The Ten Commandments-Lesson 2a

Letter and Law

A Reading from Saint Pauls' second epistle to the Corinthian:

(II Corinthians 3:4-9)

And such confidence we have, through Christ, towards God.

5 Not that we are sufficient to think any thing of ourselves, as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God.

6 Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter, but in the spirit. For the letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth.

7 Now if the ministration of death, engraven with letters upon stones, was glorious; so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance, which is made void:

8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather in glory?

9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more the ministration of justice aboundeth in glory.

In recent years it has become popular amongst the Christian world out side of the Church to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” And as often happens with catchphrases, it has been taken to extremes—everything from “What would Jesus eat?” to “What kind of SUV would Jesus drive?”

At first glance it might seem worthwhile to ask what Jesus would do in a particular circumstance, but the question has an inherent flaw: it opens the door to speculation. The answer becomes open-ended so that people can make up whatever “Jesus” they want to fit anything they would like to do.

For example, they would say, “What would Jesus do? I’ll tell you what He wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t condemn people because they want an abortion, and He wouldn’t go around ramming religion down people’s throats!” Or “He wouldn’t go around judging people, and telling them that they are ‘sinners’!”

The better question to ask is, “What did Jesus do?” This confines our answers to the safe and reliable boundaries of the scriptures and the fathers of the Church. What did Jesus do when He confronted sinners? As we see from Scripture, He made the issue one of justice rather than happiness. He said: that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20).

He used the Ten Commandments to show sinners the just standard of God in (Matthew 5:17-37). In Mark 10:17-21, a man came running to Jesus, knelt before Him, and asked how he could obtain everlasting life. It would seem that his earnest and humble heart made him a prime candidate as a potential convert to the faith. Yet Jesus didn’t give him the message of God’s grace. He didn’t even mention the love of God. Neither did He tell him of an abundant, wonderful new life. Instead, Jesus used the Law of God to expose the man’s hidden sin. This man was a transgressor of the first of the Ten Commandments. His money was his god, and one cannot serve both God and money. Then the Scriptures reveal that it was love that motivated Jesus to speak in this way to this rich young man. Every time we witness to someone, we should examine our motives. Do we love the sinner enough to make sure his conversion is genuine? If Jesus had accepted at face value the rich young man’s profession of justification, He might have led him into a false conversion. Instead, Jesus used the Moral Law to reveal the man’s hidden sin—his love of money above all else.

Why did Jesus use the Ten Commandments? Because A gospel which merely says “Come to Jesus,” and offers Him as a Friend, and offers a marvelous new life, without convincing them of there sin, is not true Catholic evangelism. The essence of evangelism is to start by proclaiming the Law. True evangelism … must always start by proclaiming the Law.

When you use the Law to show lost sinners their true state, they will for the first time in their lives, see the Catholic message as expressing love and concern for their eternal welfare rather than merely proselytizing for a better lifestyle while on this earth. They will begin to understand why they should be concerned about their eternal salvation. The Law shows them that they are condemned by God. It even makes them a little fearful. Both the Psalms and the Proverbs says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.

The second use [of the Law] is to bring him unto life, unto Christ that he may live.

Perhaps you are tempted to say that we should never condemn sinners. However, St. John tells us that “He that believes not is condemned already” (John 3:18). All the Law does is show them their true state. If you dust a table in your living room and think it is dust-free, once you pull back the curtains and let in the sunlight. You will more than likely see dust still sitting on the table. The sunlight didn’t create the dust; it merely exposed it. When we take the time to draw back the high and heavy curtains of the Holy of Holies and let the light of God’s Law shine upon the sinner’s heart, the Law merely shows him his true state before God.

Proverbs 6:23 tells us, “Because the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:”

If we understand sin in its true light as enmity with God, and we grasp the urgency of the situation—that our unregenerate friend could die tonight and face God’s justice—would we not be motivated to show our friend his or her depravity in relationship to the Law, and to use the Law to appeal to their conscience in order to bring them to repentance and salvation?

