In these bulletin articles, we’ve been going through a list of questions and answers contained in the Westminster Larger Catechism, published in the 17th Century. We’ve been looking at the use of God’s law for humans and saw that a good summary of God’s law is in the ten commandments. But how are you to understand this summary of God’s law so that you can please him?
When we read the ten commandments, we must understand that to do the opposite of something you are commanded to do is sin. And when something is forbidden, you are to do the opposite of that.
In other words, there is no neutral position. There are sins of commission: actively doing what is wrong. There are also sins of omission: neglecting to do what you should.
A clear example of this is taken up by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. The apostle encourages the Christians not to break the eighth commandment, which is ‘You shall not steal’ (Deuteronomy 5:19). But Paul says that means you should do the opposite of stealing – work hard. He says: ‘He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need’ (Ephesians 4:28).
Paul gives another example in relation to lying which is prohibited by the ninth commandment: ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor’ (Deuteronomy 5:20). Now one way people may seek to avoid the ninth commandment is by stopping talking altogether – hard for those who like to talk, maybe not so hard for others. But if you stop talking, you cannot do the opposite of lying: speak the truth. Paul says this when he writes: ‘Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body’ (Ephesians 4:25).
So as I unpack God’s laws in greater detail in subsequent articles, you must understand that the commandments are far more comprehensive for human behaviour than they first appear.
At the same time that certain behaviour are prohibited, the opposite behaviour is promoted. And at the same time that certain behaviour is promoted, the opposite behaviour is prohibited.
And all this once again reminds us of our need for God’s help. The law of God is far too difficult for sinful humanity to obey! Even if we were to lie motionless on the floor we still would be guilty of sinning because we would not be doing the things God has commanded us to actively do.
But thankfully God has sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for all your sins of commission and omission so that you don’t have to fear the punishments of hell. If you trust in Christ’s work at the cross, you are forgiven for all your sin!
And for those who have believed in Jesus, God has also thankfully sent his Holy Spirit to help you to live according to God’s law. Which means that if you try to live without the Spirit’s power you will simply fall flat on your face again.
So do you understand that the law both prohibits and promotes your behaviour? Have you trusted in Christ for all your transgressions of his law? Do you seek to live according to his law by the power of the Holy Spirit?