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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

Christ in His Sanctuary

The Ark of His Testament: The Character of Christ in Ten Precepts
Kay Clark
The Ark of His Testament: The Character of Christ in Ten Precepts

The great principles of righteousness are set forth in the Word of God. Here we find the sacred precepts of the truth unto salvation; those precepts are they which give us instruction, reproof, and upon which correct doctrine is based. As we seek for perfection and holiness of character, we will find what the fruits of Bible conversion and sanctification are.

Where are these principles found? When we search for true perfection, we need not look any further than to the law of God. As we read in Psalm 1:1–3, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

By these words we find that it is through the counsel of the Lord and by obedience to His law that we will reach the perfection to which we must attain, if we desire to please Him and develop the perfect character necessary to enter heaven. Of ourselves we cannot be in perfect obedience, but as we look to Jesus who has trod the way before us, we can, through Him, be victorious.

The law and its purpose

What is the moral law of God—those ten precepts spoken of throughout the Scriptures? It contains the principles upon which the government of God is based. Just as the nations of the earth must have laws by which their civilizations are governed so that there can be safety and harmony in the actions of their people, God has a law by which all are to live in harmony with Him and with one another. The whole of creation is governed by a law given by its Creator; otherwise there could be no harmony in its workings.

The apostle Paul describes it thus, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). Who gave God’s law to humanity? We find in Exodus chapter 20, verses 1, 2 these words, “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

As we see by these verses, the holy law of God was given to humanity by God Himself. He spoke these ten precepts unto Moses who, in turn, presented them to the people. The ten commandments are recorded in the 20th chapter of Exodus, verses 3–17. The law gives instruction as to how we are to relate to God and to our fellow man. It is a symbol of God because it reveals to us His character. It is as a mirror into which we can look and see the status of our life. Are we being obedient and are our characters developing according to God’s will?

If we are not living according to the will of God and being in obedience to His law, we are living in sin. What is sin? The Scripture sheds light on this also in 1 John 3:4, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Here we see another purpose of the law. Not only is it to show us how to relate to God and to others, but it is also to help us discern right from wrong. When we deviate from the principles laid out in the law of God, it is called sin.

A Christian is a person who has accepted Christ as a personal Saviour, the One who can free him or her from sin. It is the gracious love of Christ which awakens love in the heart of a sinner to desire to do God’s will. The true follower of Jesus will be happy in the keeping of God’s law; it is not a burden, but a joy.

A look into the ten precepts

Just what are these ten precepts, the obedience to which will lead us into perfect character development; the disregard of which is called sin? Much importance is placed upon them, because our choosing of what we will do with them can lead either to eternal life or to eternal death. We choose our destiny by how we answer the question, “what shall I do with Jesus,” the sinless One, who Himself lived according to the law of God while He was upon this earth.

There is nothing in the law itself that can save us, but it is as a solid foundation for us upon which we can base our beliefs and make our decisions. We know that it is only through God’s grace that we are saved, but this does not annul the principles of God’s law, for as we read in Romans 3:31, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”

When Jesus was asked by the rich young ruler what he must do to have eternal life, He told him that if he would “enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

The first four commandments reveal our relationship with God

• Precept #1 in Exodus 20:3. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Is there anything or anyone in our life that we place in importance above God? If so, that object or person becomes as an idol to us and claims first place in our affections and service. Jehovah is the only true God, self-existent, uncreated, and eternal. This command contains the substance of all the rest, the true God who is the Source and Sustainer of all things.

• Precept #2 in Exodus 20:4–6. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. . . .”

Here we are forbidden to worship the true God by images or things similar, for through doing this our thoughts would be turned from the Creator to the created. By doing this, our conception of Him would be lowered. In the rest of the precept He states that He is a jealous God; He holds His relationship with His people sacred as in a marriage vow, thus making idolatry the same as spiritual adultery. He is not willing that we share that affection and worship which belongs to Him with anyone or anything else. He, indeed, is to hold first place in our life.

