Why Did God Give the Ten Commandments?

Why Did God Give the Ten Commandments?

Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
—Exodus 20:1–2

Sometimes I’m amazed at how few people know the Ten Commandments. Newsweek did a poll once that showed only 49 percent of all Protestants and 44 percent of all Catholics could name even four of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are just as important to you today as they were to the Israelites centuries ago because the Commandments are God’s method for liberating us to experience blessings we could never imagine possible.

You may wonder, Why did God give us the Ten Commandments?

First, God gave the Ten Commandments for the personal well-being of His people. In Exodus 20:2, God said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God had already redeemed His people and brought them out of slavery. And now that they were out there on their own, He was giving them the rules that would govern their lives. Remember this: never is there any hint that keeping the law would result in their redemption. Nowhere in the Bible is the idea that we can earn God’s approval by keeping the law. The Israelites had already been redeemed at this point. The law was given for their personal well-being.

Many Christians believe the Old Testament teaches that the law saves us and the New Testament teaches we are saved by grace. That is not true. In the New Testament there is law as well as grace. When you become a Christian it doesn’t mean you have no law; it means you serve under the new law that God gives. In the Old Testament, keeping the law did not save people. That was impossible. No man could be saved by keeping the law because no man could keep the law. You find grace in the pages of the Old Testament. You find God’s grace in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve sinned, when God killed an animal and took the skin and covered the first couple. You see grace and faith in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” We’re saved the same way whether in the Old or the New Testament. Every person is saved by grace, which is appropriated through faith. God gave the law, not to save His people but to teach them how to live.

Second, the law was given to serve as a foundation for the nation of Israel. There are three essentials for any nation. A nation has to have a common people, a common land, and a common law or constitution. God had already given the Israelites a common people when he called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. They were headed to their common land, the land of Canaan. But what they needed to bind them together was a constitution, a law. That’s what we find, beginning the Exodus 20.

And finally, God gave the law to remind the people of their own sinfulness. Did God believe the Israelites were actually going to keep the law? Of course not. That’s why God instituted a sacrificial system with the understanding that they would need forgiveness. You know, the book of James says the law is like a mirror that shows us how dirty our lives really are. In the book of Galatians, Paul refutes the Judaizers, who thought the law was what saved them. Paul said no. He explained, “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). A tutor in Paul’s day was a slave who would walk the child to school. And Paul is saying that the law is like a tutor, an attendant who leads us to Jesus Christ.

The law doesn’t save us. It reminds us of how much we need God’s forgiveness for salvation.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “God’s Top Ten” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2008.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.