Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Law and the Covenant of Grace

Q. 43: What is the preface to the ten commandments?
Answer: The preface to the ten commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Q. 44: What doth the preface to the ten commandments teach us?
Answer: The preface to the ten commandments teacheth us, That because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments. (WSC)

With these questions, the Shorter Catechism begins its exposition of the ten commandments. It is important to remember that the ten commandments not only contain a summary of the moral law, but they also summarize God’s covenant with his people. The ten commandments are called “the words of the covenant” (Ex. 34:28) and “his covenant” (Deut. 4:13). The Ark of the Covenant was called this because it was the ark that contained the covenant (i.e. the tablets of the ten commandments).

As was typical for covenants made in that era, the ten commandments begin by identifying the parties to the covenant and the basis for their relationship. This covenant was made between the LORD and the people he brought out of bondage. The basis for their relationship was God’s grace and redemption, the fact that he had delivered them. To put it in the language of the New Testament, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14).

The moral law does not function in the covenant of grace the same way as it did in the covenant of works. Members of the covenant of grace are not justified by their obedience to the law. The law instructs them how to respond to his grace. It defines how they should live with their God as his redeemed people. His gracious salvation binds us to obedience as an expression of gratitude and love. In fact, one purpose of his grace is to restore us to a life of loving obedience. We are saved by Christ unto good works (Eph. 2:10, Titus 2:14). As Zechariah said, God raised up Christ in fulfillment of his holy covenant “to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74–75).

As the catechism says, there are several reasons we are bound to keep all God’s commandments. First, because he is the Lord, the everlasting God who is sovereign over all. In Exodus 20:2, “Lord” is in all capital letters (LORD), which means his personal name is used (often transliterated as Jehovah and is connected to the phrase “I Am” in Exodus 3:14-15). He is the one and only true God, and obedience to him is owed by all.

Second, he is our God. As those who have entered into covenant with him by faith, he has taken us under his care and protection. He is ours, and we are his. This is a relationship not shared by those outside the covenant. As a vassal owes obedience to his lord and a son owes obedience to his father, so we owe obedience to our God (Mal. 1:6). 

Third, he is our Redeemer. He has provided atonement for our sins. He symbolized this with the institution of animal sacrifices (such as the Passover lamb) in the Old Testament, and he accomplished this through Jesus Christ. He has ransomed us from bondage, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Therefore we should live for the will of God, in holiness and reverence (1 Peter 1:14-19, 4:2-3). “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19–20).

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