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Catechetical Refresher - The Ten Commandments

Catechetical Refresher
The Ten Commandments
Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
July 16, 2018

The first of Luther’s six chief parts of Christian doctrine is the Ten Commandments: with their Christian explanation. A Christian must always read them this way or he will come away with the wrong idea.

At face value the Commandments are the perfect way for people to order their lives. The first three commandments speak of man’s duty to God, the last seven our duties to one another; and there is no better regulator of human behavior than these. Were all men to follow them the world would be a much happier place.

But the commandments have more than face value. As we meditate on them we find that we come woefully short. As Scripture says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Consider the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” And its explanation, “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.”

We don’t do that, and it is sin. It is, indeed, the chief sin of man. We love ourselves more than God or anyone else, and we want the world to praise and glorify us. Each person is the center of his or her own universe. This is made manifest by the fact that we are always trying to get our own way; and make the world into our own image of it.

Because we don’t keep the first commandment neither to we keep the rest. We don’t pray, praise and give thanks as we ought. We don’t gladly hear and learn God’s Word. We despise our parents and other authorities. We kill our neighbor with hatred, which according to 1 John 3:15 is murder. We commit adultery in our thoughts (internet porn e.g.), words and by actual sinful deeds. We steal. We lie. We covet and conspire to get what is our neighbor’s. But it’s just not us, it’s seven billion people on the planet all doing the same thing at the same time. Is it any wonder, then, that the world is as decrepit and dangerous as it is? Is it any wonder that we need a hymn in our hymnal entitled: I Walk In Danger All The Way?

One of the chief function’s of the Ten Commandments (known as “the Law” in Lutheran theology) is to SOS, “show us our sins.” St. Paul writes, “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” (Romans 7:7) Unless we first know what our sins are, it is impossible to confess them, regret them, and turn away from them. Without the “Law,” we would live and die in our sins, and there is nothing worse than that.

One thing the Law cannot do, however, is save us. You cannot unscramble the egg in the pan, or bring the Thanksgiving turkey back to life. In the same way you cannot undo the judgment coming to you for your sins, or save yourself by now doing good. If a bank robber gives the money back he is not absolved of his crime, but still punished. It’s too late. As the Prophet Ezekiel says: the soul that sins will surely die. (Ezek. 18:20) Sentence has been passed.

But there is salvation for sinners, it is found in Christ alone! God be praised!

How does a sinner avoid God’s fearful judgment of his trespasses and find pardon and peace with God? Only by Christ. On the cross he bore the guilt and punishment that is due all sinners. That is what his “holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death” are for. And by faith in Christ crucified, by baptism into his name (which is the same thing) we obtain full pardon, and the promise of everlasting life. In Holy Communion with him we obtain a “foretaste of the things to come.” We get a measure of tomorrow’s grace and tomorrow’s gladness today.

In Lutheran theology this gracious salvation is given to us “without money, and without cost,” (Isaiah 55) and is known as the Gospel. (Remember those terms: Law and Gospel. They are as basic to Lutheran faith as 2+2=4 is to arithmetic.)

Law and Gospel!

The Gospel is what fills the Christian heart with joy and invigorates us to live a new life. A life of good works. Dr. Martin Luther (the original one after whom no landmarks are named) famously said: God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does. But mysteriously, as we do good to the least of Christ’s brethren, we render it to Jesus himself. (Matthew 25:40)

Once we are baptized, and have the Holy Spirit residing within, we are also given the insight to understand spiritual things. Then we perceive in the commandments more than condemnation of our sins, or a formula for good behavior. We see in them the very character of God.

God is faithful to us; and so we are faithful to him, to our spouses, and to all people. He gives so we likewise give, and do not steal. He speaks his true Word to us in Holy Scripture and so we likewise speak truth to him, about him and to and about our neighbor. Much more can be said but for now let this suffice.

The next installment of Catechetical Refresher will review the Apostle’s Creed. Whereas the Commandments, the Law, shows us our sins (SOS), in the Creed we learn the Gospel which Shows Our Savior (SOS).

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Peace be with you. Amen.

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