A Summary of Principles for Understanding and Using the Ten Commandments

In Exodus 20:1-17 we see the Ten Commandments, the Moral Law of God that all people everywhere are called to obey. As Ernie Reisinger says, “God requires personal, perfect, perpetual obedience to His revealed will. [And] Where do we find God’s revealed will regarding moral conduct? The biblical answer is that it is summarized in the Ten Commandments” (pg. 70). For the Christian, Jesus has obeyed the Law for us and has taken the curse of the Law for us, living, dying, and rising again to save us. We are justified by faith in His person and work; but, before we are even able to trust in Him by faith we need to be born again, we need a new heart. And God gives us one so that we will trust in Him and then live for Him. Thus, as Christians we are especially called to obey God’s Moral Law because we have been given new hearts that delight to follow the Law and are empowered to follow the Law by the power of the Holy Spirit, albeit imperfect (that is our following, not the work of the Spirit). That said, I think the following principles from Reisinger’s book will prove to be extremely helpful for us as we seek to walk in obedience to God’s Moral Law for our good and the glory of Christ.

  1. The commandments must be understood according to the explanation that the Prophets, Christ, and the Apostles gave them.
  2. The commandments are spiritual, and therefore they go to the heart, requiring internal obedience and inward affection, not merely outward conformity. They forbid not only the acts of sin but also the desire and inclination to sin.
  3. There are both positive and negative sides to the commandments. Where sin is forbidden, a duty is commanded.
  4. Where sin is forbidden, the inducements or the occasion that leads to the sin is forbidden. We are to stay away from temptation as one stays away from a contagious disease.
  5. The commandments that deal with our relationships with other people must yield to the commandments that deal with our relationship to God. If there is a conflict between the duties of the first and second tables, the first comes first.
  6. It is essential to consider the end (that is the purpose and design) of the commandments.
  7. Whatever is forbidden or commanded of us, we are bound, according to our position, to discourage or encourage in others according to the duty of their positions.

God’s law not only forbids our sinning but also forbids our being accessory to the sins of others when it is within our power to do something about it…

There are at least five ways in which we can be accessory to or partakers of the sins of others.

1) By issuing unrighteous decrees, thereby ordering other people to do unrighteous deeds… We are guilty of breaking a commandment if we are accessory to the breaking of that commandment. Ordering the cause of sin is sin…

2) By not hindering others from sin when it is within our power, ability, or sphere of authority.

3) By counseling or provoking others to sin… [For example] To provoke someone to anger is to promote a murderous spirit (Matt. 5:21-22).

4) By consenting to another’s sin…

5) By setting a bad example.

  1. What is forbidden is at no time to be done, but what is required is to be done only when the Lord affords opportunity.
  2. The beginning and the end, as well as the sum, of all the commandments is love.

These principles give us a proper understanding for the right use of the commandments and will spare us from legalism, pharisaism, and antinomianism.

Ernie Reisinger, The Law and the Gospel (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2019), 75-77.