The Lord Alone 2

What does it mean to be saved? to be redeemed? to be ransomed? It means to be a person who lives out that salvation, that redemption and that ransom by making God the Lord alone. It means obedience to the God who sets us free.

The biggest mistake of Christians today is to make obedience legalism and to think that God’s commands are somehow an inferior form of religion or spirituality. The second mistake when it comes to the Ten Commandments is to fail to see how they flow out of redemption and don’t stand alone as if they are arbitrary commands. The third mistake is to think they are only for the ancient world, or for Israel, and have nothing to do with gospel.

How are the Ten Commandments “liberation” theology? Has our “grace” theology swung so far that we can no longer see the necessity of commands?

The First Commandment (No other gods) and the Second (no images) are connected to one another, and they both flow from the Prologue to the Ten Commandments (or Ten Words).

For this series on the Ten Commands/Words, I am reading Patrick Miller’s new book, The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church.

The Prologue and the first two Commands belong together, and here’s why: grammar. These verses, found in Exodus 20:2-6 have God speaking to Israel in the first person; at v. 7 (the Name Command) it becomes third person. Read this:

Prologue: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Command one: “You shall have no other gods before me. 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. Command two: 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.”

And then notice how it changes here in v. 7: Command three: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

For this reason many see Commands one and two (the longer paragraph above) as the First Command/Word.

Now it might be helpful to see how the various traditions number the Commands, so I swiped this chart from Wikipedia. Click on it and it will get big enough to read easily.

The Prologue, which is our topic today, connects Liberation with One God. The God who liberated is the God they are to serve and worship and obey. As one scholar puts it, “The first commandment is the true meaning of the exodus” (14). Redemption/liberation implicates the liberated ones in a life of obedience. Or, “To be set free is to be set on a journey to the mountain where the full implications of the act are set forth in the Commandments and joyfully accepted” (14).

The Prologue identifies the Commander. That God is YHWH. There may be cultural parallels but these are connected to this One God YHWH. So it’s all about covenant relation to this YHWH. Thus, the Prologue makes the Commands an element of a relationship. YHWH says “I am YHWH your God” and that is why they are not to have other gods or worship idols (which are about false gods).

Israel then is to live a life of freedom that leads to relationship to YHWH who tells Israel how best to live. Miller’s point is so important: Israel is not a “free” people but a “freed” people. That freedom is a gift that comes through YHWH’s powerful act of liberation.

The two tables of the law are how a “freed” people are to live in relation to God and to one another.

The God of the Exodus is the God of the Resurrection is the God of Jesus — the God who liberates summons God’s people into a covenant relationship that spells out freedom as obedience to that God.

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  • Alan K

    If Sinai meant anything to the Israelites it was the reminder that freedom is not a free-for-all. How quickly the grace they had received was co-opted (or, in Bonhoeffer’s words, became cheap grace). If they are rightly understood and received, the Commandments first and foremost witness to salvation, heard as a divine “therefore”. If “gospel and law” is imprinted on our hearts instead of “law and gospel”, then the commands are truly liberating–free people living their freedom.

  • Jon G

    Interesting thought on “free” verses “freed”…in thinking through the implications, would it be logical to say that the “10” still apply to us having been “freed” from the oppression of Sin and Death through God’s work on the cross? Would it apply to us before conversion?

    I understand that the Israelites had centuries of living in Egypt and were just coming to grips with understanding who they were as God’s chosen people – as opposed to sub-human brick makers – but if these commandments truly were the best way to live, wouldn’t they be in effect regardless of their freedom? In other words, are they conditional upon God’s salvation or universal in application?

  • The ’10 commandments’ were part of the old covenant (Dt 4:12,13; 5:2,3) that formed the structure upon which the promise functioned – a Master-slave structure. Jesus told us not to put the new wine, the new covenant, into the old wine skin (the Master-slave structure). The new covenant (grace & truth) functions out of a wholly new structure of friendship with God. The burden/curse of the old ‘law’ structure is too often extracted from the OT and used with the new covenant – effectively dismissing the Spirit as our new ‘coach’ for ‘loving one another as Jesus loved us’. The freedom comes under the new covenant build upon a new structure of grace.

