(Photo: Dan Delzell)
"If only people would start obeying the 10 Commandments, this world would be a much better place." That's true....but it's not as easy to pull off as it might appear at first blush.
God gave the 10 Commandments to His people about 3500 years ago. These commands were given specifically to Israel....and not to the other nations in the Old Testament. When we move into New Testament times, "Israel" takes on a new flavor. All of a sudden we are told that "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." (Romans 9:6) What? Really?
That's right. God makes all things new. There is a new covenant for the people of God beginning with Jesus Christ. God redefines what it means to be a "Jew." Starting in New Testament times 2000 years ago, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly." (Romans 2:28) Just let that sink in for a moment. It's no small transition from the way it had been for the first 4000 years of human history. Beginning in the New Testament era, there has to be an "internal adoption," and not just a biological pedigree. There has to be "new birth." (1 Peter 1:3) And there has to be sanctification. A person literally becomes a new creation the moment the living God comes to dwell inside his body when he is converted through faith in Christ. (see 2 Cor. 5:17 & 1 Cor. 6:19)
OK. So....how does all this "new creation" stuff come to pass? Through the 10 Commandments? Not exactly. That is to say, it's not as simple as man launching out with moralistic fervor in an attempt to obey God's commands. Whenever and wherever man does that, he falls far short of God's perfection....and God's perfect Law....and he remains unconverted.
So do the 10 Commandments have a unique and special purpose for the unbeliever? Yes....namely, "the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ." (Gal. 3:24) In the Old Testament, the Law was given to those who were already in relationship with God as His chosen people. In the New Testament, you can't just embrace the commands of God as your own until you first enter a relationship with God. You have to become a "New Testament Jew" so to speak. You have to belong to the family of God....and that only happens by birth....spiritual birth that is.
The Law leads a person to Christ by showing him that he is a lawbreaker. It's similar to when a doctor shows a patient test results which point to a terminal illness. The Law brings us face to face with our sin....and the awful sickness in our soul....and we see just how far we fall short of God's requirements. Without that insight from the Law, man is left feeling pretty good about where he stands with God. Man generally feels fairly satisfied about himself and his level of morality. Why shouldn't he? It is in man's nature to assume that he is righteous enough to gain God's approval.
The truth is that we are all guilty, and exceedingly so. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) The Law proves it. Before the Law leads a man to Christ, he tends to be deceived about his true spiritual condition. The Law cannot save his soul....it can only reveal his soul's condition without Christ.
So what is the solution to man's problem? Jesus said, "You must be born again." (John 3:7) There it is....the path to relationship....the way to get in the family. In your own family, you were either born into it....or adopted into it. A Christian has been "born" in, and "adopted" into God's family through faith in Jesus Christ. (see Ephesians 1:5) Then and only then do you get to claim the rules for yourself. Then you can honestly say with the Psalmist, "Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." (Psalm 119:97) No one truly loves God's Law unless he is already in relationship with God. Rules without relationships lead to rebellion....and they do not produce a love for God.
If you want to see how this plays out in everyday life, try giving only rules to your kids....but no love. See how they respond. It will get ugly in a hurry. The loving relationship must be in place for the rules to be properly accepted, understood, and followed. That is the way we were designed by our Creator.
Once you are in a loving relationship with your Creator, the rules become a way that you are able to demonstrate your love for Him. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." (John 14:15) Prior to your new birth, you never pleased God....because you were always imperfect. No matter how hard you tried, you fell far short of His standards. But now through faith....you are in the family....and you are under grace....and God sees you as perfect in His sight through the lens of His Son, Jesus. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us and makes us as white as snow in God's eyes. (see 1 John 1:7) That motivates us to want to obey His commands....because He first loved us, and we now love Him too.
The Holy Spirit inside the believer is the Person who creates within us a genuine love for God. It is a very tender thing, and man is unable to generate this love. It must be placed inside of him by the Lord. God is the author of this love. Imagine that....God gives us the very love that we need to have in order to truly love the Lord. He enables us to love Him in sincerity and truth. Without the Holy Spirit living inside a person through faith in Jesus Christ, a man might claim to love God....but it is usually just a "selfish" kind of "love." Only God can give us the real thing....the kind of love that flows out of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You know....the kind of personal relationship that the original disciples had with Jesus both before and after his death and resurrection.
So you see....God's Law wasn't given to sanctify unbelievers. God gave it to those in His family. For those outside His family, the Law will lead you to Christ by showing you that you are a sinner and in desperate need of what Jesus did on the cross to pay for your sins. That is where the Law leads you....or at least where the Holy Spirit desires to lead you. Are you open to His leading? Are you open to having God to show you how your sin separates you from Him? If so, you may be close to getting adopted into His family....and born into it....by repenting of your sin and trusting in Jesus as your Savior. From then on, you will follow the One who saved you.
The next time you attempt to share God's Law with someone who does not yet know the Lord, just remember this: "The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ." (Gal. 3:24) It was not given to sanctify unbelievers. The Law is very good. In fact, it is perfect....and it has a purpose for both the believer and the unbeliever. If we don't understand the proper distinction between God's Law, and His Gospel, then we get the whole thing jumbled up and confused in our thinking.
There is an order to God's work. There is an order to being in God's family. It isn't automatic. Being born in this world does not guarantee the new birth. We need God's Law to show us our sin....and the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin. (see John 16:8) And we need the good news of the Gospel to bring us forgiveness and a relationship with the Lord through faith. Once that is in place, we get to spend the rest of our life living for Him as we seek daily to "find out what pleases the Lord." (Eph. 5:10) The Holy Spirit produces that process of sanctification and those holy desires in the life of every Christian who is grateful to be in the family of God.
How about you? Have you allowed God's Law to lead you to Christ? And if so, are you thrilled beyond measure to belong to God's family....or is it all just rather boring to you? It would be a shame for you or I to to miss out on what God can do in the life of someone who gets adopted into His eternal family.
Nothing this world has to offer....and I mean nothing....can touch that reality and the benefits that come from belonging to your Creator....as compared to living as though He didn't create you, and He didn't die on the cross for your sins. Those two different ways to live are at opposite ends of the spectrum....and they provide completely opposite results which extend throughout eternity.
If you are an unbeliever, it doesn't have to stay that way. You can get in on this thing. God would love to adopt you into His family....but the question is this: Do you want to be in it?