Recently I was struck by this commanding statement: “The law of God is the foundation of all enduring reformation.”1 Simply put, revival and reformation, and obedience to the law of God, go together; and a call to revival and reformation is a call to obey God’s law. Because Bible writers understood this, they could say: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul” (Ps. 19:7). Not surprisingly, commandment keeping dismays the devil. He has tried to change God’s law (Dan. 7:25), and is still doing his best to destroy those who keep it (Rev. 12:17).
A question arises: How can negative prohibitions (against murder, adultery, etc.) lead to “a renewal of spiritual life, a quickening of the powers of mind and heart, a resurrection from spiritual death,” “a reorganization, a change in ideas and theories, habits and practices”?2 How can “Don’t, don’t, don’t” develop in anyone “a beautiful character that is in harmony with all that is pure and holy and undefiled”?3 Differently put, what does obedience to God’s law actually involve?
To the lawyer’s question “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart,’ ” and “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two comandments” (Matt. 22:36, 37, 39, 40). His words provide three principles to understand what obedience to God’s law involves—(1) obedience to the Bible, (2) avoiding evil and doing right, and (3) love to God, others, and oneself.
The Decalogue as a whole is but an overall summary on sound character.
Referring to love for God and neighbor, Jesus said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” a reference to the entire Old Testament. These two principles of love are quite clearly seen in the Ten Commandments, the first four dealing with love for God, and the last six, love for one another. And New Testament concerns are the same as the Old Testament’s: “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). As some have said, 2 = 10 = 39 = 66: Two love principles summarize the Ten Commandments, for which the Old Testament and the whole Bible provide fuller explanation.4 Thus, any call to obedience to God’s law is a call to obey the whole Bible. The Bible is “the grand stimulus, the constraining force, that quickens the physical, mental, and spiritual powers, and directs the life into right channels.”5 These words certainly describe an experience of revival and reformation.
Multiple Bible writers highlight the truth that the law, despite appearances, is “DO, and Live.”6 David writes: “Turn from evil and do good” (Ps. 34:14). Isaiah invites Judah and Jerusalem: “Cease to do evil; learn to do good” (Isa. 1:16, 17, NKJV).7 And Amos encourages Israel: “Seek good, not evil. . . . Hate evil, love good” (Amos 5:14, 15). Paul invites his church members to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9), and to “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21, 22).
Jesus’ entire ministry seems to emphasize that the righteous not only avoid evil but promote good as well. A classic example is the good Samaritan story (Luke 10:29-37), in which Jesus, while commending the good Samaritan who had compassion on the half-dead traveler, implicitly condemns the Levite and the priest for failing to do likewise.
That commandment keeping involves both “do’s” and “don’ts” may be understood from the Decalogue itself. Along with eight “don’ts” against other gods, graven images, etc., the commandments include two “do’s” on the Sabbath and parental respect. Moreover, the Decalogue’s first “don’t” against having other gods implies its own “do”: You shall have Me. According to Alexander Maclaren: “The prohibition [no other gods] has little force on us; but the positive command which underlies it is of eternal force. We should rather think of it as a revelation and an invitation than as a mere command.”8 Commandment keepers not only refrain from worshipping false gods—they worship the true God: the very point of Elijah’s Mount Carmel confrontation with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-45) and also of the first of the three angels’ messages (Rev. 14:7). Our final section articulates several positive implications of the Ten Commandments.
Our Lord’s second love commandment involves loving our neighbor as ourselves. Love for self here does not stand for selfishness, but means taking good physical, mental, and spiritual care of oneself. Luke’s description of Jesus’ life demonstrates to this effect. “Jesus increased in wisdom [mental] and stature [physical], and in favor with God [spiritual] and men [social]” (Luke 2:52, NKJV), which is synonymous with our best definitions of true education: “the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers.”9 So that while commandments 1-4 and 6-10 may have distinct foci, the Decalogue as a whole is but an overall summary on sound character.
The table below shows how an experience of intimate relationship with God (first commandment) enables a person to meet all commandment requirements. The God who requires obedience is the God who empowers, working within us to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). “When a soul receives Christ, he receives power to live the life of Christ.”10 Thus, the longed-for reformation is the commandment keeper’s natural experience as they obey all of God’s Word in their dedication to doing good for self, for neighbor, and for God.
* Calling upon the name of the Lord is an Old Testament concept of acceptable worship, understandable as grateful response to God’s grace.