  • rjs


    The 10 commandments were not part of the old covenant. The commandment that Jesus claimed as greatest is nothing more or less than a more inclusive articulation.

    The legalistic structure around the 10 commandments, particularly that with respect to keeping the Sabbath – these are dispensed with. The legalistic rules to avoid coveting your neighbors wife – these should be dispensed with. But the 10 commandments themselves are in force today as much as they ever were.

    I don’t think we can follow God without taking them seriously as commands.

  • T


    You’ve got a bunch of stretches and halves in there. First, I think it’s important to hear the thrust of the argument of the post: The grace of liberation preceded the commands. Second, is it really established that the “Master-servant structure” was the old wine skins? Working against that theory are the many NT verses where Jesus claims to be our master, and issues commands (that are just as impossible, if not more so, than the 10 absent the Spirit’s help!). Commands don’t negate the Spirit; Jesus gives both; they are both grace and truth.

  • Taylor G

    “Has our grace theology swung so far that we can no longer see the necessity of commands?” I think so.

    I remember back to when Jason Gray came to our church a little while back to sing. He stated quite sincerely that helping the poor is a part of our salvation, and that hit me like a back truck. In other words he was trying to say, we fill up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings. Using this kind of lanuage has become heretical in some circles today.

  • Taylor G

    Mack truck, not back truck. Sorry.

  • In light of writing I’ve been doing at my own blog, I’ll add this observation. The Ten Commandments presume that Israelites are doing what is pervasively not assumed in the present church at present. It is simply presumed that people are living in response to the cultural mandate given in Genesis 1:28. They are rearing children, exercising stewardship over possessions, and negotiating deals with each other. There are holy and unholy ways of doing these things. The commandments are not just abstractions where daily life is offered as an opportunity for living them. They are direction for redemptive fulfillment of the cultural mandate. At present, few in the church have appreciation of the cultural mandate as ministry and of daily work as an offering of worship, and that shades how we see the role the Ten Commandants.

  • Susan N.

    I’ve been pondering this for a few days…causing me to come very late to the discussion, for which I apologize. In the meantime, I’ve finished reading ‘Jesus Creed’ and begun reading ‘One.Life’. With all of that percolating in my head, I come back to this post on the Ten Commandments wondering whether this is a bit of a trick question? By that I guess I mean, Yes–God’s moral law still stands for us, but it’s also good to keep the big picture (love God, love others…know that God looks at the heart’s intent and not the outward behaviors alone) in full view. Otherwise, we’re in the same danger of falling into legalism and erecting fence laws all around these commands. I think the old/new wineskins refers to the way Jesus wants us to think about the Law (not the way of the Pharisees) but the way of the Sermon on the Mount? I go back to the “do not kill” command. Did God really mean, “Do not kill–period?” Or are there exceptions to this (just war, self-defense, etc.)? If Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” is it still O:K to kill them in self-defense? I think again of Bonhoeffer conspiring to assassinate Hitler. Out of love for the oppressed, and outrage at the injustices being perpetrated against the Jews by Hitler and his regime, Bonhoeffer made a conscious choice to conspire to kill the enemy. This is just one (big) question I have concerning the Ten Commandments and what it means for us today, in light of Jesus and all that he taught.

    I do agree that the word “grace” has lost a lot of meaning in the church. I hear it a lot in the evangelical/Reformed church, but it would mean a lot to see and experience it. My husband has a theory about that: what most Christians really want is mercy and grace for themselves and justice (retributive) for others. That struck me as profoundly deep and, sadly, accurate.

  • Noting Susan N’s comment. Bruce Cockburn wrote that everyone wants to see justice done
    — to somebody else.

  • Jon G

    I don’t know if anybody is still following this feed, but for those wishing to continue on in this series, I urge you to watch this talk from John Ortberg given 1/23/11 called “You’re Not The Boss Of Me”. You can find it here:

    It is phenomenal and directly addresses the topic that we are dealing with.