Note: The audio cut out half way through.
In Love and Friendship, a movie based upon Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, the plot is typical of Austen. A recently widowed woman seeks a suitable husband for herself and a wealthy husband for her daughter. In one brilliant scene, Susan’s daughter Frederica is interacting with the wealthy Sir James Martin, who is trying to impress everyone with his knowledge.
Martin: This reminded me of many such accounts one learns in childhood. Perhaps the most significant in forming one’s principles is that of the old prophet who came down from the mount bearing the Twelve Commandments, which our Lord has taught us to obey without fail.
Gentleman: Excuse me, I believe there were only ten.
Martin: Really? Only ten must be obeyed? Excellent. Well, then, which two to take off? Perhaps the one about the Sabbath. I prefer to hunt. After that, it becomes tricky. Many of the ‘Thou shalt nots’—don’t murder, don’t covet thy neighbor’s house or wife—one simply wouldn’t do anyway, because they are wrong, whether the Lord allows us to take them off or not.
I fear we sometimes interpret the relevance of the moral law in a similar fashion today. Even if we don’t think we can pick and choose which commandments to “take off”, we do tend to misunderstand their purpose for the believer and their use (if any) for the world.
We also providentially find ourselves concluding this series on the Ten Commandments on the week of Thanksgiving. Regardless of how different Thanksgiving 2020 will be for you and your family, this remains a special time to reflect upon God’s gracious kindness to us. Ligonier sent out a Thanksgiving card that read, “The essence of theology is grace; the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.”
That is a wonderful summary of what I want to convey in this message. We should never divorce the Ten Commandments from the grace contained in the prologue (Exod 20:2). The gracious rescue of God is followed by the Ten Commandments. The only proper response to the grace of God is gratitude, and the essence of that expression is our ethics/obedience!
That is why, following John Calvin, we have placed the reciting of the Ten Commandments after the Lord’s Supper. It would be appropriate to place them just prior to our confession of sin. Since the first use of the law is to reveal our sin (Mirror), reading the Ten Commandments can remind us of the many ways in which we have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). However, it is equally valid to place them after the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of the third use of the law as a guide (Map) for the believer to live a life that is pleasing to God.
So, as we conclude this series it is perfectly appropriate to consider why we ought to be filled with such thankful hearts as we delight in God’s moral law.
Read Exodus 20:1-17
I. Keeping God’s Law
One response I have frequently heard throughout this series is something like “Man, that was convicting.” While I hope I never left you without the comfort of the gospel, the conviction is by design. If you aren’t convicted by a proper understanding of the Ten Commandments, the only reason could be that you do not have a proper understanding of your deceitful heart.
No one has the ability to keep the law perfectly. No matter how extensively God has poured out His grace upon them, they will continue to fall short of the perfect standard. James emphasizes our inability to bridle our tongues as a clear symptom of how prone we are to stumble. It would take a perfect man to always communicate in God honoring ways (Jam 3:2).
We can go a step further and say that we cannot even keep one of the commandments perfectly at any point in our lives. Think of those times when we are at the peak of holiness. Even the best of our works will be tainted by impure motives and selfish ambitions.
In fact, we break these commandments daily “in thought, word, and deed” (WLC Q.149). The most righteous individual on the planet sins daily. Anyone who claims to be without sin, proves that they have deceived themselves and does not have the truth of God’s word in their hearts (1 Jn 1:8, 10).
After many years of apostolic ministry, Paul could still admit that even though he had the desire to do the right thing, he lacked the ability to carry it out (Rom 7:18). He had already explained that our inability to keep the law perfectly is part of its purpose. It is meant to leave every mouth stopped (Rom 3:20).
Are you an ambitious person? Not me. Well, I can be, but it depends. Home projects don’t generally get my juices flowing. I find it really easy to imagine tackling something I’ve never done before. I can envision the finished product in all of its glory. I block off what I think is an adequate amount of time on my calendar. I make plans to purchase the materials. But despite my best intentions, the project takes twice as long, or costs twice as much, or in many cases it never gets started.
Now, I will say I’ve gotten better at determining what is out of my league. I don’t attempt plumbing anymore. I can’t replace anything beyond the battery in cars. And I don’t generally experiment in the kitchen. Ramen noodles is my specialty.
The Israelites were hasty to commit to more than they were capable of accomplishing. In the previous chapter, the Lord reminded them how he had rescued them from the Egyptians and promised to make them a treasured possession if they obeyed his voice and kept his covenant (Exod 19:3-6). Their response was clear and unanimous, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exod 19:8). They said those very words several more times before all of them died in the wilderness.
The Lord certainly upheld his covenant promises, but it would not be through that generation. Nor would any succeeding generation of Israelites witness the fulfillment of God’s commandments for the next 1,400 years! Not during the times of the judges nor under the reign of the kings, would there come a single Israelite who could actually accomplish “All that the Lord has spoken.”
