Do you have a visceral reaction when you see the Ten Commandments posted in public? Are you an advocate for having them posted in public places, with the thought that it somehow constitutes a sort of victory for christianity? Maybe I’m just a particularly sinful example of a christian, but my visceral reaction to seeing the commandments posted is guilt and shame. I look at the list and don’t get very far down until the ‘law’ accuses me. I have been a very poor keeper of God’s law and I don’t particularly like the visual reminder of my failure. What’s more, I often wonder how the average Joe walking into the courthouse feels about the public display of this law of God? Does it move him any closer to God’s love and redemption? And why have we chosen this particular ‘word’ of God to hold up for the world to see and ponder?
Only since I’ve become Lutheran have I been able to admit my ‘disdain’ for the public display of the commandments. Lutherans teach that the only way to properly interpret the holy scriptures is to properly distinguish between law and gospel. In brief, the law is God’s moral law that has been written onto our hearts and that is summarized by the commands that we are to love the Lord with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. The gospel is the good news of Christ’s all availing sacrifice for us by His death on the cross. The law demands perfection and brings death. The gospel proclaims forgiveness and gives life. The law accuses us of our complete failure to please God while the gospel announces that Christ has pleased God perfectly for us. The law tells me what I must do; the gospel tells me what Christ has done. The law, when properly preached and taught, pins me to the ground….leaves me no way of escape and forces me to see the reality of my complete depravity and wickedness before a holy God. The law has done it’s job when it has crucified me and left me for dead. The gospel of Christ then breathes new life into me with the sweet taste of forgiveness and absolution. Another has paid the price for my sin and He alone, because of His own death and resurrection, has become my atonement. But there can be no life until we have first been killed by the law. It’s a theme throughout scripture. Death brings life. The first shall be last. Scripture is nothing if not a paradox.
And lest I haven’t convinced you yet of the death that the law brings, read over the commandments. Have you broken them today? I, for one, have broken most of them. I have envied and lusted and coveted and according to Jesus’ definition, I’ve even committed murder. Most of us probably rarely make it through breakfast without butchering 8 out of 10 of the commandments, if we were honest with ourselves. So, why then, would God give us a list of rules to follow that He knew we couldn’t follow? Would He ask us to do something which He knew full well we could never do? Yes, in fact, He would. He would give us a list of laws to show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are incapable of keeping them. Any of them. Let alone keep them perfectly, as Jesus so eloquently insisted.
So when I see christians demanding that the 10 commandments be posted in public places, I wonder why. If we were going to post something about our faith, wouldn’t we want it to be the good news of Christ’s forgiveness? And do we want them posted because we wrongly believe that we are actually keeping them? The law of God alone, stripped of the gospel, does not produce faith. If we feel we are keeping the law, we become prideful like the pharisees. And those of us who know we’re not living up to God’s standards begin to despair. The law can never bring life even if it serves temporarily to control behavior. Only the gospel of Jesus can bring life. But we won’t know that we need Him so desperately without a harsh presentation of how miserably we’ve failed to measure up to God’s standards.
In a perfect sermon, these two go hand in hand; held in paradoxical tension. In most sermons I’ve heard over thirty years of being a Christian, the law was usually watered down to a more ‘keepable’ level and the gospel was presented as somewhat conditional upon my sincerity. Or even worse, after the gospel was presented, an altar call was given where I now need to come forward and pledge to do X,Y, and Z. The good news that was given to me was then partially taken away. God wants to gospel to have the last word. For ‘the gospel is the power of God unto salvation’.
So I say, memorize the commandments, teach them to your children, but take them down from the public square. And put up a cross or better yet, a crucifix. At least there’s hope in the cross.
Ironically enough, these very Lutherans who claim that God’s law properly interpreted cannot bring life, are also very serious about learning and memorizing God’s law. His laws are the perfect recipe for harmony and peace in this life….if we could only keep them. And despite the fact that we cannot, one can only get to that complete realization by trying. So the more I know and attempt to practice God’s law, the more it convicts me and shows me my sin. Also of note, is that Moses, who brought God’s law to the people of Isreal, was never allowed to enter the promised land, while Joshua, whose name means Jesus, led God’s people into Canaan. I say all that to say that we’re teaching our girls Luther’s small catechism. They’re still working on it, but I thought you’d enjoy hearing their recitation of the first five commandments and their meanings.
I also have very good news for you……Taylor’s CD’s are in. If you left a comment on this post, email with your address and I’ll send you a CD. If you did not leave a comment on that post, well shame on you. But I’ll gladly you send you one for $7 including shipping. Just send me an email with your address.
Have a blessed Lord’s day on this first Sunday of Lent.
Love and hugs and showers of blessings! Also go to my tumblr site and check out some fun craft room ideas. I see painting in my future.