What the 10 Commandments are Really About

The article below is an excerpt from The Story of God, a new group study for adults and students from Eric Geiger. The Story of God explores the overarching redemptive narrative of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, helping participants discover the story of Jesus on every page of Scripture and how to live as part of that story. Click here to preview a portion of the study for free.


The Ten Commandments are essential for our ongoing discipleship—but not for the reason many people think. Why do you think God gave the Ten Commandments? What comes to your mind? Maybe you think of a teacher giving rules at the beginning of a school year. If you break one, you get your name on the board for every person to see. Or maybe you think of new employee orientation where you are given a policy book that is rarely read but somehow still legislates behavior. Because we tend not to like those moments, we can get a distorted view of the Ten Commandments. We might even see them as too simplistic—basic information for new Christians.

God, however, is much better than the best teacher and much greater than the best place to work. He is our perfect and loving Father who gave the Ten Commandments to people He graciously and miraculously delivered from slavery. The commandments were given to all of God’s people in response to who God is and the rescue He provided.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. – Exodus 20:2-5


He is the One who is above all others, the Creator and Sustainer, the God above all gods and the King above all kings.


He is the One who rescued the people from their slavery, from the shame of being mistreated and abused, from the disgrace of being owned by the Egyptians.
The Ten Commandments were given in response to the people’s miraculous rescue from slavery, and simultaneously pointed to the all-powerful and gracious God—ultimately pointing to the Rescuer (Jesus) who would come to deliver us from our sins. They point us to Jesus because we see our need for Him. The Ten Commandments laid the foundation for a new life of freedom. They show us all how to love God and other people, but none of us can keep these ten basic ground rules for life together! We need Jesus to fulfill the Law for us, to change our hearts, and to forgive us our sins.

No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, no matter how mature you are or what position of influence you may have, the same is true for you. God’s commands are given to you because of who God is and because He has rescued you from the slavery of sin.


Bible scholars and students often divide the Ten Commandments into two broad sections: commandments concerning our relationship with God and commandments concerning our relationships with others: The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, and the following six commandments deal with our relationships with one another.

The first commandment is clearly about our hearts only bowing to the God who has rescued us. We shall have no other god—no other thing—besides Him in our hearts. He alone should rule and reign in our hearts because He alone rules and reigns over all things, and He alone has rescued us.

Martin Luther taught that if we break any of the commandments it is because we have already broken the first commandment, and if we keep the first commandment, we will keep all the others. For example, if we steal (violating the eighth commandment), it is only because we put the thing we are stealing ahead of God in our hearts. If we commit adultery, it is because we have put a desire ahead of God in our hearts. If we don’t honor our parents, it is because we have stopped honoring our Father in our hearts.

The way we are motivated to keep the first commandment, not to have any other god but Him, is to continually be in awe that He is the Lord our God who brought us “out of the place of slavery,” (Ex.20:2). As awe of Him and His rescue decreases, the burden to obey His commands increases. As awe for His rescue increases, the burden to obey Him decreases, and we want to obey Him because we love Him. This is love for God, to obey His commands, and His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). Reflect on this life-changing reality today and let it transform the way you love God and other people in your circle of influence.

Reading Next