What is the role of the Ten Commandments in the Christian’s life? Dr. William Wood explains how the Ten Commandments lay out what the Christian life looks like and how to avoid the extremes of legalism or licentiousness.

We can actually put this question a little bit differently in saying, “What’s not the role of the 10 Commandments in the Christian life?” And I say that because there’s a sense where the Ten Commandments form a programmatic image for the life of faith. These Ten Commandments, or “10 words,” form the core of what’s called God’s moral law. Our God reveals what it means to live a righteous and faithful life before him. And as the core, all the various other commandments that you come across in Scripture in one way or another relate to the Ten Commandments. The book of Deuteronomy, for example, is by and large an exposition of the Ten Commandments. In fact, the larger part of the first section of the book of Deuteronomy is structured along the various Ten Commandments. Same thing with the first 10 chapters of the book of Proverbs. The wisdom that Solomon is articulating in those 10 chapters—it’s all derived from the Ten Commandments in one way or another.

The Prologue and First Table

Our God reveals what it means to live a righteous and faithful life before him.But when you look at the Ten Commandments themselves, it reveals a core of all the we need for both faith—trusting in God—as well as for life. Think of the beginning sections of the Ten Commandments, the prologue and the first four. The prologue of the Ten Commandments reveals [to] us the God who we are supposed to worship, the Lord God Himself, and also the God not only who we are to worship, but also the God who saved us. It’s not just the Lord, the God of Heaven, but it’s the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. That is, the God who is to be praised, but the God who also saves. And this God who is to be praised and this God who saves then reveals to us in the first four commandments how he is to be praised. He is to be praised alone. He can’t be associated with any other God. He’s to be praised without the use of images. He’s to be praised on a particular day that he calls us to worship and to glorify him.

And so the Ten Commandments, at least the first four here, reveal to us how we are to live the life of faith, trusting in the God of Heaven who saved us. And so they call us to to faithful service to the Lord.

The Second Table

The other six commandments do the same thing in a slightly different way. They call us to live the life of faith, not simply in relation to the God of Heaven, but also in relation to others. How we are to honor our father and our mother, how we are to keep ourselves from stealing from others, how we should not covet things that someone else has. And so within the Ten Commandments, you can put it as Jesus does. We have the two greatest commandments summarized within these 10: to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor, as well.

Avoiding Extremes

And so the Ten Commandments tell us how to live a life of faith. How to walk the Christian walk. How to live in a way that is pleasing to the God of Heaven. And as it does so, it teaches Christians to avoid two important extremes. On the one hand, it teaches us to avoid legalism. The Ten Commandments tell us how to live a life of faith.The prologue to the Ten Commandments teaches us that God is the one who saves us. He is the one who redeems us. We cannot redeem ourselves by works or by any other means. And so it calls us to rest in God by faith wrought by the Holy Spirit, that we would have our salvation in him. But it also teaches us to avoid the extreme of licentiousness, where while we are saved by Spirit-wrought faith and not by works, we are saved to do the good works that God has prepared for us. And those good works are revealed for us in God’s Word, and especially in the Ten Commandments.