When I preach through the Ten Commandments, each sermon has four points, because each commandment does four things at once.
First, each of the Ten Commandments is revelation. Each one gives us an insight into the character of God. For example, what kind of amazing Person would say to us, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15)? Only a just and generous Person who can be fully trusted, who would never rob us or defraud us, who would never lie or cheat, who would never hold out on us wrongly, who is not out for himself, who feels no need and no appetite but only overflowing kindness and abundance. This is Jesus.
Second, each of the Ten Commandments is confrontation. Each one gives us an insight into our own character. What kind of people need to be told, “You shall not steal”? People who will be unfair to one another without even realizing it. We need to be alerted to our own unjust and grasping impulses, which have a deep hold on us. It’s hard but healing to realize this about ourselves, if we turn to Jesus for gracious forgiveness and a new heart, which he gives freely to law-breakers like us.
Third, each of the Ten Commandments is instruction. Each one charts for us a new path to walk, by God’s grace. So “You shall not steal” guides us into the ways of generosity, fairness, honesty, moderation, frugality, timely payments, wholehearted efforts, faithful promises, and so forth. In this life, we can walk this path imperfectly but visibly—not in order to earn God’s approval, but because in Jesus we have freely received God’s approval.
Fourth, each of the Ten Commandments is promise—because of the New Covenant. God promises that he will write his law on our hearts. He will move each commandment from the pages of the Bible down into the deepest instincts of our personalities (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8, 10). Thanks to the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit, we who are in Christ will be so transformed in heaven above, at the core of our beings, that forever we will be joyously surging with the life-giving generosity of the eighth commandment. We will finally be like Jesus.
Here is just one way to preach the Ten Commandments within the larger framework of the gospel, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.