Once the love of God possesses our souls and breaks the power of self-seeking, obedience to God’s law becomes not only possible but also inevitable.
The first commandment contains a sweet secret. It’s not a secret God ever intended to keep from us; it’s one we’ve kept from ourselves. It’s been there all along, at the top of God’s law. The secret of which I speak is the gospel, which is the biblical word for “the good news of what God has done for us in Christ.” Like a treasure unhidden but unseen, the redeeming love of God is on display in the first commandment, but somehow, we’ve missed it.
We have edited the first commandment—and to our detriment, I might add, because the part we’ve ignored contains the gospel. You probably think the first commandment says, “ ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ ” (Exodus 20:3). It does say that, of course. But notice all the words in the first commandment: “ ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me’ ” (verses 2, 3).
Notice that the Ten Commandments begin with a declaration of something God has done, not with what we ought to do. First, He says, “I am the Lord who has . . . ,” not “You shall . . .” or “You shall not . . .” The Ten Commandments begin by declaring what God has done for us, not what we ought to do for Him.
Our deliverance, God’s achievement
The children of Israel walked free from Egyptian bondage in an event they called the Passover. Shortly before He delivered them from Egypt, God instructed the Israelites to slay a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Then, when the angel of death passed through the land slaying every first born son, the first born among the Israelites would be spared.
The lamb that the Israelites killed pointed forward to Jesus Christ, who laid down His life at the cross for the deliverance of the human race from sin. Paul said, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
So, when God gave His law, He specifically began by pointing back to the Passover; and by so doing, He pointed forward to the Cross. Before uttering any “Thou shalt’s” or “Thou shalt not’s” He reminded the children of Israel of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, which He had achieved for them. Thus, the gospel of God’s saving grace
is enfolded in the law. It is perfectly accurate to say that the cross of Christ is explicit in the Ten Commandments.
The only way you’ll ever be saved from sin is to be loved out of it. The only way you’ll ever truly live in obedience to God’s law is to be loved into it. Raw willpower won’t do it; a sense of guilt won’t do it; feelings of duty won’t do it; not even the fear of eternal loss and desire for the rewards of heaven will do it. God alone can break the
power of sin. He knows this and comes eagerly to our rescue.
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God helps us understand what He has done for us and how we are to respond: “ ‘I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.’ ” (Isaiah 44:22).
Did you notice that God did not say “Return to Me and then I will redeem you” or “Return to Me so I can redeem you”? Absolutely not! It doesn’t work that way. Rather, He said, “Return to Me for I have redeemed you.” Our part follows His part, not the other
way around. God doesn’t build on our achievements; rather, we build on His. Our law-keeping doesn’t activate God’s grace. Rather, His saving grace activates our law-keeping.
The power for all true obedience is present in our realization of what God has already done for us in Christ by virtue of His “unearnable” grace. We are simply called upon to come alive to and walk in the reality of the deliverance He has won for us.
Once we understand the good news of the gospel embedded in the first commandment, the second part of the commandment becomes our delight. When God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” He does so against the beautiful backdrop of His
selfless love for us.
No god worth considering
Suddenly, as we discern the gospel in the law, we consider all of God’s commandments to be promises and all His biddings to be enablings.
He gives us no commandment for which He has not already unleashed ample power to obey.
“The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:5–8).
The impossible feat of overcoming sin and living in obedience to God’s law becomes more than possible—it is inevitable when the love of God empowers us. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). The Cross, made foremost in the law by its placement in the first commandment, is the divinely ordained catalyst for obedience to the whole law.
Telling people they “ought to” obey God’s law is like telling them to jump high enough to touch the moon. What people need is supernatural empowerment, not mere moral demand.
The empowerment of which I speak is the pure, unadulterated love of God, and it is accessed at only one Source. That Source is Christ, who alone is the light and life and love of God in human form.
Paul explained that “the self-sacrificing love of Christ powerfully moves us as we discern how truly universal and free it is: namely that He literally died for everyone without exception, so that the whole human race was accounted for in His death.
“Now then, in the realization of this truth, the power of self-centeredness is broken in our hearts, so that we live no longer for ourselves but for this One who died for us and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15, my translation).
The point Paul is making here, as I have attempted to highlight with my translation of the text, is that when we really comprehend it and believe the love of Christ revealed at the Cross, it “compels us” (PC NKJV), “controls us,” (NCV), “urges and impels us” (AB), becomes “the very spring of our actions” (Phillips), “has the first and last word in everything we do” (The Message). So powerful an influence does this love exert over the heart that takes it in that Paul says it cuts straight through to the root cause of every
sin—which is the impulse to live for the self above all others.
Once the love of God possesses our souls and breaks the power of self-seeking, obedience to God’s law becomes not only possible but also inevitable. Our souls will take up the language of King David, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8, NKJV).
For the God who says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” has identified Himself as the very God who has willingly suffered and died to deliver us from bondage.
Extracted from The Ten Commandments Under Attack, available from AdventistBookCenter.com.