When I preach through the Ten Commandments, each sermon has four points, because each commandment does four things at once.

First, each of the Ten Commandments is revelation.  Each one gives us an insight into the character of God.  For example, what kind of amazing Person would say to us, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15)?  Only a just and generous Person who can be fully trusted, who would never rob us or defraud us, who would never lie or cheat, who would never hold out on us wrongly, who is not out for himself, who feels no need but only overflowing kindness.  This is Jesus.

Secondly, each of the Ten Commandments is confrontation.  Each one gives us an insight into our own character.  What kind of people need to be told, “You shall not steal”?  People who will be unfair to one another without even realizing it.  We need to be alerted to our own unjust and grasping impulses, which have such a hold on us.  It’s hard but healing to realize this about ourselves, if we turn to Jesus for gracious forgiveness and a new heart, which he gives freely to law-breakers like us.

Thirdly, each of the Ten Commandments is instruction.  Each one charts for us a new path to walk, by God’s grace.  So “You shall not steal” guides us into the ways of generosity, fairness, honesty, moderation, frugality, timely payments, wholehearted efforts, sincere promises, and so forth.  In this life, we can walk this path imperfectly but visibly — not in order to earn God’s approval, but because in Jesus we have freely received God’s approval.

Fourthly, each of the Ten Commandments is promise — because of the New Covenant.  God promises in Christ that he will write his law on our hearts.  He will move each commandment from the pages of the Bible down into the deepest levels of our personalities (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8, 10).  Thanks to the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit, we who are in Christ will be so transformed in heaven above, all the way down into the core of our beings, that forever we will be joyously surging with the life-giving generosity of the eighth commandment.  We will finally be like Jesus.

Here is just one way to preach the Ten Commandments within the larger framework of the gospel, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.

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12 thoughts on “Preaching the Ten Commandments”

  1. Add a 5th which should be first. It reveals our sin and demonstrates our need for Christ. It shows us the blackness of our sin and highlights the beauty of Christ.

    Galatians 3:24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

    1. Mark says:

      See number 2

  2. Mark says:

    Thanks for this. I especially appreciate 1 and 3, not because they are more important, but because they are often overlooked. If we look at the actual presentation of the 10 “words” in the Bible, #3 is the clearest stated purpose and #1 is the theological foundation. It only reveals our sin and the future promise in that it is an instruction that we are to keep (but don’t).

  3. Tom says:

    Ray, one thing I’ve noticed is that prior to any of the commandments, there is a reminder of grace: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex 20:2). So before the Lord starts telling them what they must do, He reminds them what He has done. Grace leads to holiness in life.

  4. Jhared says:

    Could someone please rephrase for me the last sentence of the third point (“In this life…”)? My struggle is mainly with the words “imperfectly” and “visibly”. English is not my first language and this might be the reason why I don’t get it.

    I appreciate anyone’s help. God bless you.

    1. JohnCI says:

      “In this life, we can walk this path imperfectly but visibly — not in order to earn God’s approval, but because in Jesus we have freely received God’s approval.”

      While we are still in the flesh, we still miss the mark, but we and others are able to see that we are trying to obey God. We don’t do this to earn God’s approval, but we do it out of thankfulness for the gift of salvation.

      I hope that was more clear.

  5. Gene Devin says:

    I am inclined to proffer a fifth part to each commandment, the sermon on the mount. Jesus explicitly cites the endurance and fulfilment of the law and prophets, and goes on to illuminate them with his interpretation, character, and expectation. Some easy examples, he redefines murder and adultery, and makes it clear that the New covenant of his Grace has a higher standard than behaving well, and even higher than thinking or believing rightly, in replacing our hearts of stone and writing his law (of love) on our new hearts his standard is love. Consider the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, in the sermon on the mount Jesus tells us to be anxious for nothing …. to live from a place of rest not just physically rest one day out of seven (compare heb 4 rest of the believer to the Babylonian captivity, 2 chron 36:21 . 70 years after 490 years without observing the sabbath in the promised land). Do not take the name of the Lord in vain becomes; pray that his name is hallowed in the earth as it is in heaven! (Remember that heaven stops at the sound of his name and all fall down prostrate at the holiness crying holly holly holly…. Pray for this on the earth as in heaven!!! How wonderful marvoulus and …. what kind of love… And faith is that? Big.)

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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