Taunted by the Ten Commandments, I stood in muted sullenness wondering if I would ever earn the right to stroll down the New Jerusalem’s gilded streets. Like the proverbial roller coaster ride, my life was an unending juxtaposition of fist-pumping “sinless” triumph and shameful remorse-riddled tragedy. At times I caught myself casting a longing look at the ways of the mischievous, feeling trapped between wayward inclinations I could not give in to and Commandments I could not live up to. Spiritual limbo! I couldn’t help wishing I were Enoch, Elijah or Moses, already living in glory, safe from eternal condemnation but alas, my fate hung in the balance, steadily tipping toward hell.
Despite my inner swirling conflict, I found my halting faltering struggle to obey the taunting Ten kept me safe from the sprains, scrapes and bruises that seemed to be the lot of those who lived in mischief. Though I had my share of lesions and scars from my forays into lawlessness, I had a measure of joy mingled with respect for the wisdom of God in giving the Ten. My only cause for mourning was the hopelessness of my perfidy in face of the spotlessness of the ideal. Half a loaf was better than nothing but the Law called for a banquet. Clouds of despair flew across my soul, threatening to expunge the flame of hope. Then one day, I got a look at the sinless Jesus living with sinful humanity.
He was God in the flesh, showing that even without the panoply of divine power, God Himself could not but live in obedience to the Law. His obedience wasn’t a sullen bean counting one but a joyful enthusiasm. Flouting the rules with impunity, He did not keep the Law but lived it. By His own words, He declared Himself the fulfilment of the Law. By His life, He took cold words on stone and breathed life into them. The Law is not about counting deeds and misdeeds, it is about character. It is not a way of earning life but how to live it. It is our way to face off Law and grace but Jesus, in His injunction to “go and sin no more,” married the two.
The taunting I thought came from the Ten was really the diabolical laughter of Satan. Knowing that I fell hopelessly short of perfect observance, he twisted my view of the gracious God the Ten pointed to and had me view his perverted ungracious justice: diabolical bean-counting. Like a lot of Christians, I made the mistake of thinking the Ten began with “thou shalt not,” instead of,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” Exodus 20:2 (NIV)
By beginning with “thou shalt not,” I was led to obsess with what I should not do. Salvation became a reward for not being bad instead of a gift. Redemption is the starting point of the Law. The same God who created the world is the same God who liberated slaves and forged them into a nation. How then could His law be enslavement? God’s redeeming power exercised in an atmosphere of love is the starting point of the Law. Redemption is a gift, not a reward; God’s initiative and not human triumph. The Ten Commandments are really Ten Promises. The God who created the world is the God who will lead us not to bean counting, but Lawful living. These promises and the rest of the laws were guidelines that immature God worshippers would follow until God Himself would come in the flesh, revealing how it’s really done.
Beginning with “thou shalt not,” casts a shadow of slavish drudgery but beginning with the Creator’s liberating initiative, singes the shackles and whispers promise to the struggling follower of God. The Law is an artist’s impression of the finished product: Christlike character. Thus far it is glorious but in the presence of a living, crucified and resurrected Jesus, it pales in comparison for Jesus is no caricature but the real thing!
It is not all fun and promises though, for the Law does spank us. My deceptive heart cannot be trusted to discern right and wrong unaided. Sin has tainted my thoughts and twisted my feelings so I cannot trust them. I look outside me for guidance thus, in addition to pointing out the right path, the law points out my wrongness and perfidy, not so I can try harder but so I can surrender to the God who liberates and straightens the crooked. Without His enabling power and attractive blueprint, I am hopeless. No bean counting could ever show me that.