What Are The Ten Commandments? Complete List From the Bible and Life Application

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Are the Ten Commandments still relevant today?  Are there applications for a believer’s life in this day and age?  What are ways in which we can apply these to our day to day life?

What Are the Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments were given to Moses from God Himself for the people of Israel but they equally apply to all peoples of the earth.  How can “You shall not murder” ever be considered to be out of date?  The Ten Commandments were given to help us live and to be prosperous on the earth.  They are as relevant today as in the day in which they were given.  Exodus 20 contains a complete list of these Commandments.  These are laws given by God that are guides in how to live.  They contain ethical and moral principles that if kept, could nearly replace all other laws given to mankind.  The first four Commandments are vertical.  That is they involve our relationship with God.  The last six Commandments are horizontal and establish how we ought to relate to our fellow human beings.  It is interesting that when they are put together, they form a cross.  The Ten Commandments were the foundation of many of the Western Nations and today they form the bedrock of society as a whole, although many are considered to be out of date.

The fact that these Commandments were written by God Himself and were inscribed on tablets of stone indicate their permanence and that they are considered timeless.  These are not man-made laws which can change over time and differ in cultural settings.  The Ten Commandments have not changed and they are not meant to change, only to change human behavior to fit them.  These are not negotiable and with the exception of the Sabbath command, were repeated in the New Testament by the apostles and by Jesus Christ Himself.  These moral laws were given by the Moral Lawgiver – that is by God – and they will never be outdated.  They are the standard for obedience given to us and they reflect the holiness of God.  If you break these Laws, you will have to give an account to the Lawgiver.  Only Jesus Christ kept the Law perfectly.  These Laws reflect God’s character and James said that they act as a mirror to the human conscience as wrote, “whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:25).  We are clear what Law James was talking about when he clarifies it by saying, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.  For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder. If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker” (James 2:8-11).

What Are The Ten Commandments

Who among us have truly kept this Law?

We know that all of the Ten Command- ments, with the exception of the Sabbath, were repeated by the New Testament authors and by Jesus Christ.  When the young, rich man came up to Jesus he asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life? “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matt 19:16-22). Here we see that Jesus was saying that being a good person was not enough to inherit eternal life for this young, rich man had kept the Commandments except that he coveted his money and was not willing to part with it.  In this regard, he also broke the First Commandment, as his wealth was his god.  Jesus was not really saying that we should give everything away, but that we should not be coveting our money or putting it in the place of God.  This young man was also committing idolatry with his money, thereby breaking the Second Commandments that you should not make a graven image of anything or bow down to it.  In effect, this man was not actually keeping the Commandments, but he was breaking several of them.

Another misconception that the man was making was that he could inherit eternal life by keeping the Law where he was trying to earn eternal life by doing good.  He didn’t understand that no one is saved by the Law nor could anyone actually keep the Law.  It is impossible for humans to keep the Law and their best efforts are works oriented which contradicts the fact that we are saved by grace alone and not by works (Eph 2:9). Jesus had the chance to tell this man that the Ten Commandments were no longer in effect, but instead He readdressed them which established their permanence.

Life Application of the Ten Commandments

The Law is actually a divine act of love.  Just as human laws are intended to keep us from harm, so were the Ten Commandments given to us to keep us from hurting ourselves and others.  In what ways can we see a life application in each of these Commandments?  Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther both loved to pray through the Ten Commandments, showing our sinful nature and spiritual depravity to keep them.  In Exodus 20 (and elsewhere) the Ten Commandments can be used as a guide to light our path for everyday living.  Let’s take a look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and see how there are ways in which we can apply them to our life and how we might better understand their meaning in our day to day living.

The First Commandment – Exodus 2:1-3

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before.”

Who among us have truly kept this Law?  I certainly haven’t, just as I haven’t kept the rest of the Commandments. People have put their own interests ahead of God in the sense that they give more time to watching TV, or surfing the Internet, or going fishing, or shopping, or…the list is endless.  Few of us put prayer as a priority and reading the Word of God as being of supreme importance.  Church attendance has dropped to an all-time low in this nation and it’s continuing to decline every year.  Many are staying home on Sundays to watch football, to sleep in, go fishing, golfing, or camping out.  If we could say that we have a special guest this Sunday at church and we wanted everyone to show up to welcome him many would ask, “Who is it?”  It is actually God who is worshipped and when we worship Christ at church, He is there in presence.

The Second Commandment – Exodus 20:4-6

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

More trouble for me here.  God is jealous of us as a husband is jealous of his wife or a wife is of her husband.  What is more important in this world than God.?  Again, I plead guilty to this. We can all have idols and this command doesn’t necessarily mean the carved wooden or stone images but anything that is idolized above and beyond our adoration and worship of God .  There can be many forms of idolatry, including our own children.  We might not bow down to our idols but we can often pay homage to them, whatever they are, by spending an inordinate amount of time, money, and effort on them.  Just fill in the blank for anything that we worship more than God.

