To thine own BAPTIZED self be true.
A sermon preached on Exodus 20:1-17 by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on March 7, 2021.
Let’s do Shakespeare one better, today. Let’s do the old Bard one better. One of the most famous lines that he wrote, in Hamlet, is, “To thine own self be true.” Good words. Necessary words. Because when you are false to yourself, that is a shameful and deadening kind of living. But here we want more than just good words, we want God’s words. And God would say, “To thine own BAPTIZED self be true.” Such a life is truly the way of blessedness. And it is the way of life described by the 10 Commandments. Because when you are being true to yourself, your baptized self, your life looks like the 10 Commandments.
#1– Four Things You Perhaps Did Not Know About the 10 Commandments.
- Did you know that the 10 Commandments were not written for Christians, originally? Everyone assumes that the 10 Commandments are meant for Christians. They were not, not originally. They, like all those Old Testament laws were written for Old Testament Jews. I am not an Old Testament Jew, neither are you. I may have some grey hair, but I did not live in the Old Testament times any more than you. The 10 Commandments, like all the Old Testament laws, such as, don’t eat pork and do no work on Saturday’s (aka, the Sabbath) and never make a picture or statue of God and do not wear clothes made of two different kinds of material and do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk—these were all given to Old Testament Jews, not to New Testament Christians. So how come we New Testament Christians still use the 10 Commandments? Because the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament. That’s why. They are repeated in the New Testament, so they are meant for New Testament Christians. None of those other Old Testament laws are repeated in the New Testament, just the 10 Commandments. That’s why we still use the 10 Commandments but not those other Old Testament commands like about pork and cooking goats.
- Did you know that the 10 Commandments accurately and truly show you how to get to heaven? That’s what Jesus himself said when an expert in the law asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus asks him what the Law says, and after the man gives an excellent summary of the Ten Commandments, Jesus responds, “You have the right answer. If you do this, you will have eternal life.” (Luke 10:25ff). If you obey the 10 Commandments, you will go to heaven. But the catch is in the word “if”, “If you do this, you will have eternal life.” Can anyone claim to have utterly consistently done the 10 Commandments the right way, in the right measure, with the right motives and right tone of voice ever since you were born? Because if not, boom, it’s hell for you. For there are certain things that if there is even one small flaw, the whole thing is ruined. Like one wrong letter in an email address, or one drop of cyanide in a water bottle, or breaking one commandment during your life. The 10 Commandments are like a balloon. Just one little hole, and boom, the whole thing is ruined.
- Did you know that the 10 Commandments are never called the 10 Commandments in the Bible? Here in Exodus 20, which is one of the most famous sections of the Bible, a section that is commonly referred to as “The 10 Commandments,” Moses never actually calls them the 10 Commandments. Not here. Not anywhere. Later on, in Exodus 34, he will call them, “The Ten Words.” Which is why the fancy name for the 10 Commandments is “The Decalogue” which literally means “10 words.” But the 10 Commandments are never actually called the “10 Commandments.”
- Which brings us to the 4th thing you perhaps did not know about the 10 Commandments. Did you know that the 10 Commandments are more like 10 descriptions than 10 commandments? They are more like descriptions than imperatives. In fact, for you who love language, the verbs in the 10 Commandments are not in the imperative, the command-giving mood, but in the indicative. Which means what? It means they describe what people loved and saved by God are like more than what they are commanded to be like. For that is how the 10 Commandments start, with God speaking about his love and deliverance for his people, “I am the LORD your God who brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slaver” And so, he says with simple logic, do not have any other god besides me. He doesn’t say, “I saved you so now I’m the Boss and you better do as I say!” No. He’s the God who loves and saves his people. When he speaks the 10 Commandments, he’s describing what people who know his love and salvation are like.
#2–Being true to yourself, your baptized self, looks like the 10 Commandments.
You who believe and are baptized, you know what God’s love and salvation in Christ are like, don’t you. At your baptism God said, “You are a saint, I am your Father, heaven is your home.” And by faith you believe that. Because in Romans 6 it tells us that your baptism connected you to Christ’s grave and to his resurrection, the price that Christ paid so God could declare us to be saints, himself to be our Father, and heaven to be our home.
So, when that same God also says, “You also are people who honor your parents and others in authority. And you help your neighbor in every bodily need. And you have a set of morals and roles for men and women that is significantly different from other people in this world. And you do not steal. And you are always honest. And you do not take my name in vain, and you love hearing and learning my Word”, he is describing what someone like you, you who are a saint, God is your Father, heaven is your home, what you are like. Which is why we could almost call the 10 Commandments the 10 Descriptions. For they describe how you who know God’s love and salvation in Christ, this is what you are like. And it’s true, isn’t it. You are a person who honors your parents and helps your neighbor and keeps yourself sexually pure and helps your neighbor and doesn’t steal and is honest all the time and does not use God’s name in vain and loves hearing and learning my Word. You are that kind of person, isn’t that true.
Except that it is also not true, isn’t it. Sometimes we dishonor our parents, our pastors, our teachers, our police officers, our politicians. Sometimes we pass by our neighbor instead of helping and we get irritated by, rather than willing to listen, to those who speak out about injustice. Sometimes we use our sexuality or talk about the roles of men and women just like people of the world do. Sometimes we steal. Sometimes we are not honest. Sometimes we do say “O my God”, but do not mean it as a prayer. Sometimes we skip our daily devotions, sometimes we even skip church.
Which is not just wrong. It goes deeper than that. It cuts deeper than that. You, like me, are violating not just some rule. We are violating who we are in Christ. And that is a deep and shameful thing to do. It kills the spirit, to violate who you truly are in Christ; and it makes the one who said at our baptism, “But I called you a saint, I said I was your Father, I said heaven is your home,” it makes him look very bad. Disobeying one of the commandments is not just wrong, it violates who we baptized believers are in Christ.
This calls for daily repentance. Because without rhythm of daily regret over our sin and daily remembering of our baptism that washed away our sin, this shameful and deadening way ends up feeling…normal. It begins to feel normal to say “Oh my God!” It begins to feel normal to think, “I have same-sex attraction so I will define myself by those feelings.” It begins to feel normal to skip your daily devotions and to skip church every other week. But the pages of Scripture warn us—all that comes from such things is a pile-full of regrets and hell at the last.
This calls for daily repentance. Which is really a way of saying, this calls for a “daily coming back to who you really are in Christ.” If Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true,” then our God would say, “To thine own BAPTIZED self be true.” At your baptism God himself said, “You are a saint, I am your Father, heaven is your home—I promised you that at your baptism.” Which means for you, like me, your way of life is being described by the 10 Commandments, or 10 Words, or 10 Descriptions. Because when you are being true to yourself, your baptized self, your life looks like the 10 Commandments.
And you know what else your life looks like? Beautiful and useful. This way of life, given structure and content by the 10 Commandments, will make the life you live beautiful and useful. It may be that your life is quiet life. Maybe yours is an ordinary life. But for certain it is a good life and a beautiful life and a useful life. In fact, such a life is so beautiful and useful and beneficial, it benefits not only yourself and your family and your friends and your future friends and your spouse or your future spouse, it benefits your church, your school, your workplace, your community, your state, your country. A life patterned after the 10 Commandments, or 10 Descriptions, is so incredibly beneficial, there is only one person in the whole world who does not benefit from it. Only one–God.
You know the famous quote from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” But do you know what comes next? What comes next is, “To thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night to day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” When you are being true to yourself, your BAPTIZED self, then it must follow as night to day, that yours will be a good life, a beautiful life, a life that is very useful to yourself and others. Anyone who says differently is being false. Amen.