So important is this precept that it has been placed near the beginning of the ten-commandment law. In Isaiah 45:5, 6 we read, “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else.”

We may truthfully say that idolatry and false worship go together.

Since children usually walk in the examples of their parents, they may suffer the consequences of their parents’ wrongdoing. The inherited tendency to evil becomes a great force in the life of the children, something that they will have to deal with and endeavor to overcome. The overcoming of inherited tendencies is often more difficult than of those that are acquired.

In verse 6, which is the last verse of this commandment, we read, “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” How much our loving Father desires that we love Him and live for Him a life of faithful obedience. Then, instead of a few generations receiving the consequences of wrongdoing, thousands will be blessed!

• Precept #3 in Exodus 20:7. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

How many times we hear the name of God spoken lightly or in a careless manner. Even in the taking of an oath in which an individual is to tell the truth about a matter but then tells a falsehood, the holy Name is taken in vain and dishonored. Often when people pray, the name of God is used repetitiously throughout the prayer. This also is bringing dishonor to Him whose name should be spoken only with reverence and solemnity.

• Precept #4 in Exodus 20:8–11. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

This commandment lies in the midst of the ten. The instruction that it contains is straightforward, but it is the one of all the Decalogue that so many professed followers of Christ want to overlook and have controversy over. It contains the seal of God and is the sign between Him and His faithful people. It is the sign of loyalty to Him when we observe it as He commands. Many times we think we are keeping the day holy but talk about business or things of the world during its sacred hours, thus dishonoring it and the One who set it aside and blessed it. When we think about or talk about business transactions or secular plans during the Sabbath, it is considered the same as our having done them on the Sabbath.

When we observe these first four commandments of the law of God given to His people, we are honoring Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is therein; who also created man in His own image. Thus, we are able to begin to build upon that firm foundation of honor and truth of which He is the Author.

The last six commandments reveal our relationship with other people.

• Precept #5 in Exodus 20:12. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

According to Ephesians 6:2 this is the first commandment with promise, making this fifth precept of special import in the relationship that should exist between parents and children. Just as we are to honor and obey our heavenly Father, we have here a command that we need to honor and obey our earthly parents. When two people become parents, they have a special responsibility for the teaching and care of the little ones placed in their home circle.

Here is what the servant of the Lord admonishes, “Parents are entitled to a degree of love and respect which is due to no other person. God Himself, who has placed upon them the responsibility for the souls committed to their charge, has ordained that during the earlier years of life, parents shall stand in the place of God to their children. . . . The fifth commandment requires children not only to yield respect, submission, and obedience to their parents, but also to give them love and tenderness, to lighten their cares, to guard their reputation, and to succor and comfort them in old age. It also enjoins respect for ministers and rulers and for all others to whom God has delegated authority.”1 We see that this is a far-reaching principle of life.

• Precept #6 in Exodus 20:13. “Thou shalt not kill.”

In our present day we hear of so many losing their life at the hands of others. In many cases there is no motive found in someone taking the life of another. In Genesis 4:1–15, we find the account of the first murder committed and of its consequences. Many times the taking of the life of another happens because of pride and selfishness found in the heart of a person. Crimes of passion seem to be rampant, and there exists so much injustice of humans to humans that in many ways this commandment is violated.

The breaking of this precept goes further, as stated in 1 John 3:15: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” This speaks for itself as to cause and consequence.

• Precept #7 in Exodus 20:14. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Much like the breaking of the sixth commandment is the violation of this seventh precept and this, too, has far-reaching results. It encompasses more than just the unfaithfulness of a spouse in the marriage relationship; it also includes impure thoughts or desires for these practices. Matthew 5:28 states that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her commits adultery with her in his heart. The very intent of the heart, though hidden from others, is considered a violation of this commandment. The evil thought or look can be as much a sin as the actual deed.

