The Ten Commandments have become rather unpopular among Christians in recent years. Somewhere along the line, we seem to have developed a phobia for any kind of Thou shalts or Thou shalt nots. We hear reasoning such as:
“We’ve got to be culturally relevant — and the Commandments, um, aren’t.”
“The Bible doesn’t really mean those things. Because, I was born with these issues, you know? And God wants me to be free to be me, just the way I am.”
“I’m under grace, not the law, so the Commandments aren’t necessary anymore.”
“The Ten Commandments? You’ve got to be kidding me! You must be one of those religious-spirit legalists!”
“If we talk about do’s and don’ts, they won’t come back to our church, and then they won’t ever slip into being Christians.” (Never mind that they never will anyway.)
I am not advocating legalism. That’s a mess unto itself. The apostle Paul, who is often called “the apostle of grace,” said we are to minister Christ to others “not of the letter [of the law], but of the Spirit: for the letter [of the law] kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). Yet, this same apostle of grace reiterated the Commandments frequently throughout his epistles to the New Testament believers. He exhorted them to live holy lives worthy of Christ, citing the Commandments as examples of how to do that. So did the other apostles.
Clearly, there must be a right way and a wrong way for New Testament believers to approach the Ten Commandments, and we’ve got to find the balance. It doesn’t do to ignore them. We must simply learn to use them wisely, so that our children grow up walking out godly, pure lives by the power of the Spirit, rather than being morally upright, yet unconverted in their hearts.
We don’t want them to become like the Pharisees Jesus denounced in Matthew 23:25, 26: cups which are clean on the outside, but inwardly full of filth. Equally, we don’t want them looking down their noses at people who don’t adhere to the same standards. (You may think neither of these problems could ever happen in your family. However, both have happened to many homeschooling families. A superior attitude over our “goodness” is an ever-present temptation.)
What good are the Commandments? What can they do for us?
They show us how far we fall short in our natural ability to please God. We know that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Natural conscience witnesses to the truth of this statement, but, should any of us have a dull sensitivity to conscience, God’s Word (summarized in the Ten Commandments) leaves us without doubt or excuse.
Paul tells us in Galatians 3:21, “… If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” The Israelites tried and failed miserably. That’s the point God wanted to make: we need our God-Savior to do it for us, because we are incapable by our own efforts. Paul explained it, “Wherefore, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).
So far, so good. We can use the Commandments to help our children see that they cannot please God on their own, so they need Jesus to do it for them. But, if the kids have already prayed the sinner’s prayer, do we still need to teach them the Commandments? Yes, because they keep us in a place of remembering that we must continually depend on Jesus.
Putting them into our children’s hearts and minds stores them up for later use by the Holy Spirit to convict and correct as needed. The more Bible we get into ourselves, the more the Spirit has to work with, to “bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I [Jesus] have said to you” (John 14:26). The Ten Commandments are, in a nutshell, what God says about holy living. By planting them securely in our children’s memory, we provide the raw material for the Holy Spirit to remind them what to do when they are faced with choices.
They give our children concrete, practical guidelines for how to follow Jesus as His disciples. Frankly, the modern-day church as a whole has neglected the concept of discipleship. We’ve talked a lot about Jesus being our Savior and Friend, but not much about being His disciples.
A disciple is one who learns at the feet of his master and then puts into practice what he has been taught. Disciples follow their teacher’s example. They imitate what he does. And when the master gives an instruction, they don’t debate with him; they do what he says.
Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are My disciples indeed.” (John 8:31). But, isn’t relating to Jesus as Savior and Friend enough? Jesus addressed the friend issue, too: “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). If you want to be His friend, you have to be willing to be His disciple, doing whatever He commands, as well.
In our next post, we’ll talk about how to teach the Ten Commandments to our children without being legalistic.