The Third Commandment – Exodus 20:7

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

This might be the most overlooked but most abused of the Commandments.  What is called a euphemism is actually a substitute for a name that we use in place of some name.  It is a synonym that is used in place of some word that is often harsh or offensive.  One of these are taking Jesus’ name in vain and since Jesus is God, when we say, “Gee whiz” or “Geez” we are essentially taking the Lord’s name in vain.  Some even use Jesus Christ’s name when they are angry or when something happens that makes them mad.  This is using His name as a swear or a cuss word.  Using His name like this is serious business to God.  A stern warning is given to those who use Jesus’ name in a profane or vulgar way.

There are several other forms too that are used that are no less offensive to God which include the terms “Gosh”, “Gosh darn it”, “Damn it”, and some resort to not even using a euphemism and use the word “damn” right after God’s name.  This is so disgusting that I will not even put these two words together out of respect and reverence for His holy name.  When we say this, we are placing ourselves in God’s place and asking God to damn or condemn someone or something to hell fire.  We hear this so frequently today – in prime time TV programs, on the radio, and in public – that it’s generally acceptable, but in God’s Law, it is an abomination and He will not hold anyone guiltless who say such things.  That doesn’t mean that when a Christian says it in a moment of anger, God will not forgive him or her, but it surely should not be something we normally or so easily say and when we do say, we must repent and ask God’s forgiveness.

Yet another term that seems to be acceptable and is widely said on TV, in the movies, on the radio, and again, in public is “Oh my God” and “Oh my gosh.”  Now this may not seem offensive, even to believers, but it is nothing less than taking God’s name and using it in vain.  To use His name in vain means that we use it in a useless and meaningless manner.  We might think it doesn’t hurt anything or anyone, but that is not what God thinks of it.  I have even heard small children use this with no remorse at all and it is so acceptable that it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.  Let it not be so among the Bride of Christ.

The Fourth Commandment – Exodus 20:8-11

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

This commandment is the only one that is not repeated by the New Testament writers or by Jesus Christ.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had made this an encumbering and enslaving day where people could not even pick up a rock to remove from their sandal or to go fetch a bucket of water.  The Pharisees had made so many rules and regulations about the Sabbath, over and above what was written in the Law, that the Sabbath was made a heavy burden to the nation of Israel.   Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that He was Lord of the Sabbath and that the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around as the religious hypocrites of the day had insisted it was.

The principle today is that we need to rest.  God rested on the seventh day, even though He did not need to rest, but He did so as an example for us today.  A study was published a few years ago and found that human productivity was actually higher when a person took one day of rest than when they worked for seven straight days.  The human body is frail and feeble and needs to rest and recuperate after a long week of work.  Today many rest and worship on Sunday and they discover that a respite from the every day grind of work is beneficial to recharge their bodies, minds, and spirits for the coming week.  This also points back to God as the Creator for God made the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day, He rested.

The first four commandments are vertical Commandments and they all are related to God Almighty Who is in heaven above.  The last six Commandments are horizontal and they are related to how we deal with one another on earth.

The Fifth Commandment – Exodus 20:12

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

I find it interesting that the first Commandment given mankind starts with the home.  It starts with children honoring their father and their mother.  In fact, Paul thought that this Commandment was so important that he repeated it in his instructions for the church, in Ephesians 6:2-3, “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise — so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  There is a promise that if children honor and obey their parents, they can enjoy life on earth and it will be a long life at that.  The glue to any society and any nation is that of the family.  When children are disobedient, these same children raise children that are often just as or more disobedient than they were as children.  Disobeying and not honoring your parents shows that you are not honoring and obeying God Who has placed them in authority over them.  God sees children not honoring their parents as not honoring Him.  God will not prosper or guarantee a long life to any who disobey or are rebellious to their parents and indirectly to Him.

The Sixth Commandment – Exodus 20:13

You shall not murder.”

Most people think it is “You shall not kill” but the better translations say it the way it was originally meant, “You shall not murder.”  You shall not kill is not the original meaning of this Commandment.  This is reemphasized by the Apostle John who reminded us that just hating someone may not seem serious to us but said, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:15).  Not only have they committed murder in their hearts by hating someone, John says that they must not actually have eternal life and thereby must not really be a believer in Christ.  Why?  John specifies why in writing, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?  And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-221).

Jesus said that we commit murder in our heart when we are angry or hate another person.  Notice Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

The Seventh Commandment – Exodus 20:14

You shall not commit adultery.”

Once again Jesus expounds on this.  It’s not just the physical act of adultery that Jesus was talking about but the intent of the heart.  Jesus takes this Law to its fuller meaning when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’   But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.   And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt 5:27-30).  Anytime Jesus says, “You have heard it said” He is referring to the Old Testament Laws but Jesus came to fulfill the Law and give the Law its fuller meaning. The Law originally was concerned only with the external acts, but Jesus established that the Law was concerned with the intent of the heart.

The Eighth Commandment – Exodus 20:15

You shall not steal.”

Most people do not believe that they are thieves but has anyone left work early, or have they taken a few pens home, or talked a little too much with co-workers at work while they are on the clock, or taken a little longer lunch than allowed, or surfed the Internet at work?  This is the same thing as stealing when we take something that rightly does not belong to us and this includes our employer paying us to work when we do not.  Employers too can steal from their workers when they don’t pay them a fair wage, when the take away benefits when the employee was promised them or when they refuse to give raises when the cost of living goes up.  The point is stealing is more than shoplifting or stealing someone’s purse or wallet.  When we take things that someone accidentally loses or leaves and then take it for ourselves instead of trying to find the rightful owners, we are stealing.  To justify our actions we say, “Finders keepers, loser’s weepers.”  But that is no less than stealing.  Even though there are times when it might be impossible to find the rightful owner, do we at least make an honest attempt to do so?

The Ninth Commandment – Exodus 20:16

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

No one might ever think that gossip should be considered giving false testimony, which is another way of saying “you shall not tell a lie”, but gossip is taking something that someone else has said and spreading it around to others without checking to see if it’s actually true.  Idle gossip hurts everyone involved.  Psalm 101:5a says, “Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence.”  God sees gossiping as no different from lying, “words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts” (Prov 18:8).  If you think unrepentant lying is not serious, read Revelation 21:8, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Liars are included in this list of those who are headed for the lake of fire because God desires truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6).  One of the main thrusts of this command to not lie is that it slanders someone or assassinates their character and gossiping is considered lying in God’s economy.

The Tenth Commandment – Exodus 20:17

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Not too many people drive a donkey or work their fields with an ox today, but how about coveting your neighbor’s new car or their new riding mower?  This might be a better context within our society today.  When we are full of envy, we are coveting what our neighbor has and what our neighbor has every right to own.  It is none of our business what they have and we are coveting these goods of our neighbors when we wish or desire that had them.  The same thing would apply to coveting their job, their home, their position in life, and so on.  Anything that we despise that our neighbors have and wish we ourselves had is coveting.  Coveting their high paying jobs or anyone who is rich is coveting their possessions and their money.

Also, we can look with lust at our neighbors husband or wife and covet them.  This also breaks the Seventh Commandment because we can lust after a man or woman and in doing so, we have committed adultery in our heart (Matt 5:27-20).

I do not believe that Christians ought to gamble because that is coveting money and when we gamble we are taking away money from our own family for our and their own needs to try and get more money.  Essentially, it is attempting to win other people’s money.  The desire to get rich can cause many Christians to stumble, as Paul wrote to Timothy “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim 6:10).

The Greatest Commandment

Jesus was asked which was the greatest Commandment and His response was

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39). 

In the first part of the “greatest commandment“ response given by Jesus, I believe He summed up all of the first four Commandments that are directed horizontally, toward God.  The “love your neighbor as yourself” are the last six Laws in the Commandments that are vertically positioned to our fellow human beings. When we love our neighbor, we will not lie about them, gossip about them, steal their property, or covet their goods.  One important and most often overlooked part of the second part of Jesus’ greatest Commandment is that we are to love ourselves too. God loves us and does not like it when we are too hard on ourselves and do not love our own self.  We are to love our neighbors, as ourselves!

Jesus said that He came not to break the Law but to fulfill (or complete) the Law and not one jot or tittle (a small dot and a tiny stroke used in the Hebrew writings) would not pass away until heaven and earth passes away (Matthew 5:18, Luke 21:32).  Essentially this means that it would not pass away at all and would abide forever, just as God has said in His Word (1 Pet 1:25).  We can not use the excuse that Jesus fulfilled the Law so we don’t have to keep it. No, He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17).  The Ten Commandments will never pass away.  When we break them, they will break us.  Only Jesus has kept the Law perfectly, but we by all means must try and abide by them, for in them is life.

Paul understood the Law well being a former Pharisee and he wrote in Romans 7:7-12, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life) actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.  So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.”  Let us try to live by the Law, the Law of the Ten Commandments.

Interested in some more Bible Questions and Answers?Check out these other articles by Pastor Jack:

What Happens to People that Have not Heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Read this article to see some important facts that Pastor Jack points out regarding eternal destination.

What Does it Mean to be Spiritually Dead? Jack Wellman investigates and points out some things about the spiritually dead Christian and the spiritually dead Church. He also talks about fruitfulness; challenging every Christian to examine one’s self.

Who Created God? Is God outside of Time? Enjoy this thought-provoking and interesting article about the Eternal Creator God.



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