A proper understanding of the Ten Commandments will lead you to faith in Jesus Christ. If you look at yourself honestly in the light of these commandments, it will not be long before you conclude that you are a long way from the life that God has called you to lead, and that you need a Savior.
The law will lead you to Christ by showing you that you need both His forgiveness for breaking His law in the past, and His strength to fulfill the law in the future.
The Ten Commandments are a mentor to lead you to faith in Christ. A mentor is someone who can show you where you need to go and walk with you till you get there. Properly understood, that’s what the commandments will do.
A Proper Understanding
I say ‘properly understood’ because it is possible to look at the Ten Commandments at a surface level and to conclude that we are doing rather well.
A brilliant and successful lawyer asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Our Lord responded,
…You know the commandments. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.” (Mark 10:19).
The lawyer then said to Jesus, “Teacher, all these I have kept since my youth” (Mark 10:20).
I suspect that the lawyer really believed this. The man had lived a good moral life. He hadn’t murdered anyone. He had been faithful to his wife. He was committed to speaking the truth. He never raided a bank. He was a good upright citizen who flossed his teeth and paid his taxes.
The lawyer wanted to be sure of heaven and, assuming that he had fulfilled the commandments, he wondered if there was anything else he had to do. But the lawyer’s problem was that he did not understand the law!
A Matter of the Heart
Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount the scope of the commandments go beyond our actions and search out the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Each commandment identifies a particular sin, but behind that sin lie many others.
Take the sixth commandment for example: You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13). Picture a train moving along a track on which there are many stations. Murder is the station at the end of a line called ‘Conflict.’ Most people will never go near that station, but all of us have travelled somewhere on this line.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Abusive speech is an offense against the sixth commandment, for which a person is accountable to God. The problem it creates is not just that a person might be reported to the Sanhedrin, but that verbal violation of the sixth commandment would put a person in danger of the fires of hell.
That should get our attention. If the sixth commandment relates only to murder, most of us don’t need to worry. But if angry words that diminish another person constitute a breaking of the sixth commandment, we are dealing with something much closer to home.
The teaching of Jesus gives us a proper understanding of the law. It moves us from the arrogance of the lawyer who said “all these I have kept from my youth” to the humility that says “I am a sinner in need of a Savior!”
Or take the eighth commandment: You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15). And again, picture a train moving down a line, this time called ‘Dishonesty.’ At the last station on this line, there are people who break into other people’s homes, raid banks, and perpetrate fraud. Most people will never visit that station, but all of us have travelled somewhere on the line.
Stealing can be defined as the desire to get as much as you can while giving as little as you can. It is about being a taker without being a giver. On that definition there is a lot of stealing in marriages, in families and in churches. Every attempt to have much while giving little is a violation of the eighth commandment.
Or take the ninth commandment: You shall not bear false witness, (Exodus 20:16). It would be easy to say, ‘I have never committed perjury in court’ so I am in good standing when it comes to the ninth commandment! But that is to miss the point that each of the commandments relates not only to one sin, but to a whole category of sins.
The Westminster Catechism spells out what is included in the ninth commandment in stunning detail:
“All prejudicing of the truth, and the good name of our neighbors as well as our own, giving false evidence, calling evil good, and good evil, forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash or harsh censuring, misconstruing intentions, words and actions; flattering, boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others, denying the gifts and graces of God, aggravating smaller faults, raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports…,”
The Ten Commandments search out the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Each commandment speaks to a whole category of sins, and a proper understanding of the law will lead you to say, ‘I am a sinner who needs a Savior.’
Let the law show you your need and lead you to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
 Westminster Divines. “Westminster Larger Catechism.” Reformed.org, Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, reformed.org/documents/wlc_w_proofs/index.html. Question 145.
This article is adapted from of the sermon “Law” on the Ten Commandments. For a more detailed look at the Ten Commandments, check out Pastor Colin’s book The Ten Greatest Struggles of Your Life: Finding Freedom in God’s Commands.