Give Me Understanding, That I May Keep Your Law and Observe It With My Whole Heart

Cover of Kevin DeYoung's book The Ten Commandments

I’m getting ready to preach on the Ten Commandments at my church as we work our way through the book of Exodus on Sunday mornings. I’m excited to use Kevin DeYoung’s book, The 10 Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them, as an aid in my sermon prep. From what I can tell so far, it’s thoroughly biblical, rooted in the Reformed tradition (that’s a good thing in my opinion), informative, accessible, and practical.

I’ve been a Christian for over twenty years, but I’ve never heard a series of sermons on the Decalogue, at least not at any of the churches I’ve been part of. I suspect the same is true for many believers my age.

There was a time when the Ten Commandments were a core component of the church’s discipleship program. New believers were taught the Christian faith and life by means of three tools: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. The idea was that these summaries of Christian belief, piety, and practice would provide new converts with a solid foundation for a lifetime of following Christ.

The church in America has largely abandoned this historic practice. I don’t think we’re better off for it. The theological ignorance, prayerlessness, and moral confusion that characterize much of American Evangelicalism are signs that we need to rethink how we’re doing discipleship. By “rethink” I don’t necessarily mean come up with something new. Rather, we need to draw on the heritage left to us by our fathers and mothers in the faith. There’s ancient wisdom available to us in the tried-and-true practices of the Christian church, wisdom we can learn from and apply to our contemporary church life. We stand to gain much from recovering the practice of catechesis — systematic instruction in the Christian faith.

Consider four things believers young and old could learn from receiving a thorough grounding in the Ten Commandments.

  1. Who God is. The Ten Commandments teach us about God. They show us that he is Creator and Redeemer. He alone is worthy of our wholehearted love, devotion, trust, and obedience. He is the Sovereign Lord. His authority extends to every detail of our lives: our desires, thoughts, words, and deeds; our loyalties; our time; our relationships in the home, the church, and the community; our possessions and even our sexuality.
  2. Who we are. The Ten Commandments teach us that we are people created in the image of God — people created to know him, love him, and serve him. But we are also sinners who have rebelled against the Creator. We’ve broken his law in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We’re guilty, deserving of God’s just punishment. We need a Savior.
  3. What Christ has done for us. The Ten Commandments show us our sin, but they also help us better appreciate Christ’s obedience on our behalf and his suffering the curse of our law-breaking in our place. A better understanding of the Ten Commandments leads to a better understanding of the gospel. A better understanding of the gospel inevitably produces within us an ever-deepening gratitude to God for his grace.
  4. How to live for God’s glory. As men and women pardoned by God and clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we do not relate to God’s law as an instrument of justification or condemnation. Instead, the law functions for us as a guide to righteous living (the third use of the law). The Ten Commandments help us understand that we are loved by God and have been redeemed from the bondage of sin and death. God has recreated us in Christ to reflect his righteousness with our lives. We’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who has written God’s law on our hearts such that we now have the desire and ability to do what God commands — though, to be sure, in this life our obedience will always be imperfect and incomplete. Nevertheless, grateful, Spirit-empowered obedience to God’s good and perfect law pleases him, just like an earthly father delights in his daughter’s imperfect attempts to do what he asks out of love for him.

I’ve taken up the psalmist’s prayer and made it my own request for my church and myself: Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart (Psalm 119:34).