Is God cruel and sadistic? Of course not, that is a stupid question right? Of course it is a stupid question, however until today my understanding of God with regards to the Ten Commandments seemed to point to a cruel sadistic God.
Allow me to explain… Thou shall not covet… Thou shall not bear false witness… Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain… etc. We as Christians understand that it is only by grace and the power imparted to us by the Holy Spirit because of the sacrifice of the Lord that we can be obedient to all Ten Commandments. Before Christ the Jews did put faith in the promise of a coming messiah, however they did not have the imparted righteousness of Christ. To be perfect and righteous the pre-Christ Jew would have to be obedient to all the commandments as well as the rest of the law. So my question is God, or was God cruel and sadistic? The question might not seem so dumb in this light. Think about it, God required perfect righteousness out of those who are complete unable to have any righteousness because they have not yet been imparted with the Spirit and the righteousness of Christ. If God demanded unattainable righteousness of His people then He was cruel and sadistic.
Now, I will not deny that obedience to all of these commands is required for perfect righteousness, and perfect righteousness was and is required for salvation. Fortunately now having Christ’s imparted righteousness to us we can stand firmly on His merits before God in the Day of Judgment. We also know that if you believe the promises of God, you receive the promises of God. If you believe that Jesus died for your sin and that by His death and resurrection you will be saved, then certainly you will be saved. Still my question remains what hope was there for the Old Testament Jew without yet having the imparted righteousness of Christ?
Here is the question we must ask: Are the Ten Commandments only commandments or are they also promises? What does the word ‘shall’ mean? Does it mean ‘must’? Yes. Does it mean ‘will’? Yes. God wrote on stone tablets a distinct foreshadowing of the new covenant, think of it: ‘you will not kill’ ‘you will not covet’ ‘you will have no other God’s before me’. Think of these statements as promises of the coming righteousness, which would be imparted to them by Christ. Their eternity was dependent on the belief in these promises, which were fulfilled by Christ. ‘Think not that I come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.’ Christ was and is the very fulfillment of the Ten Commandments. God was not cruel in requiring an unattainable command, He was gracious in promising that His people would someday be perfect. When we see only the ‘must’ side of the word ‘shall’ then we have no other option but to say that our God was cruel. Yet if we also recognize the ‘will’ side of the word ‘shall’ we see the Ten Commandments as a glorious promise of God to His people whom He loves.
Do not misunderstand me, the ‘must’ side of the law, the required righteous standard is very much real, but it is no more real than the awesome promise of the ‘will’ side of the law. Next time you are reading exodus 20 remember that those Ten Commandments are more than just standards to condemn, they are the promised righteousness of Christ. The are the schoolmaster that point us to Christ by showing us our need of Him, and also what His sacrifice provides for the believer.