Jesus was the only human to perfectly obey God’s moral law. He alone was capable of entering the glory of heaven based upon His own righteousness. The holiness that God commands of everyone, was only modeled by Christ. He never felt the weight of the conviction of the moral law, because he always upheld its standard. Every thought, every word, every deed was perfectly righteous. He was always aligned with God’s law.
If the first thing the law shows us is our weakness, then the first step we must take is to acknowledge that weakness. We don’t read the moral law and think about the minor tweaks we need to make so we can begin to meet its standard. Rather, we see the perfection of Christ, and we are humbled by our feeble imitation. We fall on our face every time we attempt to mimic Jesus.
› Because we are consistently breaking God’s Law, we need to realize that all of us deserve to be…
II. Enduring God’s Wrath
WLC Q.152 teaches us that every sin deserves the wrath and curse of God “both in this life, and that which is to come.” Every sin we commit, no matter how great or small, places us in a position of deserving the full weight of God’s wrath.
Imagine that we had only broken one of the commandments. Even if we had upheld the rest of the commandments perfectly, the one commandment that we failed to accomplish would be enough to make us guilty of breaking the whole law (Jam 2:10).
If God has made us for Himself and we have lived for ourselves at any point, it is at that very point that we ought to have been condemned for all eternity. Without question, that is what all of us deserve!
We were called to be holy, for God is holy. But instead of seeking after God and desiring Him above everything else, we chose to make a multitude of trinkets to worship in His place. No amount of mistreatment in this life could come close to covering the debt we owe to the God who made us and watched us spit in His face with our sin.
If you want to understand what any of this has to do with Thanksgiving, this part must be abundantly clear to you. Apart from Christ, your inability to please God will leave you wandering through life like the wayward Israelites between Egypt and the Promised Land, always searching and never content.
When you lose sight of this truth, you begin to justify your sin and grow numb to the sense of guilt. The further you travel down the road of rebellion, the harder it becomes to turn back.
One of the chief indicators of ingratitude toward God is the lack of prayer. If a relationship lacks honest and open communication, it is not healthy. One of the best ways to correct communication problems is to simply address it. Raise the issue and inquire about what went wrong.
We can do the same with God. Go before the throne of grace in prayer asking him to reveal to you a true sense of your sin. When you have a true sense of your sin, you will grasp a deeper understanding of what your sin deserves. That is the beginning of repentance which also involves an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.
Despite the fact that Jesus was perfectly obedient and knew no sin, he received the wages of sin—which is death. He drank the cup of God’s holy wrath to its bitter dregs. The dregs are the pieces of sediment at the bottom of your glass of wine. It’s the nasty stuff you rinse out. But there was not left one bit of God’s wrath that Jesus did not consume. He endured every last drop as He died upon the cross. Why would he do that?
Jesus did not die in order to inspire us to be sacrificial. He did not die simply to set an example for us. He could have done both of those things without dying on the cross. His death was essential for salvation!
Jesus died because it was the only way that any of us could ever be saved. There is only one way to eternal life. It is the way that all people must travel. God does not save people differently based upon their ethnic identity. We cannot be saved by our economic status. Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, we all must enter through the same narrow gate.
If we wish to escape the wrath and curse of God that we all deserve, we must repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The wrath of God warns us of our desperate need for a Savior. The cross of Christ shows us the penalty that we deserve.
Instead of receiving the wrath of God, we receive the peace that Christ earned on our behalf. He takes our sin and guilt upon Himself and gives us His righteousness which grants us peace with God.
› The recognition of grace is what frees us and motivates us to…
III. Observing God’s Will
All humanity has the duty to obey God’s revealed will. The moral law of God—which is summarized in the ten commandments—reveals our ethical responsibility. It is a responsibility that Christ alone fulfilled. And yet, because we have been united to Him by faith, we are now called to continue to walk by faith in obedience to God.
We walk not as those striving to become victorious, but as those who have already been declared victorious. Our goal is not to earn the victory ourselves, but to live in light of the victory Christ earned for us.
Those who have been justified are now free to pursue the righteousness of God out of gratitude! Those who have received the imputed righteousness of Christ, are spurred on to please God with their lives. And we should do so with all diligence. God has shown us the wisdom of living for Him, and through Christ we are enabled to make a small beginning toward obedience.
Striving for obedience is not legalistic, it is what the grace of the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those who are being renewed more and more after the image of God. The Christian life will have its ups and downs, but it will ultimately reach its destination—which is our perfection in glory.
That sense of unworthiness we feel when we consider our depravity can only find hope in the message of the good news that Jesus Christ took your penalty upon Himself!
We can easily imagine the many ways that we have failed to meet God’s expectations, but we barely begin to fathom the mystery of the gospel in this life. With each and every step our gratitude will increase.
Gratitude is directed to the Father through the Son provoking obedience by the Spirit.