The Christian life begins with conversion. But it does not end with this. No, conversion is only the beginning. A person who really has come to Jesus Christ to be justifiedthat is, made righteous by receiving the imputed righteousness of Jesus as his ownwill surely be grateful for this amazing blessing. No one can possibly realize that Jesus died for him, went to hell for him, paid the price of sin for him, and gave him the gift of "a robe of perfect righteousness," without having a sincere love burning in his heart for the Savior. Out of this will come the heartfelt desire to live for him. It is therefore appropriate that we give, at this point, the third vow:
Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord and do you promise, in reliance on the grace of God, to serve him with all that is in you, to forsake the world, to mortify your sinful nature, and to lead a godly life?
Observe that this question does not ask more than it should. For instance, it does not ask us a new convert to promise to be instantly perfect! We may not make a promise like that becauseas the Bible makes very clearthere is no such thing as "instant perfection." After all, even the great Apostle Paul had to say: "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I doforgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12-14). It is right here that we see one of the most important reasons to stressas we do in the Orthodox Presbyterian Churchthe need for faithful attendance at the stated worship services each Sunday. There is no quick and easy way to learn how to serve Jesus according to his word. The Bible tells us how to livehow to be good citizenshow to live as husbands or wives, employers or employeeshow to witness to unbelievers, and how to live with our fellow believers. What we are saying, thenin this third vowis not that we have already arrived. No, but what we are doing is committing ourselves to learn more of the teaching of the Bible, in order that we might know how to strive, more and more, to obey it. It is precisely because this is difficult that we can only promise to do it "in reliance on the grace of God." This is just another way of saying that we know very well we could never do it in our own strength. It is not easy to take our stand against the world. It is not easy to mortify (or kill) the old nature within us. It is not easy to lead a godly life. And this question does not pretend that it is easy. This question does not ask us to claim more than we actually have, in other words, at the time of our public profession. The one thing it does ask is whether or not wewith the help of Godare determined to keep striving to do these things. One could put it like this: "are you now beginning to fight the good fight of faith? And can you sincerely say that there is, in your heart, a determination to press on to the goal set before you in Scripture?"
Clearly implied in this third vow, then, is faithfulness in our church attendance. Our fathers had a name for this. They spoke of "a diligent use of the means of grace." What they meant was this: God has commanded his people to come together on the Lord's Day to hear his word, to worship him, and to receive the sacraments. He has ordained this for his own glory, to be sure, but also because of our need. For it is only through the use of these things which God has provided that we will be enabled to attain our goal. Peter put it like this: "having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides for ever...therefore...as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 1:23, 2:1-2). It would be as foolish to expect a newborn Christian to grow without the means of grace as it would be to expect a newborn baby to grow without milk. So anyone who says "yes, I do" in answer to this third question, ought to realize that it involvesfrom the startfaithfulness in church attendance. And one thing soon becomes apparent to any observant person. Those who do make progress in the things promised here are invariably such as love the worship services of the church, and the fellowship of God's people. This does not mean that everyone who is regular in church attendance will automaticallyor necessarilybecome a strong Christian. No, but what it does mean is that no one will become a strong and growing Christian who neglects the means that God has appointed. The means of grace are not magical, in other words, but they are essential.
It is not our purpose in these lessons to go into great detail. It will perhaps be of value, however, to give a brief summary of what it means to live a godly life. We will do this by giving a simple explanation of the central meaning of each of the ten commandments. These commandments are God's own "brief summary" of His holy will (see diagram 9 below). We need to know the whole Bible in order to work out the detailed application of the principles contained in these commandments. But the place to start is by trying to get a firm grasp of the basic principles contained in each of these laws. (1) First of all, then, the ten commandments really deal with two main subjects. Our Lord Jesus shows us this in two interesting statements. In Mt. 4:10 we read that our Lord gave this as his final answer to Satan, when he was tempted: "Away with you, Satan! For it is written: "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve." So the whole duty of man, to God, can be summed up in two wordsworship and service. (2) In Matthew's gospel Jesus gave another summary in two great principles. "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (22:37-40; see diagram 9, below).
