The centerpiece of God’s covenant with Israel was what we call the Ten Commandments. They reflect and reveal God’s righteousness. They present the minimum standards of righteousness that God set for his people—I say minimum standards because Jesus showed that the sin problem people face is not limited to external sins but even warps internal attitudes (see Matt 5:21–30). If God’s people were to please him, they had to keep his commands.
The Ten Commandments also have a restraining purpose because humans are fallen creatures who need some basic legal guidelines if they are to function in steady consideration of one another. Since people have a propensity to do whatever suits them in the moment, God’s commandments establish boundaries to restrain evil. Thus, following the commandments gives people protection from themselves and from one another. Laws promote order in society and prevent chaos.
The commandments also have a redemptive purpose. Contrary to popular opinion, you can’t get to heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments because you can’t keep them perfectly all the time. But as Paul says, the law shows us that we are sinners (see Rom 7:7–13) in the same way that a mirror can show you what’s wrong with your hair. The law was designed to show you that you can’t satisfy God’s perfect standards and that you need a Savior (see Gal 3:19–24).
In the preamble to the Ten Commandments, God established his identity and his relationship to Israel: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery (20:2). Israel, then, was about to enter a covenant relationship with the God of heaven and earth because of what he had done for them. This is a principle that is still at work in the New Testament era. Under the new covenant, Christ died so that those who trust him might “no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15). The believer’s motivation for obeying God’s laws, then, is not to earn salvation (we can’t). Rather, we obey because we want to please the One who delivered us from hell and judgment.
Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2019), Ex 20:1–2.