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What was the Purpose of the Ten Commandments?
God has many purposes for everything He does. Some of His purposes are obvious, such as revealing His holiness to man, how God wants to be treated, and how man needs to treat his fellow man. These are the righteous standards of God that have transformed Western Culture and are the basis for civil and moral law throughout Western Society. One of the primary purposes of the Law was to declare what is right and what is wrong. What God will bless or what God will condemn in personal or collective behavior.
But as we look deeper into God's word He has given us many hints and glimpses in the Old Testament about why He gave the law to man and direct revelation to His Apostles in the New Testament concerning the lessons He wants man to gain from the Law.
The Apostle Paul declared directly in Romans why the law was given:
Rom 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight,
If anyone tries to obey the law with their entire heart and be honest before God, they would inevitably fail miserably, have their pride broken and feel their guilt before God. To break the human spirit of its pride and create a broken heart before God was the deepest purpose of the Law.
Ps 51:16, 17 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart-- these, O God, You will not despise.
David learned this lesson painfully, as we all must, and recorded it in Psalm 51. How could David say that God did not desire sacrifice? It is amazing after all we have learned about the demands of God in the sacrificial system. Yet God desires an honest and humble heart willing to worship Him in spirit and truth.
When Jesus came to His own people Israel, He found two types: those that had learned this lesson of brokenness, and those who resisted it in human pride.
John 1:11-12 "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name"
Two Types of People
When Jesus came to Israel there were two kinds of people. There were:Those who had been broken by the Law and were humbled by it. They knew they were condemned under it and found Him to be a source of redemption and a savior which they longed for.
Those that thought they were living by it yet were hardened by it. They were proud of their standing before God and felt entitled and had a position. Believing that they were first in the Kingdom of God and deserved to be honored by God.
The Jewish religious leaders which Jesus referred to as "the Jews," were constantly trying to condemn Jesus because He would not submit to their oral traditions and the writings of the Rabbis. The leaders attempted to maintain a sort of ritualistic and devoted lifestyle that would guarantee them entitlement and a position in heaven. They had missed the entire point of the Law. When they saw Jesus violating their traditions and associating with certain people that were considered by them as "unclean" they were appalled:
Matt 9:11-13 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."
Jesus came to them and said to them: 'Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." They didn't get it. They didn't get what the Law was ultimately supposed to teach. That they were sinners and that they needed a Savior. Notice that when they said "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" they were implying that they were sinless. Jesus, in essence, told them to go away and learn their own Torah and then come back when they learned the meaning of the Law and what its ultimate purpose was - that they were not well but needed a Physician. That they were not righteous but were desperately wicked. The Sermon on the Mount was given ultimately to humble all men before the perfect standard of what God calls "good."
So there are two roads that run through this earth. One is pride and one is humility. God gives grace to the humble but He resists the prideful. Those who had been broken by the Law flocked to Him because He offered them hope. They knew they were sick and that they needed the great Physician. They had gotten the lesson of the Law, which was that all fall short of the glory of God, and all are sinners and only those that walk by faith in God will be justified in His sight. Those that accept the free gift.
Two Roads to Heaven
So there are two ways to receive salvation according to Scripture:
- Live a perfect life which only the Son of God did.
- Admit that you're fallen and that you need a Savior
So the Law was designed to bring us to brokenness. Not that we are to give up trying to pursue the Law. The Law is inherently good. It teaches us the image of God. It shows us His holiness. He wants us to try to obey it with all our hearts but only those who try to obey with all their hearts find that their best effort is going to fall far from the mark. Not just a little short but far from the mark. And that humble heart that becomes broken under the weight of God's standard of perfection becomes intensely hungry for the blood of Jesus Christ that brings perfect acceptance and salvation.
The Law and the New Testament
Most Christians would agree that certainly the Pharisees were in error thinking that they could live out the Law perfectly. The error of thinking that they were justified by God because of their righteous works. No one can approach God by their works. But we can make the same mistake as the Pharisees by assuming that now, because we have the Spirit of God indwelling us, are walking in perfect sanctification. But the Scripture clearly teaches that we are conformed into His image from glory to glory and that it is a lifelong process. Even though we have the Spirit of God in us there is still trench warfare between our fallen nature the flesh and our spiritual nature (Gal 5). These two natures within us are continually warring against one another and change is a lifelong process that comes little by little and one area of our life at a time.
None of us walk in perfection and we desperately need to walk in humility. This is a big thing with God seeing that He hates "a haughty look." We can become New Testament Pharisees by thinking that we are not in need of the mercy of God anymore because we are now in some way sinless and performing many obedient acts.
But God will show us our weakness. He showed Paul his weakness in 2Cor 11. Paul had to learn the same lesson, that it is by his weakness that he could ever learn the strength of God. So may we side with those who, as in the Sermon on the Mount, mourn and yet are comforted, who are the poor in spirit and yet see the Kingdom of God, who consider themselves unworthy, broken and in need of daily cleansing and daily forgiveness and who never claim a righteousness of their own, not even an earned righteousness through sanctification or a righteousness of making choices, even our choices need the grace of God, we're all fallen, and need to humbly come before God and ask for His mercy daily and be grateful for the salvation He paid for.
When we understand the purpose of the Law and we gain experiential knowledge of our own fallenness and our desperate need for God's grace, our character begins to take on the nature of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit begins to birth in our lives and we become people not of entitlement, believing God owes us a reward for our righteousness, but people of gratefulness, thankful to God for the riches of His mercy.
Luke 17:10 "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants."