Some time ago, I came across the true story of a man who was sentenced to serve time in prison because he was a thief. While there, he was wonderfully converted and became a new creation in Jesus Christ.
When the time came for his release from prison, he knew that he would be tempted to return to his old way of life. His friends would try to draw him back, and he knew that it would not be easy to break the patterns of the past.
The first thing he wanted to do when he was released from prison was to worship and so, on the first Sunday morning of his new freedom, he slipped into an old church building and sat down in the back row. As he looked round, he noticed a plaque inscribed with the words of the Ten Commandments, and his eyes fell on the words that seemed to condemn him: “You shall not steal.”
That’s the last thing I need, he thought to himself. I know my weakness. I know my failure, and I know the struggle I will have to break free from my old way of life.
As the service progressed, the man kept looking at the plaque and, as he read the words, they seemed to take on a new meaning that he had not seen before. In the past, he had known these words as a forbidding command, “You shall not steal.” But now, it seemed that God was speaking these words to him as a marvelous promise, “You shall not steal!”
It seemed to him that God was saying, “You are a new creation in Christ and for this reason, you will not go back to your old way of life. The Holy Spirit now lives in you, and he will lead you in a new life in which you will no longer steal.”
Life in the Holy Spirit
That story shed new light on the Ten Commandments for me. It helped me to grasp the great purpose of God for all who are in Christ, “that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).
The Holy Spirit is given to believers so that we may pursue a life in which, by God’s grace, we will not steal, murder, commit adultery, or bear false witness, but instead will be content and honor our parents, because we love God as he is, trust and reverence his name, offer our work and our worship to him, and honor him as the sovereign Lord of our lives.
The distinctive calling of God’s redeemed people is that we should reflect his character in the world, and what this looks like is laid out in the Ten Commandments. If you ask the question, “Why should we not commit adultery?” the answer is, “Because God is faithful.” If you ask, “Why should we not covet?” the answer is that God is content in himself. If you ask why we should not bear false witness, the answer is that God’s Word is truth, and that God never lies.
The Ten Commandments provide a road map for life in the Spirit, and God gives his Spirit to all of his people so that this blessed life may be possible for us.
Evidence of the Holy Spirit
As you set about pursuing a life that reflects God’s likeness, the Holy Spirit will bring you back to the Ten Commandments. God says,
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you….I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
The first evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life is that you have a deep love for God and a strong desire to please him by loving and serving others. This will be the greatest struggle of your life and as you set out on this journey, you need to know that it is possible.
The Heidelberg Catechism faces this issue head-on:
Can those converted to God obey these commands perfectly?
No. In this life, even the holiest have only a small beginning of this
obedience. Nevertheless with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to
live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments.
Obedience through the Holy Spirit
I’ve found this answer to be profoundly helpful. No Christian is everything that God calls him or her to be. The finest Christian you have ever met has only “a small beginning” of obedience. But there is a beginning of holiness in every believer.
No Christian is completely pure, but there is the beginning of purity in every Christian. No Christian is completely content, but there is the beginning of contentment in every Christian. What we have now is a beginning of truth, of peace, of integrity, of rest, and of worship. We truly “begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments.”
Every day of your Christian life offers opportunities for the new life that God has begun in you to grow stronger. And when you stand in the presence of Jesus, what he has begun in you will be complete.