Before we discuss the various commandments individually, we do well to grasp at least a few of the general principles which apply to all of them. (1) There is an order of importance in the arrangement of these ten laws. The organizing principle is the centralityor supremacyof God. Man, by nature, fails to comprehend this. He thinks that he is "not too bad" if he refrains from stealing, murder or adultery, while he pays not the slightest heed to the higher duty of worship. Yet, in actual fact, the greatest sins of men are precisely in the sphere of worship. (2) Each commandment, when properly understood, teaches us both what is required and what is forbidden. Eight of the ten commandments are stated in a negative way: "You shall not...." Two of these commandments are stated positively. But when we compare Scripture with Scripture we learn that when God gives one of these, the other is always implied. (3) The ten commandments are sufficient. In the Bible the number ten is often used to indicate completeness. For example, when the bridegroomin "the Song of Solomon"praised this wife's beauty by mentioning ten things, it was as if he was saying "you are perfect." Well, God's ten commandments are perfect. There is no need for anything to be added to them.
Without going into great detail, then, we want to show, by a few examples, how each of these commandments ought to function in the life of the Christian.
The first commandment says: "You shall have no other gods before Me." (or, in a more literal translation: "To you there shall be no other gods before My face"). The Bible reveals the one true God. This one true God is revealed as existing in three distinct (but not separated) persons. It is also stated in Scripture that no one has the true God as his God if he rejects any of these three persons. "Whoever denies the Son, the same has not the Father" (1 Jn. 2:23). It is commonly imagined that adherents of other religions do, after all, worship the same God that we do as Christians. This, however, is precisely the error of all errors. When anyone makes his own definition of God he makes an idol! And an idol is a false God. We, as Christians, are not allowed to have anything to do with such man-made gods. You can see, then, that one of the great sins today is the sin of joining together in worship, or prayer, in a situation in which this truth is not faithfully maintained. Much so-called "ecumenical worship" today is really false worship. Only Churches that hold a common faith in the one true God should ever worship together.
The second commandment reads as follows: "You shall not make for yourself any 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 nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments." The reader will note that this commandment has two parts: the first part forbids the making of any carved image or flat picture of God, whether it be of the Father, of the Son, or of the Holy Spirit; the second part forbids the use of any such image or picture as an aid to devotion. Anything that originates in the imagination of man, rather than from God's revelation in Scripture, is illegitimate as a means of worship. Man-made statues, pictures, ceremonies and so on, are wrong because they are not authorized by God, and not revealed from him (see Lev. 10:1-2). It was for this reason that our fathers, at the time of the Reformation, put away all such things from their old Roman Catholic way of worship. They put them away because they did not find any warrant for them in the Bible. The thing we should always ask firstwhen we come to worship Godis this: how does God want us to worship Him? Only the Bible can tell us.
One other thing needs comment here. Observe that this commandment warns of harm to our children if we disobey this commandment. Why is this? The answer is not difficult: children tend to accept, uncritically, the practices of their parents. So, when parents adopt ways of worship that are not Biblical, the children tend to do the same. For example: in many Protestant Churches today you see stained glass windows with pictures of Jesus. Some of the older people in these Churches were quite uncomfortable when these were first brought in. They sensed that these were not right. But the children brought up in these churches do not have any negative feelings at all. They are used to these things and accept them as normal. This is what the commandment means when it says children are visited with the sinsnot just the punishment that follows the sinsof their parents. God does not put the punishment children instead of the parents, but with them because they share the same sin.
The third commandment says: "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." But what does it mean to "take" the Lord's name? We take the Lord's name when we become Christians, much as a wife takes her husband's name when she gets married. We profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, in other words, and thereafter are called by His name. We take it in vain when we do not really mean what we say when we make our profession of faith. The principle is this: even if we worship the true Godin a form or manner commanded by Himstill we take His name in vain if we do not do it sincerely. When we read that the Lord "will not hold anyone guiltless" who takes His name in vain, we are to understand that those who profess with the lips, without a real commitment of the heart, are still unsaved (see Mt. 7:21-23).
