The Importance of the Preface to the Ten Commandments

It is often said that “context is key” when it comes to properly understanding something. And that is certainly true when it comes to having a right understanding – indeed a truly Christian understanding – of the Ten Commandments.

Have you ever given any thought to the context in which the Ten Commandments were given? The “preface” (as it has come to be known) is what supplies us with that context. It is found in Exodus 20:2 (and Deuteronomy 5:6), where  God says,

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Notice that deliverance came before duty. In other words, God did not give the Israelites the Ten commandments (which are the summary of His moral law) and then tell them, “If you do all of this, then I will redeem you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Instead, He graciously redeemed them and rescued them from their slavery first! Living lives of holiness unto Him was to be their response to His grace!

The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us this same thing regarding the Ten Commandments:

Q.44. What does the preface [Exodus 20:2] to the Ten Commandments teach us? A. The preface to the ten Commandments teaches us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all His commandments.”

So why are we, as Christians, to obey God’s commandments? At least three (3) reasons:

3 Fingers

  1. Because He is the Lord. 
  2. Because in Christ He is now not just God in general but our God.
  3. Because in Christ He has redeemed us from our sins.

So we are to obey God’s commandments first because He is the Lord – He is in charge. He is the Creator and we are His creatures; and we owe Him obedience as such. Secondly, we are to obey Him because in Christ He is our God. Tell that to those who constantly seem to pit the idea of relationship against the existence of rules. Rules (commandments!) are in no way contrary to a right relationship with God. And lastly, we are to obey God’s commandments because He is our Redeemer in Jesus Christ.

Redemption does not free us from the obligation to obey God’s commandments, but rather from the curse for having broken God’s law. The Westminster Confession of Faith goes so far as to say that, Christ, in the gospel, does actually “much strengthen this obligation” (19.5). When was the last time that you heard a preacher tell you that the gospel actually gives you all the more reason to obey God’s commandments? (Perhaps Matthew 28:20 should have been a clue.)

There you have it. It’s really not all that complicated, is it? We do not obey in order to be saved; rather we are saved so that we might then obey God out of gratitude for the salvation that is ours in Christ by grace alone. Obedience is our response to God’s grace. And it has always been that way, even under Moses.


  1. Also the Larger Catechism:
    Question 101: What is the preface to the ten commandments?
    Answer: The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Wherein God manifests his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivers us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.

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