good enough. This is what matters. God wants me to be good. God loves successful folks and not failures. So I will be righteous and keep the law and God will care for me and love me and bless me.”
If you go the way of Morality then one of two things will happen: you will end up defeated and despondent, or you will end up superior and self-righteous. You are defeated because you try to keep God’s law, and again and again you fail. You do not measure up. It is like a burden that you cannot bear. And you will grow weary and begin to despise a God who demands so much from you. And you will despise yourself because you can’t do it. And you will despise prayer and the Bible and church because you never feel you have done enough.
Or you will think that you have become a pretty good law-keeper (like the Pharisees of the New Testament). You will feel good about how good you are. And you will look down on those who struggle; and you will tell God how lucky He is to have a servant like you. And notice, there is really no need for
Jesus. You do not really need a Savior if you are a good person.
Christianity says, “God has set His love on you in Jesus and has freed you from the bondage of your sins. You are His child now and forever. Here is the way to know His love and to walk in His love and grow closer to the One who has called you to Himself.” The order must be correct.
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.