Some time ago, I came across the true story of a man sentenced to prison because he was a thief. While there, he was converted and became a new creation in Jesus Christ.
When the time came for his release, he knew he’d be tempted to return to his old way of life. His friends would try to draw him back, and he knew it wouldn’t be easy to break patterns of the past.
The first thing he wanted to do upon release was to worship. So, on his first Sunday morning, he slipped into an old church building and sat down in the back row. As he looked around, he noticed a plaque inscribed with the words of the Ten Commandments. His eyes fell on words that seemed to condemn him: “You shall not steal” (Exod. 20:15).
That’s the last thing I need, he thought. I know my weakness, my failure, and the struggle I’ll have to break free from my old way of life.
As the service progressed and the man kept looking at the words on the plaque, they seemed to take on a new meaning he hadn’t seen before. In the past, he’d only known these words as a forbidding command: “You shall not steal.” But now, it seemed God was speaking these words as a marvelous promise—“You shall not steal!” It seemed God was saying, “You’re a new creation in Christ, and for this reason you won’t go back to your old way of life. The Holy Spirit lives in you and will lead you in a new life in which you’ll no longer steal.”
Mirror His Character
That story shed new light on the Ten Commandments for me. It helped me grasp the great purpose of God for all who are in Christ—that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4).
The Holy Spirit is given to believers so that we may pursue a life in which, by God’s grace, we will not steal, murder, commit adultery, or bear false witness. Instead, we’ll be content and honor our parents because we love God as he is, trust and revere his name, offer him our work and our worship, and honor him as the sovereign Lord of our lives.
The distinctive calling of God’s redeemed people is that we should reflect his character in the world. The Ten Commandments lays out what this looks like. If you ask why we shouldn’t commit adultery, the answer is that God is faithful. If you ask why we shouldn’t covet, the answer is that God is content in himself. If you ask why we shouldn’t bear false witness, the answer is that God’s Word is truth, and that God never lies.
The Ten Commandments provide a roadmap for life in the Spirit.
As you pursue a life that reflects God’s likeness, the Spirit will bring you back to the Ten Commandments. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you,” the Lord promised. “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezek. 36:26–27).
The first evidence of Spirit’s presence in your life is that you have a deep love for God and desire to please him through loving and serving others. This will be the greatest struggle of your life, and as you set out on this journey, you need to know it’s possible.
The Heidelberg Catechism faces this issue head-on:
Q. Can those converted to God obey these commands perfectly?
A. No. In this life, even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments.
I’ve found this answer profoundly helpful. No Christian is everything God calls him or her to be. The finest Christian you’ve ever met has only a “small beginning” of obedience. But there is a beginning of holiness in every believer.
No Christian is completely pure, but every Christian has the beginning of purity. No Christian is completely content, but every Christian has the beginning of contentment. What we have now is a beginning of truth, peace, integrity, rest, and worship.
Each day of your Christian life offers fresh opportunities for the life that God has begun in you to grow stronger. And when you stand in the presence of Jesus, what he has begun in you will be complete (Phil. 1:6).
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Colin Smith’s new book, The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life: Finding Freedom in God's Commands (Moody, 2016).