• Precept #8 in Exodus 20:15. “Thou shalt not steal.”

Those who are desiring to be faithful followers of Jesus will have strict integrity in all ways. There will be no fraudulent acts against them because they have been fair and right in dealing with others. This precept encompasses more than the taking of something from another without permission. We will not do anything that will extract from another that which belongs to him or her, whether it be money, possessions, reputation, physical or social well-being. The taking advantage of someone when he or she is in poor or weak circumstances would also be a form of stealing.

It is possible also to steal from God by withholding tithes and offerings and by withholding the service which He wants from us. When we owe an honest debt and do not pay it, we are guilty of breaking this precept.

• Precept #9 in Exodus 20:16. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

What does it mean to bear false witness? False speaking about something or someone is included under this principle. And this can be done by more than just telling a falsehood; those sly expressions on the face, the looks of disbelief, slandering, tale bearing and gossiping are all ways in which this precept may be broken. Many people have had their life disrupted because of the dishonest actions and words of others about them.

Everything that a Christian does needs to be as transparent as the sunlight. We cannot speak the truth unless our minds are continually guided by Him who is the truth.

• Precept #10 in Exodus 20:17. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

It is in this commandment that warns us of our selfishness; that sin which we may not recognize within our mind but which will bring about other sins when we desire to have possessions or positions which belong to another person. As we develop the character of Jesus we will not covet, or desire, that which belongs to others but will keep the heart and hands from the defilement of covetousness and dishonesty.

What have we discovered about ourselves?

As we have looked more closely at the moral law of God, the ten commandments, and have had them magnified over and beyond our previous understanding, have we seen just how far we may be from truly being obedient to them? It may have been our habit of reading quickly through them and not really comprehending just what each one is pointing out to us. They were of such import that when they were presented to Moses by God Himself, the event was accompanied with, “thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off” (Exodus 20:18).

When we realize that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we understand how much we need to study the perfect character of Christ in the light of His law, which is perfect. Although He was tempted just as we are, He did not yield to the temptations of Satan. He stood firmly upon the foundation of God’s government, His law, concerning how the relationship of humans to God and humans to humans should be.

How do we stand?

Our stand before God is determined by our obedience or disobedience to His law. If we obey, we are His people; but if we disobey, we are not considered loyal to Him. If we truly want to be among His people, our life and character will be in harmony with His law.

It is up to us to choose whom we will serve, whom we will resemble. “From the very beginning of the great controversy in heaven it has been Satan’s purpose to overthrow the law of God. It was to accomplish this that he entered upon his rebellion against the Creator, and though he was cast out of heaven he has continued the same warfare upon the earth. To deceive men, and thus lead them to transgress God’s law, is the object which he has steadfastly pursued. Whether this be accomplished by casting aside the law altogether, or by rejecting one of its precepts, the result will be ultimately the same.”2

The glory of God to be revealed through us

Since the ten commandments are the transcript of God’s character, it is in the keeping of His law that we give glory to Him. If we are truly His people, living in obedience to Him, others will see in us a revelation of Him. Our life will reveal, resemble, and reflect His perfect character at all times and in all situations. The countenance will be softened and love will be seen shining from it. Our tongue will form words of praise to Him, our lips will speak forth words of help and comfort to others. Our feet will be swift to go wherever He sends; our hands will be used to perform duties faithfully as unto Him as they bring comfort to others.

How important are these things to us?

God weighs character, motives, and purposes; He knows the heart of humanity and thus understands from whence our actions come. This is why we should be examining our own motives and actions by the holy law of God. It behooves us to seek and do the will of God from the heart so that we will render full spiritual obedience to His law and to His will. It is a heart work; when the heart is right with God, the whole life will be purified and sanctified.

Let us continually look upon Jesus and desire to emulate His perfect character as He gives us the help we need to do so. Amen.

1 Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 308.
2 The Great Controversy, p. 582.