Before I begin this series of posts on the Decalogue, I feel compelled to take up a one issue first. Whenever mention is made of the Decalogue, also known as the Ten Commandments, someone will inevitably protest, “Christians aren’t under the law!” It seems rather humorous when people say this because I doubt that any of them means to be understood as saying that if a Christian murders, steals or commits adultery, he or she is not sinning.
I have never actually heard anyone actually explain what it is they mean when they cry that Christians are not “under the law.” Whatever they may mean by it, Scripture does not use this phrase to suggest that obedience to God’s revealed will is not required of believers. Paul reminds the children at Ephesus to obey the 5th Command. In fact, every one of the “ten words” of the Decalogue is to be found somewhere in the New Testament.
Believers are not “under the law” in the sense that they are no longer condemned because they fail to keep it perfectly. Neither should believers strive to obey the law in order to merit salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 2 tells us that we obey God out of gratitude for His great deliverance from our sin and misery. The Westminster Confession says that the law is of great use to believers by showing them how they may express gratitude for their free salvation and pointing out their sins so they might flee to Christ continually. Being “under” the law does not mean not obligated to obey it. It means not being under condemnation for breaches of it.
In case you haven’t noticed, no one, not even the most devout, sincere and pious believer, perfectly obeys the law of God, despite what Wesley’s perfectionists claim. You might then be tempted to ask why God would still make His law binding upon us when He knows that we can’t obey. The answer to that is simply that God’s law is a reflection of His nature. Just because you are incapable of fulfilling all righteousness, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t require it and will not punish anything less than the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ.
The Decalogue is not a return to the Covenant of Works, either. The preface of the Decalogue shows that this is pure grace. God declares His relation to His people, His right over them as their God and Deliverer. It is on the basis of His undeserved favor toward His people that He gives the Decalogue. Moreover, the multitudinous sacrifices for sin prescribed throughout the Old Testament bear witness to the fact that the Law was meant to show God’s people that they must look to Him for both their righteousness and forgiveness for their inevitable violations of His will. If the Ten Commands were a reversion to the Covenant of Works, there would be no provision in it for sin.
The elect of all age have always lived under the Covenant of Grace wherein God has provided both their righteousness and atonement for their sins. This was pictured typologically in the Old Testament and set on a hilltop in the New Testament. It is the reprobate who are still obligated to God in the Covenant of Works. There is no provision for sin under the Covenant of Work. Its inexorable justice says, “Do this and live.” Perfect obedience is the only key to life under the Covenant of Works. This is why the reprobate are damned. They never have, nor ever will perfectly obey God; neither have they recourse to the imputed righteousness of Christ and His atoning death for sin. The same Gospel is both the odor of life and odor of death.
I felt compelled to preface the upcoming series on the Decalogue by the above remarks and now that I’ve written them, I feel better. However, I am sure someone will find something to complain about. So maybe I don’t feel better after all.