There is a tendency at times to view the Ten Commandments as a list of things that a person “can’t” do, particularly at first. Can you truly delight in a list of "don’ts"?
Truly following the Ten Commandments requires a shift in our mindset.
Yes, the Ten Commandments define our behavior. They draw a boundary around what is acceptable and what is not. However, if we only view them in that fashion—as simply a list of don’ts—are we not seriously limiting what God has blessed us with?
God has provided us His law so that we can live life abundantly (Psalm 19:8; John 10:10) and so that we do not just live, but thrive (Psalm 34:8; Psalm 92:12-15). Through the keeping of God’s law, we learn personally that God’s way works.
King David wrote that God’s law is a delight (Psalm 119:47), that it is a light to one’s feet (Psalm 119:105) and that those who walk in the law are blessed (Psalm 119:1-3). The apostle Paul also spoke of delighting in God’s Law (Romans 7:22) even while keeping it imperfectly.
God’s law is to be a delight.
We are instructed not to worship other gods. That is important, but the inverse of this is that we spend our time worshipping and establishing a positive relationship with the Eternal! We spend our time in study, prayer, and meditation on Him, focusing on His love and blessings in our lives. Rather than spend the energy to avoid the consequence, spend the energy to strengthen the benefits!
God tells us to keep the Sabbath Holy. Rather than lament about the things we can’t do on the Sabbath, that time can be better spent focusing on the positive things that we can do, and the wonderful blessing that the Sabbath is. Taking time to focus on God, and to worship Him. Creating special family traditions that help make the Sabbath a delight can help to shift our mindset from what we can’t do to what the Sabbath is designed to be: special time between you and God.
It is true, we are not to commit murder. But instead of spending all our energy on preventing ourselves from killing someone else, we should be spending it instead on reconciling our differences to others, building respectful relationships and strengthening the love we have for others so we never find ourselves in that place in the first place.
We are not to commit adultery. Rather than place ourselves in a position that a person could err in this, our energies should be focused on making our marriages the best they can be. Enjoying and loving one another, building the relationship up and strengthening it so there is no possibility that a person could stray from their covenant. For those who are unmarried, that time is best spent becoming the best possible husband or wife you can be for your future mate.
A focus on the positive application of God’s law in our lives can prevent us from even reaching a point where we are in danger of breaking that commandment physically or spiritually, and it also gives us a more effective understanding of what God intended for His people in His law in the first place.
Jesus' filling up of the law to its brim
Jesus Christ summed up the entirety of the Ten Commandments (and indeed the whole Old Testament law) into two categories, what become known as the two great commandments (Matthew 22:36-40):
1. Love God
2. Love your fellow man (or "neighbor," as He put it)
What Jesus Christ was communicating to His followers was that the intent behind each one of these Ten Commandments fit into one or both of these categories. For example, we don’t take God’s name in vain because following that command shows love and respect to God. We don’t commit adultery because it is a way of showing love to our brother, and respect for his marriage relationship.
But in addition to the act of physically keeping these commandments, Jesus Christ also fulfilled—or filled to its brim—the Ten Commandments by illuminating the spiritual component (Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27-28). It was no longer enough to simply avoid murder and adultery physically. He told His followers that anyone who lusts after a woman has already broken the commandment in his heart, and whoever was angry with his brother without cause has already broken the spirit of the law against murder.
He upped the ante, teaching that these things begin in the heart and mind, and must be taken captive before the temptation is acted upon (2 Corinthians 10:5). God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us was to transform our lives through the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).
Take a look at the Ten Commandments with a fresh set of eyes. See the beauty of what God has given us in His law. It’s not simply a series of “don’ts,” it is God-given permission to do within the boundaries which have been placed. God desires us to live an abundant life, full of joy and love—and His law gives us the freedom to live a godly life and reap its many benefits.