Why Does the Bible Refer to the Ten Commandments as the Perfect Law of Liberty?

When God says “No” to one thing, He is saying “yes” to something better! When the Father said, “Thou shalt not lie,” He was by implication saying, “Thou shall tell the truth.” Lying is a sin, and living the truth sets you free.

Consequently, there are two sides to the moral law. On one side, we see the law of  condemnation and death, and on the other, the perfect law of liberty!

Christians are to walk in holy obedience, not to get saved, but because salvation has already been provided;  not in a law, but in a person, and that person is the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Remember, it was after God redeemed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery that He gave them the the Ten Commandments.

James 1:25 and 2:10 refer to the Ten Commandments as the “Perfect law of liberty.” William Barclay, the great Scottish theologian, understood James perfectly,

  • “He calls it the Law of liberty; that is, the Law in the keeping of which a man finds his true liberty. All the great men have agreed that it is only in obeying the law of God that a man becomes truly free. So long as a man has to obey his own passions and emotions and desires, he is nothing less than a slave. It is when he accepts the will of  God that he becomes really free.”

Allow me to take you on a tour of the Holy Land. I believe you will find this very helpful. We begin with a look at the preamble to the Ten Commandments,

Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:1-3).  

Consider the wealth of liberating knowledge found in this preamble to the law. First of all, consider the implications of the “I” in Exodus 20:2. This seemingly insignificant little personal pronoun, sets you free from the bondage of . . .

  •  Atheism:  The idea that there is no God. So, how does an atheist account for the universe in which we live? Nobody + nothing = everything! What an empty life that must be!
  •  Agnosticism:  The idea that man is incapable of knowing if God exists. To know God is to have real purpose in your life!
  •  Polytheism:  The Hindu doctrine of many gods. At last count they had 330 million gods. I don’t know about you, but I have trouble with names as it is!
  •  Pantheism:  The “New Age” (which is really not new at all) belief that God is all, and all is God.
  •  God being an obscure power or an impersonal force (i.e., the “Higher Power” of Alcoholics Anonymous).

THE NEXT STOP IN OUR TOUR OF THE HOLY LAND IS THE WORD–LORD

In Hebrew, this word is a name. It consists of four consonants, YHWH (pronounced yood hay vav hay), and no vowels. It represents the most holy and proper name of God. Theologians call it the Tetragrammaton.

To the ancient Jew, this name was so feared and revered they dared not even speak it, for fear of breaking the third commandment. This commandment states that “he who takes My name in vain will not go unpunished” (Ex. 20:7). As a result, the true pronunciation has been totally lost, but the meaning has not. It comes from the same root as the “I Am” of Exodus 3.

Here, God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him his commission to deliver the Israelites. Moses, fearing even his own people would not believe him, asked God, “Who should I say sent me; what is Your name?” At this point God said to Moses,

I am who I am. Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I am has sent Me to you (Exodus 3:14).

“I Am” is a repetition of the verb “to be.” It means the Eternal, Self-Existent One; the God who is, the God who was, and the God who always will be, from eternity past, to eternity future, without beginning and without end!

When the Lord says “No” to one thing, he is saying “yes” to something better

When God says, “Thou shalt not lie, He is by implication saying, “Thou shall tell the truth.”

The Ten Commandments, like a coin, have two sides.  On one side we see the law of condemnation and death (2 Cor. 3:7). And on the other we see the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25 and 2:10). You are either under the condemnation of the law, or you are free to obey by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 THE FIRST LAW OF LIBERTY

When God said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” He was saying:  “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mk. 12:30).

Jesus said essentially the same thing in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”

So, what does this have to do with liberty? Everything! The first commandment answers the most profound questions any man can ask, namely,

  • Who am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • Why am I here?
  • Where am I going?

This settles the identity crisis once and for all. You are a child of God. When you know who you are in relation to who He is, you find the purpose for which you were created. That is not bondage, that is the greatest and most liberating thing you could ever know!

According to 2 Cor. 5:20, you an “ambassador for Christ.” An ambassador is the highest-ranking official representing one nation (kingdom) to another.

As representatives of God on earth, we are to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to be faithful in bringing the whole counsel of God to a lost and dying world.

This gives us an awesome responsibility and a great privilege. God has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation, and “to whom much is given, much will be required” (Lk.. 12:48).

How does that set you free? For a man to be satisfied (free from insignificance), he needs three things:

  • Something to do
  • Someone to love
  • Something to hope for

How’s this for a purpose statement?

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for {God’s} own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

THE SECOND LAW OF LIBERTY

When God said, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images,” He was saying, You shall worship the Lord “in spirit and in truth!”

 The first commandment tells us who we are to worship and the second tells us how: “In spirit and in truth” (John 4:23,24). That is, by faith and according to God’s Word.