We may not think that sin is terrible, but God certainly does—and the only way to understand sin from His perspective is to view it through the eyes of the Law.

Sin is so serious in His sight that He calls for the death sentence. Therefore, the issue we should address is the sinner’s guilt. You may say, “But we can’t convince him of his guilt. Only the Holy Spirit can do that!” That’s true; all we need to do is shine the light of the Law on the sinner’s heart.

It was the wrath of the Law that showed the adulterous woman in John 8:3-11 that she was condemned. She literally found herself between a rock and a hard place. Without those heavy rocks waiting to pound her sinful flesh, she may have died in her sins and gone to Hell. I doubt if she would have fallen at the feet of Jesus without the terror of the Law having driven her there. The Law awakened her and caused her to flee to the Savior. Most people believe they are rich in virtue, but the Law shows them they are morally bankrupt. If they do not declare bankruptcy, the Law will mercilessly call for their last drop of blood.

Timothy tells us that, “We know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully:” For what purpose was God’s Law designed? The following verse tells us: the law is not made for the just man, but ….for sinners, ” (1 Timothy 1:9). It even lists the sinners for us: the disobedient, the ungodly, murderers, fornicators, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, etc. The Law’s main design is not for the saved, but for the unsaved. St. Paul says that it was given as a schoolmaster or tutor to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24) The Law can only drive a man to the Cross and know further. It is an unlawful use of the Law to use it for justification. No one will make it to Heaven by keeping the Law. The Scriptures make that very clear: Knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16). The Law’s rightful purpose is simply to act as a mirror to show us that we need cleansing. Those who seek to be justified by the Law are taking the mirror off the wall and trying to wash themselves with it. Obviously, Christians refrain from lawlessness. In the same epistle that says we are not justified by the works of the law but by faith of Jesus Christ, Paul continues by saying a few verses down that we die to the law so that we can live for God. We have been nailed to the cross with Christ. So we are not the ones living now—it is Christ living in us. We still live in our body', but we live by the faith of the Son of God. He is the one who loved us and gave himself to save us.

I am not promoting the ideal that we now break the ten commandments. Let us understand that even thou we are not justified by the law without holiness no man shall see God. (Hebrews 12:14). However, a Christian’s motivation for holy living isn’t one of legalism imposed on them by the Law.

Why do they refrain from sin? To gain God’s favor? No. They already have that in Christ. Instead, Christians live lives that are pleasing to God because they want to do all they can to show God gratitude for the incredible mercy they have received through the gospel. Their gratitude isn’t driven by guilt—to somehow try to pay God back for the Cross. No, their motive is pure. It’s like the one leper who, when he saw that he was healed, was overwhelmed with gratitude. He turned back to Jesus andAnd with a loud voice glorified God. (Luke 17:15). The motive for gratitude is love, not legalism. Why then would any Christian stray into legalism? Why would they begin telling other believers what they can and cannot do in Christ? This happens simply because the Law hasn’t been used lawfully in the first place.

Let us keep in memory Saint Pauls' words in todays epistle. “We can say this, because through Christ we have confidence before God. I don’t mean that we are sufficient in ourselves to do anything good. It is God who makes us sufficient to do all that we do. He made us fit to be servants of a new testament. not in the letter, but in the spirit. The letter or written law brings death, but the spirit of the law gives life.”

In conclusion here the words of St. Augustine and Ambrosiaster:

“The spirit, who is the law of faith which is not written but which is contained in the rational soul, is life-giving, drawing to himself those who are guilty of mortal sin, so that they may be made just and cease altogether from sinning.” “Therefore it rests not in our own human power but on God's power to make us sons of God. We receive it from Him who inspires in the human heart devout thoughts, through which it possesses faith which works by love. For acquiring and retaining this good, and for progressing perseveringly in it to the end, we are not sufficient to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, in who power are our heart and our thoughts.”



The Ten Commandments-Lesson 2a