The first three commandments are extremely important, and must be seen together. We must (1) worship the true God, (2) in the appointed way, and (3) with a sincere heart.
Here is the fourth commandment: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." This commandment reminds us that God himself worked six days and then rested. It also tells us that man was created in his image. This is the ultimate reason for the duty set forth in this commandment: we ought to reflect God both in our work and our rest and worship. We cannot, in this brief treatment, go into all the arguments that people have raised against the observance of the first day of the weekthe Lord's Dayas the day of rest and worship. But perhaps the most important objection is that which has been raised by the Seventh-day Adventists. They say this commandment requires us to observe the last day of the week, rather than the first, as the Sabbath (or, in other words, Saturday rather than Sunday). But observe: the commandment does not say "remember the last day (of the week)." What it says is "work on six of the days of the week, and then worship God on the seventh." What the commandment requires is that one day out of every seven be set aside for worship. It is, in other words, a statement about proportion, not order. It is much like the tithe, which means "the tenth". What God requires is that we give the tenth portion to him. But which portion is "the tenth?" The answer is that it all depends. A person could give the first portion, or the last, and yet it could still be one tenth. Only from other texts of the Bible do we learn that we should give God the first portion. It is much the same with "the seventh" as respects the days of the week. We know from the New Testament that Christ himself, after his resurrection, always called his disciples together on the first day of the (seven day) week (see Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20:1, 19). We also know that this practice was followed by the Apostles (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). In the Old Testament period it was, of course, the last day of the week. Now it is the first day of the week. But either way it remains "the seventh" (that is, one whole day out of the seven). It is for this reason that almost all of our churches have both morning and evening worship services on the Lord's Day, even though many other churches today do not. Faithful Christians ought to remember that this day is not their own, but the Lord's. (Isa. 58:13 tells us what it means to keep this day holy).
Did you ever notice that civil rulers (Isa. 49:23) and church elders (1 Cor. 4:14-15) are called "fathers" in the Bible? For this reason we must understand that the fifth commandment states a principle which applies not only to the family, but also to the Church and the State. Paul says "let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resists the power, resists the ordinance of God" (Rom. 13:1-2). Thus in the home (1 Tim. 2:12; Eph. 6:1), the Church (Acts 20:17-18; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17) and the State (Rom. 13:1-2) we are required to render due obedience in the Lord to those whom God has clothed with authority over us. This phrase "in the Lord" means that we are to obey human authorities, appointed by God to rule in their respective sphere, in all their lawful commands. In other words, so long as they do not command anything God forbidsor forbid anything that God commandswe ought to obey them. However, if there is ever a direct conflict between what they command, and what God commands, we must obey God (Acts 4:19).
The proper translation of the sixth commandment is not "You shall not kill" but "You shall not murder." This fact becomes very clear when we note that the Bible itself sanctions some kinds of killing. For example, if a criminal is killed by someone acting in self-defense it is not an act of murder (Ex. 22:2). Or, again, if a person accidentallyand quite unintentionallykills someone it is not murder (Deut. 19:4-5). And that is not all. Some kinds of killing are a solemn duty. For example, civil authorities ought to kill murderers (Gen. 9:6-7). Indeed, if a murderer is not put to death, then those who have God-given authority to execute them become guilty themselves (Num. 35:31-33). Civil rulers are also supposed to use the sword to defend the people over whom they rule from crime and foreign aggression or invasion (Deut. 20:1). What this commandment really forbids, then, is quite clearly this: the taking of human life unjustly (or, in other words, unless God himself has authorized it). It is this commandment, by the way, which provides us with the principle we need to guide us in issues such as smoking and drinking. The Bible teaches temperance (or moderation) in the use of all material things (see Prov. 25:27; 1 Tim. 5:23; Gal. 5:23; etc.). The reason for reverence for human life is that man was made in God's image (Gen. 9:6).
