The first part of this chapter contains the ten commandments, also called “the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Exo 34:2828So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.). These commandments are addressed to a people freed from Egypt. In their redemption from Egypt the LORD has shown the smallness of all the gods of Egypt and His exaltedness above them. By the redemption of His people He has also committed them to Himself. They belong to Him and no one else. That must appear from their whole lives. With them the LORD makes this covenant at the Sinai – nowhere else and with no one else.
The number ten represents responsibility. The meaning of the law is : Do this and you will live. Scripture says, “He who practices them shall live by them” (Gal 3:12b12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.”; Lev 18:55So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.). The letter to the Galatians makes it clear that no human being can acquire and has acquired life on that basis, that is to say on the basis of responsibility. On the contrary, on that basis there is no hope for man: “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith”” (Gal 3:10-1110For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”11Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.”).
For the believer who belongs to the church, it is not ‘do and live’, but ‘live and do’. The righteous live by faith. The whole letter to the Galatians makes it clear that law and faith exclude each other completely “the Law is not of faith” (Gal 3:12a12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.”). He who believes is “not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:1414For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.).
This does not mean that, as a believer, he is now able to keep the law or is supposed to keep the law. The law is not meant for him: “We know … that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for” sinners, for people who live according to the flesh (1Tim 1:8-118But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully,9realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers10and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,11according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.). The law is a mirror that shows to man where he fails, that he may confess his sins and take refuge in Christ.
The law reveals sins, but is not or does not provide a means to wash them away. He who transgresses the law dies without mercy. This is the requirement of the law: “Anyone who broke the Law of Moses died without mercy on [the testimony of] two or three witnesses” (Heb 10:2828Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on [the testimony of] two or three witnesses.). The law is also negative by definition, “you shall not”. It consists mainly of things that are prohibited. The law condemns the sinful actions of man.
The law does not fully show Who God is, but shows Him in His holy and righteous demands. Who God is, we see fully only in the Lord Jesus. The law indicates what man should be and reveals what he is. Man is inclined to transgress everything that is commanded and forbidden by the law of Moses.
The first four commandments deal with man’s relationship with God, the next six deal with a man’s relationship with his neighbor. The Lord Jesus also mentions this distinction when He, as a summary of the law, speaks of loving God above all else and loving his neighbor as himself (Mt 22:36-4036“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”37And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’38This is the great and foremost commandment.39The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’40On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”).
For a more detailed discussion of the function of the law for the Christian, see the booklet ‘The Christian and the law’ on www.oudesporen.nl (English)