Here in central Pennsylvania, a battle is ongoing (as it has been for several years) about the hanging of a plaque containing the Ten Commandments in a county courthouse. In conflicts such as these all over the country, church members and leaders devote much time and energy in opposing those who would remove this sacred testimony of God’s law from public life.
Why? Why are so many resources being committed to a fight in which a victory merely allows for the display of that which is a “ministration of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7)? Why are entire movements of well-meaning people petitioning governments and institutions to uphold the law—what the Bible says is nothing but a “shadow,” while the Gospel—the actual “good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1) is put aside?
The thought may be that one would never be allowed to post John 3:16 in a school or courthouse, so “at least it’s something.” Will a “moral” sinner, one who has tried to keep the Ten Commandments, be no less in hell than an “immoral” one? Will the repeated testimony of the law—which has been broken down—ever point one to Christ? One may as well give a traveler directions by saying, “Turn left where the old barn used to be.”
It is true that “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20) and that “the law is good, if a man use it lawfully (1 Timothy 1:5-11). What is the “lawful,” or proper use of the law? It is to make sin, which some people take so lightly, appear “exceedingly sinful”; “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 7:13; 3:19).
But is this really the motive for those who are striving to have the Ten Commandments held up before people today? If only it were, but sadly it appears that in most cases they are being promoted as “a historical document,” “an acknowledgement of God,” “a code for life that anyone can accept,” or “the moral foundation of our society.”
Do we desire to see people living by a code, or living a new life in Christ? Do we want people to merely acknowledge the existence of God, or possess His gift of salvation? Do we work to see a world populated with those merely governed by external morals, or by believers led by the indwelling Spirit?
In this issue we will not expound the Ten Commandments, but rather seek to show from Scripture their purpose in God's eternal counsels and their place for believers today. Along the way, we will see a clear division between law and God’s grace, between the flesh and the Spirit, and between self and Christ.
Regarding believers who hold up the Ten Commandments as a “yardstick” to measure their Christian life, or as “rules to live by,” we trust that the ministry in the articles to follow will bring home the teaching of the apostle Paul: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3).