What are the Ten Commandments and why are they important?

After the Exodus from Egypt, God gave the nation of Israel ten laws called the Ten Commandments. They are a basic summary of the entirety of the Old Testament Law, which contains 613 commands. The Ten Commandments are made up of ten specific laws, the first four dealing with man's relationship to God and the last six dealing with man's relationship to his fellow men. They can be found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The Ten Commandments are:

1) "You shall have no other gods before me." What this means is that men should not worship any god other than the one true God. Every other god is a false god that sets itself up in God's place and is ultimately satanic in origin.

2) "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." Because false gods originate with Satan, God does not want His people involved with them in any way. The second commandment reinforces this reality by commanding that no idol or visible representation be made of any deity, including God Himself, for there is no way that we can portray Him accurately. To make an idol that is supposed to represent the one true God is to make a false idol and break this second commandment. The Israelites did this when they created the golden calf in Exodus 32.

3) "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." We are not to use God's name in a light or flippant way. We are to treat God's name with respect and reverence, just as we treat Him with respect and reverence. We should show this attitude by only speaking of Him in respectful and honoring ways.

4) "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." This is a command to rest on the seventh day of the week, just as the Lord rested after His work of creation, during the creation week. It reminds us of what He has done by creating and sustaining us.

5) "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." Treating one's parents with respect and honor is the heart of this commandment.

6) "You shall not murder." God commands against committing premeditated murder.

7) "You shall not commit adultery." God commands against sexual relations with any person other than one's own spouse.

8) "You shall not steal." This command prohibits taking and keeping anything that belongs to someone else, without permission.

9) "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." This is basically a command not to lie. We are not to speak something about another person that we know is untrue.

10) "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's." We are not to desire something that does not belong to us. This is a very serious command, as covetousness is equated with idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Coveting can easily lead to breaking many of the other commandments as well – murder, adultery, theft, bearing false witness. It is not only wrong to break these commandments, it is also wrong to desire to break them.

The Ten Commandments are not a set of rules which will guarantee salvation if followed. They have been given for an entirely different purpose. Galatians 3:24 says that the law is a schoolmaster that guards us, teaches us and leads us to Christ. What that means is that when we look at the Ten Commandments, we should see that we have broken them and recognize our utter helplessness to do what is right in God's eyes. We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory and goodness (Romans 3:23), and therefore we need His love and mercy (Romans 7:24-8:1). Thankfully, we have been given the amazing gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and all who believe and trust Him can say, with King David, "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin" (Psalm 32:1–2).

Related Truth:

Are Christians expected to obey the Old Testament law?

Why is the Golden Rule so important?

Christian tithing - What does the Bible say?

What does the Bible say about Christian fasting?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

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