This command warns against false religion. It is clear in 1 Tim. 2:5: “there is one God, {and} one mediator also between God and men, {the} man Christ Jesus.”

 Over seven billion people now inhabit the Earth, and the vast majority of them “believe in God.” Most of these “believers” identify themselves with one of the five major world religions,

  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Judaism

Many people, unfamiliar with comparative religion, mistakenly believe that they are all basically the same, all worship the same God, and as a result, believe there are “many ways to heaven.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is, they are all mutually exclusive. They all claim to be divinely inspired, and all have vastly different definitions of the nature of God, and what He expects of us.

That being the case, there are only two logical conclusions:  Either all of them are wrong, or one is right and the others are wrong! “If you step out into the middle of a busy street, it’s either you, or the bus; it can’t be both!”

THE THIRD LAW OF LIBERTY

When God said,  “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain,” He was also saying, “Those who honor Me, I will honor” (1 Sam 2:30).

As Christ’s ambassadors, everything we do reflects on our head of state. We are God’s representatives on earth, and as such, we are to strive for excellence in everything we think, say and do. Jesus taught us to pray,

Our Father who art in Heaven, holy be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

To hallow the name of God is to love, honor and obey Him. Jesus said,

Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven (Matt 10:32-33).

THE FOURTH LAW OF LIBERTY

Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.

 Hebrews 4:9 says, “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” We can rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross. We are not to worry about the past (we can’t change it), or the future (which is in God’s hand).

This rest is a complete rest, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Jesus is not just our Savior, He is our salvation. He is not just our Redeemer, He is our redemption.

There is nothing you can add to the cross of Christ. He purchased your salvation with His own blood once and for all. Our good works are done in gratitude for our salvation, never to secure it.

KNOW JESUS KNOW PEACE – NO JESUS NO PEACE

It is true, that while we live in this world we have great reason to be troubled, but thanks to Jesus Christ, we have even greater reason not to be! Our future is as bright as are the promises of God!

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John  14:1–3).

First John 5:13 says,

 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.

Now that is how I spell rest. Death has no sting, and the grave has no victory (1 Cor. 15:55). I can rest assured that my salvation is based not on my performance, but on what Christ has done for me. My eternal home is bought and paid for by the blood of Christ. My final destination is secured by Jesus.

Real freedom is freedom from the guilt and the power of sin. Living in the light of eternity is one of the most liberating truths you will ever find! Here is a perfect example:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Heb. 11:24–26).

THE FIFTH LAW OF LIBERTY

“Honor thy father and thy mother.”

Why is honoring your father and your mother so important? God Himself is a picture of the family: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The foundational structure of every society is based on the family unit. 

The reason our nation is in trouble is not because of crime, drugs, violence, divorce, etc. Those are only symptoms of the real problem.

Our nation is in trouble because our churches are in trouble, and our churches are in trouble because our families are in trouble, and our families are in trouble because the men who head up those families have failed to take the role of spiritual leaders in their homes! They have failed to train their children to love God and love their neighbors as themselves.

Jesus’ final words in Matthew were,

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”

How do you disciple a nation? You start with one man, Abraham. Abraham had a son, Isaac. Abraham taught his son to honor God and to honor his father. Isaac taught his son, Jacob, to honor God and to honor his father. Jacob had twelve sons, and Jacob eventually taught them to honor God and to honor their father. From those twelve sons came the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel.

When you dishonor your father or mother, you dishonor God, because He is the One who told us to honor our parents. The condition of our nation today is nothing more than a reflection of the condition of our families.   

As goes the family, so goes the nation. When you dishonor your parents, you effectively break the chain of command through which God’s blessings were intended to flow. How does this command liberate me? This is the first commandment with a promise, “That all may go well with you.”

THE SIXTH LAW OF LIBERTY

When God said, “Thou shalt not murder,” He was saying: “Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Matt. 6:14).

Do you know what is the number one psychological condition is of those who are admitted to mental institutions? Anger, which is rooted in unforgiveness.

When you refuse to forgive someone, you are the one in bondage. When you choose to forgive someone, you are the one who gets set free.

One of the greatest Christians who ever lived was the Apostle Paul. Here is his secret to peace and happiness:

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things {put on} love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful (Col. 3:12–15).

The cost of breaking this command? In the 20th century alone, between World War I, World War II,  Korea, Vietnam, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, abortion, drunk drivers, murder, suicide, and sexually transmitted diseases,  it has been estimated that 500 million people were murdered, which is more than in all the previous 6,000 years of recorded history combined!

The 21st century began with a bang when 3,000 civilians were murdered on September 11, 2001. Statistically, we will not survive another century!  

THE SEVENTH LAW OF LIBERTY

When God said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” He was saying: A man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave unto his wife!

