Luther’s Small Catechism – The Ten Commandments

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God first wrote His perfect Law in the human heart. But since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, our perfect knowledge of the Law is lost. Our conscience is valuable in guiding us to know what is right and wrong, but it is not perfect; sometimes it is over-sensitive and at other times it is desensitized.

So God has written His law in His Holy Word, the Bible. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37-40, “’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.” We can easily see the relationship between these commandments and the 10 Commandments found in Exodus 20. The first three commandments teach us how we are to love God, and the last seven relate to how we are to love our neighbor.

These divine commandments are not suggestions. He demands perfect obedience from all people. God promises to punish all who sin against these commandments, and the punishment is real! It is the physical death of our body, the spiritual death of our soul (even while our body is alive), and eternal death (both our body and soul in hell).

And just because God demands perfect obedience, doesn’t give us the ability to do it (like a father commanding his 2 year-old to overhaul an engine). All of us are conceived and born spiritually dead in sin. We can no more become spiritually alive on our own than a corpse can bring itself back to life. We just cannot do it. These commandments simply show us our sin. They cannot give us salvation, as St. Paul says, “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

St. Paul tells us, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it says to those who are under the Law [all people], that…all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19). We “become guilty” under the Law, so that we may learn of our Savior and live under grace.

It is for this reason that God sent His Son to earth. He was born under the Law [Christmas], to redeem us who are under the Law [Good Friday] (Galatians 4:4-5). Our sinful life was put on Jesus, and His perfect life is given to us. Dr. Luther called this ‘the great exchange.’ In Christ, we are no longer under Law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). The Ten Commandments now serve us to show us how God would have us live, not to earn salvation, but to serve God and our neighbor in the peace of His forgiveness.

(Inyo Register – March 19, 2007)