We live in a day of widespread sexual immorality. The Christian must therefore be certain he does not think as the world does about sex. There was also widespread sexual immorality in the Roman Empire in Paul's time. Because of the blatant sexual perversions of that day some Christians reacted by reprobating sex completely. They thought it would be most conducive to holiness if people repudiated marriage and became celibate (which means "doing without sex entirely"). This can be made to seem very pious, yet Paul does not hesitate to call this a doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:3). No, it does not promote holiness to treat all sexeven sex in marriageas something inherently evil. To the contrary, the Bible speaks of marriageand sex in marriagein a very positive way. Because of so much sexual immorality all around, says Paul, for most people it is best to marry because this is the means God has appointed for most of us, so that we can avoid these evils (1 Cor. 7:1-2). Those who are already marriedeven if one partner is not a Christianshould remain together, if possible (1 Cor. 7:10-15). Only adulteryor desertion of a believer by an unbelieverfrees a Christian from the bonds of marriage. Other forms of sexual deviationmore common today as our own culture deteriorates (such as homosexual behavior, incest and even bestiality)are utterly condemned in the Bible (cf. Ex. 18). It is a sad fact that there are even so-called churches today that go along with a permissive attitude toward these sins. A faithful church will never lower the standard of God's law to accommodate such abominations.
Why is it wrong to take something that belongs to someone else? It is wrong because the Biblical view is that God alone is the giver of all that we rightly possess. He gives a high I.Q. to one man and a low I.Q. to another. He gives different opportunities, a different family inheritance, and so on. We therefore have no right to think we have an automatic right to "as much as other people have". We are to obtain our propertyor wealthin one of three ways: (a) by our own labor, (b) by inheritance, or (c) as a gift. Any other way (such as by winning in gambling) is condemned in the Bible. It is for this reason too that false business practices are condemned in Scripture. These are just different ways of stealing (see Lev. 19:35-36). It is also a form of stealing when we do not give honest work in return for our wages (1 Tim. 5:8; Lev. 6:2-4; Prov. 11:1; 20:10). And, of course, the employer also steals if he does not pay a fair wage for work done by his employees. There is a thief in the heart of each of us, by nature. But the call of God is that we "steal no longer" but rather labor with our own hands so that we will have something to share with the needy (Eph. 4:28).
Speaking the truthin loveought to be the hallmark of the Christian. But what does it mean to speak truth? It is (1) first of all to say what we believe to be true. Just think what a change there would be in the world if everyone we talked to did this! So often people do not say what they really think is true, but only what they think we would like to hear, or what they think may gain them some advantage. (2) In the second place, we need to be sure that what we believe to be true actually is true. Here we can see why gossip is severely condemned in the Bible (Lev. 19:16; Prov. 18:8; etc). We are not allowed, for example, to receive an evil accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by at least two (or, better still, three) witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). It is easytoo easyto pass along something we hear without making sure it is accurate information. God wants us to make sure that what we are saying really is true.
The Bible says coveting is idolatry (Col. 3:5). From this we see that the ten commandments are a unitylike an unbroken circle. The root of all desire to go against God's law is simply this: a heart that does not have God himself as our supreme desire and reward (see Gen. 15:1). We should take note of the fact that this is the only commandment that deals entirely with what is inwardthe desire of the heartrather than outward acts. We can speak of all the other commandments in terms of doing, or not doing, some outward act. But this commandment reaches down to something deeper, namely, to the attitude of the heart. It was this commandment that finally made the Apostle Paul realize that he was a sinner. He had been able to deceive himself into thinking that he had kept all the other commandments (because he had not committed any outward act that he, or others, considered to be shockingly bad). But he could not say "I have kept the tenth commandment too." So it was this commandment (applied to his heart by the Holy Spirit) that first began to convince him that he needed Jesus Christ as his Savior (Rom. 7:7). We should also take note of the fact that after he was converted Paul could say, even of this commandment, that he delighted in it (Rom. 7:22).