The Ten Commandments

Some Christians believe it would be a good idea to hang copies of the Ten Commandments up in schools, courtrooms and other public places. I’m not sure why they would want to do this. Perhaps they believe if they can get the Ten Commandments posted, they’ve at least done something to promote Godliness in what they see as a sick society.

But I don’t see how this would benefit anyone. In fact, I think it’s a dangerous distraction.

How long do the motivational posters hanging in workplaces actually motivate anyone?

When was the last time you noticed the safety rules posted in your place of business, let alone read them?

Did you really pay attention to that speed limit sign as you rushed to work today?

Do you imagine that a bank robber would walk into a bank, notice a copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall, read “Thou shalt not steal” and then decide not to rob the bank after all?

We have laws against stealing. But we still have thieves.

But besides the questionable utility of posting the Ten Commandments, there are some theological problems inherent in the concept. That is, those Christians who think this is a good idea might need some remedial theological training.

What exactly did Paul mean when he wrote Romans 8:2:

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

Or Galatians 3:1-5:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by your observing the law, or by your believing what you heard?

I fear that many Christians are losing sight of what we’re all about: we are called to proclaim Christ and him crucified. There is nothing we contribute to our salvation. However well intentioned, trying to make sinners behave is like giving morphine to someone with appendicitis. Sure, it eliminates the pain, but it doesn’t cure the underlying problem. The appendix will still rupture and kill the patient. Salvation and the Christian life are by grace, through faith (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). We Christians are not called to be drug pushers; we are called to be surgeons.

Besides, Jesus is explicit that the law is summed up in only two commandments: love God, and love people (Matthew 22:36-40; cf. Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:8-10). The gospel alone offers hope and help to those who are burdened with sin. Only the living God taking up residence in a heart will have a significant impact on how a life is lived. The law posted on a wall will never transform society, any more than speed limit signs transform speeders.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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