Our journey through Exodus brings us to the Ten Commandments. It may seem like a back to the basics, but as each generation passes, one cannot assume that this baton has been firmly placed into the hands of the generation that follows. Even among those who bear the name Christian, one often encounters a stunning ignorance of even the ABCs of Bible knowledge, of law and gospel, of the most famous passages.
Perhaps this is why an old gal shakes her finger at the minister: “What folks need to hear nowadays are more sermons on the ten commandments!”
What about that? If what the woman means is that people have forgotten that the God who descended to the summit of Sinai amid fire and smoke, thunder and trumpet blast, is in dead earnest about everything He says, that He is a consuming fire, that people ought to be afraid of Him, who as Jesus said, “can destroy both soul and body in hell,” then she’s right. We need more sermons on the Ten Commandments as a curb, to hold back a world gone wild, to restrain the sinful nature in each of us.
If what she means is that people have a defective sense of sin, that they are not troubled by their sins, that they do not understand what St. Paul calls “the exceeding sinfulness of sin,” that their consciences are calloused beyond feeling shame, that they have, as Jeremiah put it, “forgotten how to blush,” then she’s right. We need more sermons on the Ten Commandments as a mirror, to show us our sin, and how badly we need a Savior.
If what the woman means is that people in general and sadly, Christians, too, are infected by the devil, the world and their own sinful nature, that their sense of right and wrong is clouded and confused, blurred and blunted in a world which thinks Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai ten suggestions or ten voluntary guidelines, then she’s right. We need more sermons on the Ten Commandments as a guide, to draw for us the clear boundaries of right and wrong, to sensitize us to the unchanging moral will of God.
But if what the well-intentioned gal means is that we need more sermons on the Ten Commandments to make better Christians of people, to clean up dirty hearts, to get us back to the God we have turned our backs on, to get us right with God again, to motivate us to live God-pleasing lives, then she is wrong, indeed at odds with the plain gospel of Jesus Christ.
Curb, mirror and guide, yes. But the law, the commandments cannot pardon us, cleanse us, encourage us, comfort us, cheer us, change us, motivate us, or make unwilling hearts willing. This only the gospel, the good news of Jesus who lived and died and rose again for us, can do. He alone kept the commandments perfectly for us and wraps around us the robe of His obedience as we stand before God. That distinction is basic.