An Introduction To The Ten Commandments

by Robert Driskell · Print Print · Email Email

With this article, I begin a study of the Ten Commandments. Of course, this study could never be exhaustive; however, I will attempt to put forth a compelling case for the importance, the fundamental importance, of these Commandments. Please forgive my shortcomings in dealing with this huge, and hugely important, topic. I am sure to make some say, “That’s exactly right” and I’m sure to make others say, “Ahh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” But, I will be satisfied if I can simply cause people to think seriously about the Ten Commandments while not getting myself labeled a heretic.

There are many who believe in God who think that, if humanity were simply to attempt to live as closely as possible by these Commandments, our world would be a much better place in which to exist. There are those of the opposite persuasion who believe the Ten Commandments are simply a list of human concepts that believers ascribe to an imaginary God. There are also those who believe that the Ten Commandments held much weight in the Old Testament times, but no longer apply in any way to today’s Christian community. Let us look into a small portion of what the Bible has to say concerning the Ten Commandments.

What are the Ten Commandments? A birds eye view

As a general explanation, the Ten Commandments contain, in written form, the essence of God’s standard for human conduct. God’s standards for morality and conduct did not start with the Ten Commandments, nor is every detailed action spelled out within its content.

The late Charles Colson writes, “The Ten Commandments spell out what love for God and our neighbor looks like. The content of our love for God and neighbor is not for us to decide. We are too sinful, too selfish, and too foolish to make our own decisions about these matters. Without divine holiness, love, and wisdom we will go wrong, and the Holy Spirit, who superintended the writing of the Scriptures, uses the Ten Commandments to guide us” (Begg, p. 11).

Without opening a topic of discussion too large for this article, suffice it to say that the moral aspect of God’s Law is eternal; “This Law did not begin with the thundering of Sinai; it came to Adam in the garden” (Begg, p. 25). God gave the very first man commands to obey; the Law, where humanity is concerned, began in the Garden of Eden. When sin entered the hearts of people, the Law (and love) of God was pushed out. Because the human heart rejected His Law, God eventually responded by having His requirements placed in written form.

Function of the Ten Commandments (The Law)

We are Sinners

The Law functions as the means whereby we are shown to be sinners. In other words, is there anyone who can honestly claim to have never broken even one of the Ten Commandments? Of course not. And, if we have broken even one, we are guilty before God. The Bible says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10 ESV). The Law teaches us that we are sinners in need of salvation (Galatians 3:23-4:3).

Essence of Sin

The Law shows us the essence of sin, The Bible tells us that, …through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 ESV). The apostle Paul, writing in Romans, tells us that humanity would not recognize sin if God had not revealed it to us, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7 ESV). Alistair Begg, speaking of our modern society, writes, “The cultural climate is one in which there is plenty of room for personal preferences and little if any for eternal principles” (Begg, p. 18). In other words, there are only two ways in which to live: God’s way or our way. Only God’s way results in eternal life.

The Bible makes it clear that the Law is evidence that we are accountable to a holy God

The Bible makes it clear that the Law is evidence that we are accountable to a holy God

The apostle Paul even says that, had God not given the Law, we would have simply continued in our sin without ever knowing we were sinners. The Bible also makes it clear that the Law is evidence that we are accountable to a holy God, “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15 ESV; cf. Romans 5:13). It is God’s standard to which we are accountable.

The Good News

The good news (Gospel) is that, while the Law shows us that we are sinners under the wrath of God, He has also provided the means whereby we can be reconciled to Him, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). This verse reassures us that, no matter how much we have sinned, God’s grace is sufficient to take care of it.

The Christian is not saved by works of the Law (Romans 3:20; Ephesians 2:8-10), but because, “…we understand God’s love to us in Christ…we find ourselves delighting in God’s Law written in our hearts” (Begg, p. 31). Puritan Samuel Bolton has written, “The law sends us to the Gospel, that we may be justified, and the Gospel sends us to the law again to enquire what is our duty in being justified” (quoted in Begg, p. 29). In other words, the faithful Christian desires to obey God, and His Law, because we understand how much He loves us.


God gave the nation of Israel, the people He chose to represent Him, many more specific examples of how this Law was to be lived out. However, many of those specifics do not apply to Christians today. For example, we do not have to make sure that we do not wear clothing that contains both wool and linen mixed together (Deuteronomy 22:11 ESV). Most of the ceremonial and the civil aspects of the Law were for a particular people at a particular time. This does not mean that a life lived according to the finer points of God’s Law would be something bad. God knew that humanity was incapable of living a perfect life according to His standard, so He first gave us the Law to reveal our sin and then sent His perfect Son to die on a cross to pay for that sin. The Law, in all its myriad of out-workings, was primarily meant to accomplish two purposes: (1) to bring to man the knowledge of sin…and (2) to increase the actual experience of sin in the lives of sinners. 

The Ten Commandments (Law) are a powerful example of God’s goodness and grace. It would have been unloving to simply look the other way, allow humans to store up wrath because of our sinfulness (Romans 2:5), and then judge us even though we didn’t know we were in danger of judgment. But, our loving God has made it abundantly clear that we are unholy sinners in need of salvation; a salvation He has supplied through His Son, Jesus Christ. He has made our situation clear by giving us the Law. The Law reveals our unholiness and requires a decision on our part, either to repent of our sins, follow Jesus, and worship God…or to continue in our sin and rebellion which result in an eternity of punishment (Matthew 25:46) separated from the very presence of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9), Who is love (I John 4:8, 16).

Please ponder carefully, and prayerfully, the ramifications of this decision…I pray you will choose to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, body, and strength.

Related reading: What Are the Ten Commandments

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Begg, Alistair. Pathway to Freedom. Moody, 2003.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits June 23, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Great topic Robert,

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote and say Amen! I would like to make one clarification, if I may, for those who might be confused about your one statement under “Conclusion” which is confusing.

You write, “God gave the nation of Israel, the people He chose to represent Him, many more specific examples of how this Law was to be lived out.”.

Then you go on to list ceremonial Rules. While I understand your intent to draw a distinction between the two, I don’t believe you did.

The Law, as you well said, were(and are) the Ten Commandments. The Ninth Commandment states, a person shall not bear false witness against their neighbor. This has nothing to do with hand washing or setting the leper outside the camp.

The Law is still in force today. Breaking a ceremonial rule, like joining wool and linen in one’s clothing, had nothing to do with how the Ten Commandments were to be lived out.

Many have tasked Christians with defending our belief in the Ten Commandments while offering us a ceremonial rule as evidence(“proof”) that they(The Law…Ten Commandments) no longer apply to our present time. Many Christians do not know how to answer that challenge.

There is much confusion over this point, not only among unbelievers but unfortunately among believers. The Ten Commandments and ceremonial requirements are separate and distinct, neither being the outworking of the other.

On your larger point on the purpose of the Law, I agree. God ultimately loves us and gave us the Law to demonstrate to us our need for Him. It(the Law) is written upon all men’s hearts(Heb 10:16, Rom 2:15) and Christ will finally draw all men unto Him which are His(Jn 12:32).




Robert June 24, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Hi Doc,

Always good to hear from you. Your comments are spot on. I knew I would miss emphasizing something in my article, so I was counting on comments, such as yours, to fill in the empty spots. I can always count on your diligence, and I appreciate it…and you.

While I agree that the ceremonial (and civil) aspects of the Law are separate, they seem to be vitally linked. I believe that the ceremonial parts were basically object lessons, albeit very important ones, which illustrated other truths. For instance, we know that the sacrificing of the animals pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. The ceremonial aspects of the Law, in my opinion, were (for Israel in their time and as an example for us today) practical examples, living parables if you will, of the principles God wants us to live by. For example, not joining two different kinds of cloth together may illustrate that we are to worship God only, not a mixture of God and anything else (the First Commandment).

Possibly the ceremonial laws pointed more toward our relationship with God (and spiritual truths), while the civil laws pointed more toward our relationships with each other. I’m just laying out my thoughts here. I’m sure further study on my part is needed.

You make some excellent points in your comment and it would be wise for anyone trying to understand the importance of the Ten Commandments to keep those comments in mind. One cannot go wrong by digging into the Bible, thinking deeply about it, and discussing it with others. There is much to ponder.

God bless you, Doc.

Yours in Christ,


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