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 how to understand God’s law as summarised in the ten commandments. We saw that the commandments are connected to one another and should never be broken. But what else should you consider when you read them?
When you study the ten commandments you must understand that what God forbids includes all the same kinds of sin.
Humanity loves to ask how close can I get to a line before I cross it. We like laws to be as specific as possible so that we can be viewed as ‘technically’ not doing anything wrong. An example would be when a child asks mum for a biscuit, is told ‘No’, and then later found eating chocolate. The child then claims to be guilt free as mum never said anything about chocolate!
People do the same with God’s law. An example is given by Jesus when he speaks of the way that the Jewish leaders wriggled out of keeping the fifth commandment: honour your father and mother. Jesus said: ‘For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father ‘ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition’ (Matthew 15:4-6).
Another example is regarding oaths. The ninth commandment forbade giving false testimony, but the religious leaders encouraged people to give oaths upon something so that their testimony wasn’t necessarily binding. It is the ancient equivalent of children in the playground keeping their fingers crossed behind their back which allows them to lie to a friend. Jesus speaks of this in the sermon on the mount: ‘”Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one”’ (Matthew 5:33-37). Your word should never be false, regardless of what you might swear on.
So instead of asking where the line is so we don’t cross it, we should be asking ‘How far can I go from the line so that I know I haven’t crossed it?’
If we’re on a really tall building, we like to back away from the edge – the higher we are, the further back we stand. So if we understand the damage that is done every time we fall into sin we should be eager to make sure we keep God’s law as fully as possible.
Of course the extent of God’s law once again illustrates how impossible it is for us to keep the ten commandments. Which is why we need to be accepted by God on the basis of faith in his Son’s death for our sin, not on our own efforts to keep God’s law.
So do you admit you have broken God’s law in countless ways? Have you come to Christ for forgiveness?