What is the baseline of knowledge for a Christian? Martin Luther referred to three components as “the minimum of knowledge required of a Christian” (Large Catechism). Just as a craftsman knows the fundamentals of his craft, every Christian ought to know:
The Ten Commandments
The Lord’s Prayer
And not simply to recite them, but practice and grow in them. Meditate, pray, live, explore their implications, institute them in daily life.
The Creed (“I believe”) states who God is and what he does.
The Ten Commandments are God’s intended picture of what it means to live a human life.
The Lord’s Prayer is how we are to relate and communicate with the living God through all of life’s challenges.
Two factors of modern society make these three baseline components evermore important.
First, we live in a complex society. Therefore simplicity provides a focus that cuts through the overwhelming volumes of information that exist.
Second, we live in an increasingly post-Christian society. So the basic tenets of Christianity take on greater significance. When “everyone went to church,” the creed was less provocative. As fewer people speak the creed, it grows more profound.
Luther recommended weekly examinations on these three components. Tell me how that goes in your home. Even if you don’t quiz yourself or your family, his point was to never believe that you’ve mastered the basics. The basics are a depth to be mined for a lfietime. A well with no bottom.
We are always living with what we believe (creed), how to live (commandments), and how to call on God through the trials of life (Lord’s Prayer).
Luther noted, “These have been the heritage of Christendom from ancient times . . . so that all who wish to be Christians in fact as well as in name, both young and old, may be well trained in them.”
Martin Luther said there is a “baseline” for every Christian – The Ten Commandments, The Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. The following is the first in our “Set Free to Live Free” series as we walk through the Commandments.
Years ago, I met an ex-con who spent time at a large penitentiary in Louisiana called Angola. He was convicted for armed robbery. Then while at Angola, he escaped and spent two days on the run in the thick backwoods and Louisiana bayous. The dogs found him, he was returned, and his sentence extended. He entered prison as a man in his 30’s. He left as a man in his 60’s. Although a free man, he didn’t know what to do in open spaces, or how to make his own decisions.
He told me, “I still feel like a captive. I don’t know how to live free.”
You’re a Christian, so everything should be perfect, right? But sometimes you still feel like a captive. You might feel burdened, shackled, or imprisoned by sin or circumstance.
What are you captive to?
Fear and worry.
A nasty habit.
Regret over the past.
Like an ex-con you say, “I still feel like a captive. I don’t know how to live free.”
What do you do when you feel captive, trapped, or burdened? There is a misperception among many Christians that you can get out of captivity by good behavior. “If I’m just good enough, if I just ‘get right.’” The Ten Commandments are treated like a scorecard. “If I just follow the rules . . .” When things are going good, you think, “I must be doing something right.” If things are going bad, you think, “I can’t do anything right. I’m a failure. God is out to get me.”
If the only way out of captivity is good behavior, then you’re gonna end up arrogant or depressed. Arrogant because you think you’re good. Or depressed because you’re never good enough.
So how do you get out of captivity? Let me bring some freedom to your captivity. The Ten Commandments come in Exodus chapter 20. But their foundation is laid in the first 19 chapters. The heart and soul of the Commandments is in the concept of redemption. Key redemption words that reoccur throughout Exodus are:
Draw out (the meaning of Moses’ name)
Exodus 20:2 uses this language, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” In Jewish heritage, the Commandments were referred to as the “Ten Words.” And in many ways, they counted verse two as the first word. Verse two is also called the prologue to the commandments, so that before you hear God’s commands, you are given some context.
What does this mean? It means the Commandments are not used for captives to get free. They are for free people to live free.
The commandments are NOT like a prison warden saying, “You can get out of your life sentence if you just follow these rules.” The commandments are like a warden saying, “You’ve been pardoned by the governor. The door is open . . . Now here’s how to live free.”
Too often, Christians operate this way: Behave, Believe, Belong. That the first step in becoming a Christian is right behavior. Do right, then you’re in.
The biblical revelation, both in the Old and New Testament is the other way around. Belong, Believe, Behave. God always takes the initiative. He chooses a people before they choose him. He gets them out of Egypt, even when they doubt him, complain, or are ungrateful. Paul says it this way, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.”
“I am the LORD your God who brought you out . . .” NOW you can hear the commandments. NOW you can live free. NOW you can begin with the first commandment:
- “You – Me.”: The first and last words of the commandment are personal pronouns. The context for all the commands is a relationship. It’s a personal covenant between God and people. Luther says about the first commandment, “That we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Personal pronouns of a relationship of love and trust.
- “No other.”: This is an exclusive relationship. There is no other person, god, or thing that could do what God does. He is to be your ultimate.
- “god.”: What is a “god”? Luther says, “A god is that to which your heart clings and trusts.” You are to cling to nothing and no one tighter than God. Not a person, not money, success, happiness, career.
- “before me.”: Who is “me”? Go back to verse two. “I am the LORD your God who brought you out.” A reminder for when you read the Bible: Whenever you see LORD spelled in all caps, it is a code. Out of respect for the divine name, there is a history of inserting Lord, or in Hebrew Adonai, in place of God’s personal name. In Exodus chapter three God told Moses his personal name – Yahweh. “I am.” This name infers action. You really get to know a person when you see how they act. Talk is cheap. Prove yourself in what you do. Yahweh says, “This is who I am. I am the Yahweh who brought you out.”
Now hear the first commandment, “ You will have no other gods before me.” You need no other. Love and trust him above all things. He’s the only one you need.
A captive cannot get himself out. Someone must come and free him. Yahweh brought you out at great expense. Jesus became captive to the cross so that you could be free.
The foundation of the Ten Commandments, and the Christian life, is the fact that you are set free to live free.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.*
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty