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 God’s law as summarised in the ten commandments. But right before the commandments, there is a preface: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ (Exodus 20:2). Why is this preface there?
Firstly, the preface to God’s law reminds the Israelites that God’s character was displayed when he brought them out of slavery. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, God showed his sovereignty and power over creation, particularly in the ten plagues. God also revealed his righteousness, love, grace and mercy towards in taking the Israelites safely away from Egypt. Moses himself speaks of this display of God’s love: ‘But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 7:8)
Secondly, the preface reminds the Israelites that God is now their God and they should be subject to him. God broke the rule of Egypt over Israel at the Exodus. But God did not tell the people to go and serve someone else. God redeemed them for him! David spoke of this in his prayer to the Lord: ‘How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel– the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become their God’ (2 Samuel 7:22-24).
So the preface to the ten commandments is most fitting. It gives God’s people motivation to be obedient to the law that follows. The people now belong to God and so God now has the right to tell them what to do.
And this principle still applies to God’s people today. Although no human alive today has been enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt, everyone has been enslaved to sin. Yet God has redeemed some people from sin by the death of Christ at the cross. Paul said ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us’ (Galatians. 3:13).
Thus Paul is quick to point out that Christians should live according to the commandments of the new master, Jesus Christ. He writes ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope– the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’ (Titus 2:11-14).
So do you keep God’s law because you have received grace through Jesus Christ? Or are you trying to keep the law for another reason?