 The cost of breaking this command? In the last thirty years, so-called civilized people have murdered more than 50 million unborn children worldwide.

In  Africa alone, it is estimated that in the next ten years, 30 million people will die of the A.I.D.S. virus! And, the number one incidence of poverty in America is single women with children. No man can calculate the cost or the pain related to sexual immorality.

History tells us that in 165 B.C., a Greek king by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes sacrificed a pig on the holy altar before the temple in Jerusalem. This was referred to as an “abomination of desolation.” That is something that is so unholy, so sacrilegious, it utterly desolates (spiritually) an object or place.

The Bible says that “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). To take your body (the temple of God), and to join it in an unholy act, is analogous to the abomination of desolation.

That is why David pled for God not to take the Holy Spirit from him in Psalm 51 after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Sexual immorality of any kind is one sin that will bring judgment and bondage faster than any other. How does that enslave me? The lust of the flesh (like fire) is never satisfied (Prov. 27:20).

If you are not satisfied, you don’t have peace; if you don’t have peace; you’re not free. Adultery is the highest act of treason a man can commit against God and his family. When Potiphar’s wife was trying to seduce Joseph in the 39th chapter of Genesis, Joseph said,

There is no one greater in this house than I, and he (Potiphar) has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God (Gen. 39:9)?

The solution to the epidemic of immorality in our world, and its horrific consequences is simple. The law of liberty is found in 1 Cor. 7:2,

 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.

THE EIGHTH LAW OF LIBERTY

When God said, “Thou shalt not steal,” He was saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Any idea what the number one crime is in America? Retail theft. The cost? Billions. Who pays for it? We all do! The liberating principle behind this law is found in Ephesians 4:28,

Let a man work with his own hands that he might not have to steal any longer and that he might have to give to those who are in need.

Let us remember that God commanded man to work before the fall. Work is a good thing. God says,

            If any man won’t work, neither should he eat (2 Thess. 3:10).

When Howard Hughes died, his estate was valued at over $1 billion. A reporter doing a story on Hughes, contacted one of the accountants who handled his estate, and asked, “How much did he leave?”

The answer was, “All of it.” Do you know how much of that money Howard took with him when he died? None of it!

On the other end of the spectrum, there was a man of God by the name of George Mueller. George lived in nineteenth-century England, and dedicated his life to caring for orphans.

At the peak of his ministry, he was caring for ten thousand children! Imagine if you can, the job and the expense of providing housing, education, health care, clothing, and food for ten thousand children—every day, three times a day!

By today’s standards, he raised millions of dollars, not for himself, but to provide for these children. It is reported that George Mueller died with less than $100 in the bank. Of all the money he raised, do you know how much he took with him? All of it, he sent it all ahead!

In the spiritual realm, whatever you keep you lose, but whatever you give away you keep. As the late Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, for that which he can never lose.”

THE NINTH LAW OF LIBERTY

When God said, “Thou shalt not lie, He was by implication saying, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).  

By letting my “yes be yes” and my “no be no” (Jas. 5:12), I am reflecting His faithfulness. When I tell the truth, the Lord delights in me, which in turn fills me with joy. My conscience is clear, and I am free from the guilt and the power of falsehood and lies.

Whenever I am tempted to sin, one of the most profound truths that comes to my rescue is the heart knowledge that sin always lies. It always promises pleasure, but it only produces pain! We will do well to remember that Satan is called “The father of lies,” and Jesus said He Himself is the “way, the truth and the life” Jn. 14:6).

Much of our judicial system and our political system is based on lies. In many cases, it is the best liar who wins. But not for long . . .

Getting treasures by a lying tongue is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death (Prov. 21:6).

There are many people who would never think of committing murder, adultery, or stealing, but think nothing of lying. After all, lying isn’t such a big deal, is it? Yes, it is.

The first sin on earth was when the serpent lied to Eve. That was the day when the covetousness of Adam and Eve embraced the lie of Satan, and the whole earth was cursed as a result of one little lie!

Since lying is so commonplace in our world, it is inconceivable what would happen if everyone always told the truth. What would happen if everyone stopped lying tomorrow? God only knows.

THE TENTH LAW OF LIBERTY

 When God says, “Thou shalt not covet,” He was also saying, “If we have food and clothes, with these we should be content” (1 Tim. 6:8).

I remember seeing John Rockefeller on the news when I was just a child. He was being asked by reporters, “You’re already a billionaire, Mr. Rockefeller; how much more do you need?” The answer was, “Just a little more son, just a little more.”

Lest you think covetousness is no big deal, it was Lucifer’s lack of contentment that turned him into Satan. The principle of liberty found in this verse is learning to be content. John Piper said it well,

“God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.”

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