But if the ministration of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! ~ 2 Cor 3:7-9
A couple of months ago I joined a Bible study at our church and the study is on the book of Romans. As much as I love teaching, I also really enjoy being a student and learning from someone else…. and I LOVE studying the book of Romans!! Although I have to admit, this Bible study hasn’t been my favorite. I love the women in it and especially their hungry hearts to know the Word BUT I’m not a big fan of the type of study we’re doing. It’s a Bible study curriculum from a well known Bible teacher… but it’s just that a mainstream curriculum is not my favorite way to study the Word.
The past couple of months we have been studying chapters 6, 7 & 8 and because those chapters deal a lot with the subject of the Mosaic Law, our study has mostly centered around the Law and specifically, what place it has in our lives after we’re saved. I was surprised that although most Christians consider themselves living under grace, they still love having the Law as a guideline for living righteously. In fact in this Bible study, I attend, the teacher called the Law (specifically the 10 commandments) our moral compass. And YET Paul said you cannot mix the two…. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works (law); if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
As believers, we would all agree that following the 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law is not necessary because we are not under Law but under grace (Romans 6:14). Yet we consider the 10 commandments (which are a part of the Mosaic Law) God’s standard for right living as a Christian and a good thing for us to adhere to. Our concept of victorious Christian living is to avoid wrong actions and do right ones.
But Paul referred to the 10 commandments as a ministry of death and condemnation in 2 Corinthians 3:7-9. In this verse, he is specifically contrasting the 10 commandments (tablets of stone) and grace….. “the letter kills”, “the ministry of death” and “the ministry of condemnation” versus “the Spirit gives life”, the ministry of the Spirit … more glorious” and “the ministry of righteousness exceeds more in glory”. He called it a ministry of condemnation because all who looked upon the holy demands were condemned as law-breakers.
He is not denying the power of the commandments, as evidenced by Romans 7:12, “Wherefore the law is holy and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” He does, however, deny that the believer has anything to benefit by knowing those commandments. To Timothy, Paul states, “But we know that the law is good if a man uses it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient…” (1 Timothy 1:8, 9). Notice that the law is not for the righteous man, and you and I are the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God gave the 10 commandments along with the other 613 commandments known as the Mosaic Law to the Israelites (the Jewish people) not the Gentiles. We (the church) were Gentiles who were grafted in as believers. We were never meant to live under any part of the Law but only under grace. Galatians 3:24 tells us that the Law was a tutor to bring us unto Christ so that we might be justified by faith. And after faith came we would no longer be under the tutor of Law. Galatians 3:19 says that the law was given to “shut up everyone under sin so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
But it wasn’t God’s original plan for the Israelites to live under the Law either…. they were always meant to live under a covenant of grace based on faith. In Exodus 19:5-6 God spoke through Moses to the people and said “Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’” The people responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has commanded.”
Notice God said, “keep My covenant.” What covenant? In Exodus 2:24 it says God heard their groaning and He remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. It was His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So God gave the 10 commandments along with the rest of the Law to the children of Israel in Exodus chapters 20-23. And the covenant…. the promise that was given to Abraham was postponed. The children of Israel now entered a new covenant called the covenant of Moses. A covenant which required man’s participation in the area of obedience… it rested completely on man’s ability to keep/obey the conditions of the covenant.
The covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the covenant that rested totally on what God would do. It was a covenant of pure belief. It was God plus nothing…. God made the covenant with Himself and Abraham was simply the beneficiary of that covenant. It was purely a grace covenant… not a mixture of law and grace. God’s blessings to Abraham’s family was based on His promises alone, not their obedience. When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, God treated them with grace instead of as they deserved. They were constantly murmuring and complaining but at every place they encamped in the wilderness, grace was available to them. In fact, the word encampment in the Hebrew means “grace”…. but that’s for another blog post!
At Mt Sinai everything changed, the people now wanted to participate by doing instead of just “being”. They said to God “whatever You say we will do.” It sounds like a good response, a right response to a Holy God. But it wasn’t. It was a presumptuous response rooted in self-effort, not in faith. They replaced the covenant of rest with the covenant of laboring. They opted for a law-based covenant where God’s blessings now hinged on their faithfulness instead of His. They didn’t want an intimate face to face relationship with God. They wanted a mediator to speak for them and for God. They fell from grace!
When Moses came down the mountain with the 10 commandments written on stone, 3000 people died that day! The Law demanded death for sin… Romans 6:23: the wages of sin is death. But there was another mountain, Mt Zion, that resulted in 3000 people being saved (Acts 2:41). It really comes down to 2 mountains. Which mountain are you on?
When God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments it was at Mount Sinai, during Shavuot (Pentecost) 50 days after they had celebrated their first Passover and come out of slavery in Egypt. When God gave the outpouring of Holy Spirit… the Spirit of Grace…. it was during Shavuot (Pentecost) 50 days after they had celebrated the last Passover with Jesus before He went to the Cross and ended 1500 years of slavery to the Law.
Hebrews 12:18-24 highlights the different natures of the two covenants by comparing these mountains — Mt Sinai and Mt Zion. The old covenant given at Mt Sinai emphasized law and the distance between man and God. The law reminded people of their sinfulness and God’s holiness and of the need for a sacrifice to make one able to stand before God (Hebrews 10:3). Mt Zion, on the other hand, represents the place where God, the King, dwells with His people. The Spirit of God now abides in us and continually reminds us that we are sons of God (Galatians 4:6).
So, if the Law isn’t our moral compass, what is? Grace is our moral compass! Titus 2:11-12 says For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men. It instructs us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live sensible, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
There is no such thing as grace-based Law. It’s one or the other. It’s law or grace. Which will you choose?
5 thoughts on “10 Commandments – a ministry of death and condemnation”
Under the new covenant, there are no “have-to’s”, only “want-to’s”. Out of gratitude for what Yeshua has done for us, we choose to obey. The book of James is full of commands, for example. “If you love me, keep my commandments”
I believe the Scripture you are referring to is John 14:15. You might like my blog post entitled No Hebrew Word for Obey.
Wow! Great work here I must confess and I pray that God will keep enhancing your vision to fulfill greater works. I just joined this group and I will like to know if this devotion is daily, weekly or monthly. Thank you and God bless.
thanks James! I write when I can. I have 4 kids so I don’t write on a fixed schedule. Just check back often or sign up with your email for updates.