Our Real Commandments

The following is directly quoted from Philip Graham Ryken’s book Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis; I customarily comment upon quotes that strike me, but what more is there to say than what follows below?

In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim lay down the law for postmodern times. They observe that today there is “absolutely no moral consensus at all.… Everyone is making up their own personal moral codes—their own Ten Commandments.” Patterson and Kim proceed to list what they call the “ten real commandments,” the rules that according to their surveys people actually live by. These rules include the following:

  • I don’t see the point in observing the Sabbath;
  • I will steal from those who won’t really miss it;
  • I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage;
  • I will cheat on my spouse—after all, given the chance, he or she will do the same;
  • I will procrastinate at work and do absolutely nothing about one full day in every five.1

These new commandments are based on moral relativism, the belief that we are free to make up our own rules, based on our own personal preferences. The law is not something that comes from God, but something we come up with on our own. And our laws usually conflict with God’s laws. It is not surprising that what Patterson and Kim call the “ten real commandments” generally violate the laws that God gave to Moses: remember the Sabbath, do all your work in six days, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, and so forth. We have become a law unto ourselves.

One would hope to find that the situation is somewhat better in the church. Surely God’s own people honor the permanent, objective standard of God’s law! Yet the church is full of worshipers who do not even know the Ten Commandments, let alone know how to keep them. This problem was documented in a recent report from The Princeton Religion Research Center. The headline read, “Religion Is Gaining Ground, but Morality Is Losing Ground,” and the report showed how recent increases in church attendance and Bible reading have been offset by a simultaneous decline in morality.2

How is this possible? How can people be more interested in God and at the same time less willing to do what he says? The only explanation is that people do not know the God of the Bible, because if they did, they would recognize the absolute authority of his law. Respect for God always demands respect for his law. And whenever people have a low regard for God’s law, as they do in our culture, it is ultimately because they have a low regard for God.[1]

1 James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth (New York: Plume, 1992), 201.

2 “Religion Is Gaining Ground, but Morality Is Losing Ground,” Emerging Trends, Vol. 23, No. 7 (September 2001), 1-2.

[1]Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone : The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2003), 11.

6 thoughts on “Our Real Commandments

  1. Indeed, Jack, it is an indictment. As the author says above, “The only explanation is that people do not know the God of the Bible…”

    “What are we doing?” I ask that question regularly. It seems that what we’re certainly not doing is making disciples. But if you’ve never become a disciple, just a convert, than how are you to make disciples? This, it seems to me, is the rampant problem.

  2. Or is it that we are indeed making disciples, but not disciples of Christ. In other words, if I lead someine into a relationship with “the God of their imagination” and teach them only the things that “encourage” them, they are my disciple, but not God’s.

  3. That very well may be the case! In your thinking/experience what have you done, or do you want to do, in order to counteract this trend?

  4. When i share the gospel – which I am active doing – I always share the fact that God is asking for all of us. i explain to people that he doesn’t make this life better, but gives hope for a future.
    I also teach others to do the same.

  5. ..and what about with long-time converts in the pews who have never yet become disciples? They seem to me to be the bigger problem.

    By the way, I think God does make this life better; and wants us to be a part of that effort.

    Dispensational eschatology too often gives adherents a sense of “holy escapism” rather than a conviction that God intends to change the world here and now by our lives in partnership with His Holy Spirit.

    This is the rabbinic concept of tikkun olam, which we find elucidated clearly in Ephesians 2:10 and Peter’s second epistle: the idea that we were created specifically for the purpose of partnering with God in the doing of “good deeds”, which was a 1st century synonym for keeping the commandments, and thereby partner with God in His ongoing plan to heal the world.

    Too often dispensationalism breeds in believers a desire to endure this evil world until such time as they’re raptured out and can escape to “Glory.” The truth is that it is God’s passion to come down into the world, not to escape us up and out of it.

    Too often studies on sanctification focus on positional rather than progressive sanctification, or worse yet, on future sanctification. Let’s focus on God’s design for His children to reflect the holiness of God here and now, rather than on our eschatological hope of perfection.

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