Lots of nots

If you limited yourself, as a parent, to a list of ten directives that you desired for your children to follow, would you fill it with items that expressed what you wished they’d do, or not do?  Many families have posters, or bulletin boards, with lists like this to remind their children of what is acceptable and, by default, what isn’t; my guess is that the lists are heavy with what they expect their children “to do.” Be nice to your sister/brother, pick up after yourself, do your homework, always try to do your best, respect your authority figures (parents/teachers/pastors/law enforcement officers), love God, and love others for starters.  These desires are usually shared with an affirmative bent.  However, looking through the list that God gave the Israelites, the Ten Commandments, we see that eight of the ten are commands with a negative bent; things that we are not to do.

Exodus 20:1-17 provides the list of “shall nots,” with only two items of “to dos.”  Even the fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath day holy, includes directions that we “shall not” do any work on this seventh day. Since these commandments are commonly known, I’ll refrain from listing them out individually.  God’s use of negative boundary setting isn’t only limited to the Exodus passage, as His first command known to man is in the Garden of Eden when He tells Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).  Notice that God didn’t say “if” you eat of it, but “when,” which concretely implies that He knew the tree would be eaten from and, in turn, He knew that all of His commands would be broken by His created beings.

The Law was given to us as a clear set of boundaries to abide by, but also as a means to communicate to us how wretched and sinful we are.  It’s illogical to think that God set up these laws for us to follow as though we could, since from the beginning, man cannot and God was well aware of that. We can know them, hold them close to our hearts as we strive to obey them, but to perfectly abide by them is impossible. Overall, we can assume that Scripture contains them as guidelines, but that it is Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of them that graces us with salvation and provides us access to the Living God. Jesus’ entrance into humanity changed everything on a massive scale, which is why following Christian teachings is imperative if we’re to enter through the narrow gate, rather than the destructive wide gate (Matthew 7:13-14).  World religions, cult religions, and fluffy religions that proclaim anything other than Christ as the Way, by His work alone, are dangerous at worst, misdirected at best.

Jesus, Himself, summed up the entirety of the Law and Prophets when He answered the question of the Pharisee as to which is the greatest commandment in the Law, by replying “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matthew 22:34-40).  We can become consumed by keeping the Law of the Lord, the list of “shall nots,” but those two commandments just mentioned are given with an affirmative tone, compared to the negative tone of the majority of the Ten Commandments. Not to say that the “shall nots” shouldn’t be striven towards, but this is to say that if we can, perhaps, fixate our hearts, souls, and minds on loving God and loving others we could begin to see the purpose of the written Old Testament Law.  The Law given by our sovereign God that, with foreknowledge, planned to deliver His people from the slavery and bondage of sin by providing Christ as the last sacrifice.  Through Jesus, the Law transformed from exhaustive lists of “shall nots” to a short, but far from simple, list of two directives.  To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, while only two rules to abide by, will take our lifetime to learn how to follow.  While Jesus fulfilled the Law, He did not abolish it (Matthew 5:17); we aren’t meant ignore the commandments given before Jesus came, but refer to and use discernment as to how each one of them fits into the two given by Christ in the New Testament (which both are taken from Old Testament Scripture verses).

Theologians have conveniently divided the first four of the Ten Commandments as those that’ll guide us when attempting to love God and the last six give us directions on how to love one another.  So when writing out our lists, as parents to our children, that dictate the “dos and don’ts” in our households and life, utilizing all that Scripture provides us with as to how our Father directs His children is our beacon.  We know that our little ones will break the laws and fail to attain the goals we set before them, but we can continue to direct them to the saving grace that we ourselves have received in Christ.  The list of things we are not to do can be overwhelming, especially when we come to terms with how we can’t seem to follow them.  The “shall nots” need to be recorded, recalled, and referred to repeatedly for each of us to be reminded of the fact that we can’t achieve righteousness without the Savior’s rescue.  His expectations of us have been met, in Christ Jesus, and the realization of how monumental that fact is will introduce in us a heartfelt desire to glorify Him by persevering in our obedience to the Law.  We can make our lists for our children, filled with what we desire for them to do, but since we, and they, are so filled with sinful tendencies from birth, including a heavy dose of “shall not dos” is as necessary in our itemization for them as is it for us all.


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