The Ten Commandments

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“And God spoke all these words, saying, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod 20:1-2).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why, as Christians, do we need to know about the Ten Commandments? The short answer is because Jesus tells us to “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18).. Reformer John Calvin reinforced this point and said that the law had three chief purposes: to teach us about God’s will, to aid civil authorities, and to guide our daily lives (Haas 2006, 100).

Still, as postmodern people, we have contempt for law. We live undisciplined lives, ignore posted speed limits, and cheat on our taxes. We want to be independent and in control of our own lives. We do not want anyone, not even God, telling us what to do. The Ten Commandments remind us that we remain rebellious sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

Our rebellion against God is called sin. Sin takes at least three forms: falling short of expectations (sin), breaking a law (transgression), and not doing something we should do (iniquity). I sin when I try to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, but fail to do so consistently. I transgress the law when I murder someone. I commit iniquity when I ignore (dishonor) my parents in their old age, leaving their care to my siblings when I am able to help but refuse to. Although these three words are used interchangeably, these distinctions remain helpful.

In our rebellion, the law comes as an act of grace pointing us the way back to God. The Ten Commandments can be thought of as God’s healthy boundaries for life in the Christian community and as an example to the world.

So what is helpful to know about the Ten Commandments?

The Bible tells us that God is the Lord of lords and uses covenants to define His relationship with us. A covenant is a treaty or agreement outlining the duties and obligations of the ruler to the ruled. The Bible outlines covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David and the New Covenant with Christ. The Ten Commandments are part of the covenant with Moses.

Jeremiah prophesied the coming of a new covenant that would be written on our hearts (Jer 31:30-31). Matthew’s Gospel describes this new covenant with five explicit commandments given by Jesus: Matt 5:17-20, Matt 17:9, Matt 19:16-21, Matt 22:36-40, Matt 28:18-20. Two of these have already been mentioned: obey the law (Matt 5:17-20) and the double love command (love God; love neighbor in Matt 22:36-40).

Why do Christians need to understand the Ten Commandments? The Ten Commandments help us to understand what it means to be God’s people and to follow Christ’s commandment to obey the law.


Haas, Guenther H. 2004. “Calvin’s Ethics.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, 93–105. Edited by Donald K. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

The Ten Commandment

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Confession of Hidden Sin

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful father,

All praise and honor be to you for you live in the open and have no sin so that no one can accuse you or slander your name without bearing false witness.

We confess that our sins are both obvious and hidden, secrets that bring shame and grief that is to much to bear.

Forgive our sin, pardon the transgressions that burden us, and the iniquity that tarnish our names even when we appear unaware.

Thank you for the death and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ, who without sin of his own bore our sin on the cross and deprived our sin of its to power to corrupt and pollute our souls.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us thankful hearts and minds focused on you so that our lives may be full and our example might bring others to you.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Confession of Hidden Sin

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Heros and Children in the Faith: Confession of Sin

wedding-002Heros and Children in the Faith: Confession of Sin

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Also, El Shadai in DC, Manassas, Virginia, March 2, 2017.


Welcome. My name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor and a Christian author.


Today is Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent, which starts the 40 days before Easter. Because Christ died for our sins, traditionally Lent is a time of reflection over our sins and also over the spiritual disciplines.

The text for today, Psalm 32, focuses on the theme of confession of sin, which can be both bad things we do and good things that we fail to do. Iniquity, the good things that we fail to do, are normally the sins most painful.


Let’s pray.

Holy Father. Thank you for your presences among us this morning. We give special thanks that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially clear in this moment and this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears to hear. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


The scripture for today comes from Psalm 32:1-5. Hear the word of the Lord:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Ps 32:1-5 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


What should I confess? (2X)

During this past year, I wrote a memoir of my spiritual life of some 300 pages. This was the story of my youth, relationships, growing up, education, and professional life. In the middle of this life, I experienced many interesting things and also committed sins of various kinds. Many times the deepest pains of life came when I could not do good when the opportunity arose. This type of sin is described in the Bible as iniquity and, as North Americans, this is the sin that many times screams the loudest.

For example, as a young man of twenty-seven years, I was unable to accept the opportunity to be a missionary in Latin American because I did not have sufficient faith in God and paid too much attention to my personal life—I simply was not ready. In another context, I could not provide emotional support to a friend of mine after she was abused by her own mother because of alcoholism—I wanted to help but did not have the necessary emotional resources. In both cases, I was not obligated to do anything, but the opportunity to do something better in Christ was lost.

Many times iniquity is the most painful sin because we do not have the capacity to do good things when life requires a hero in the faith and we are still babies in the faith. For this reason, Lent also has a focus on the spiritual disciplines which help us to grow more capacity to do good things in Christ.

What do you need to confess? (2X)


Psalm 32 was written by King David after his adultery with Bathsheba and his murdering of her husband, Uria the Hittite in 2 Samuel 11 and the disclosure of the Prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. His confession is recorded in Psalm 51. But, in Psalm 32 described the experience of David with his confession.

So what did David Say?

In verse 1, David said that it is a blessing to be forgiving. But there is also an interesting sentence: “Whose sin is covered.” This is interesting because the sacrificial system did not cover intention sin, only unintentional sin.[1] God forgave David only because he prayed and his pardon was before the cross of Christ! Psalm 51 is a very important prayer.

What else did David say?

Dave uses different words for sin. Three words are most interesting: sin, transgression, and iniquity. Sin was taken from the word in Hebrew  (‎חֲטָאָֽה) which means to miss an objective like the archer whose arrows fall short of the target. Transgression (פֶּ֗שַׁע) means to break a law. Iniquity (עָוֹ֑ן) means to do something bad or fail to do something good. David’s sins—adultery and murder—were both transgressions of the Ten Commandments.

What elso can we learn from this Psalm?

In verses three and four, David spoke of his depression and guilt for trying to hide his transgressions. But even King David was subject to God’s Law and needed his forgiveness. And we see that his confession resulted in forgiveness and the blessing of God.

What do you need to confess? (2X)


In the context of the church universal, confession is a subjec that Roman Catholics manage better than Protestants perhaps because of their focus today on the spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Biblical studies, meditation, and confession of sin. Confession, like forgiveness, makes room in our lives for relationships in the community of faith and makes room in the life for better relationships with God.

In the community of faith, confession means that our relationships in the community are more important than our personal guilt. In a competitive world this act of confession is immediately obvious and totally contra-cultural.

Confession is also very important in our relationship with God. Our lives in Christ grow because confession is the beginning of realization that we are not holy like God and we need him.

Consequently, the pain of confession appears in our lives like a sweet sacrifice before a Holy God and as a sign that community in Christ is possible in this time and this place.

What do you need to confess? (2X)

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Holy Father:

Thank you for your love and for giving us the opportunity to confess our sins and be forgiven by means of the cross of Jesus. In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ and also the sins of persons that we see every day. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] David recognized himself that he had this problem:  “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.” (Ps 51:16 ESV)

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23. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of All Compassion and Mercy,
Forgive me, Lord, for the sins of my youth where I fell short of the plans you had for me. When in your great compassion you were kind to me and patient,teaching me your law and demonstrating your grace. Forgive me, Lord, for the transgressions of my youth when I disobeyed your law when in your mercy you looked the other way and disregarded my attitude, teaching me forbearance and gentle persuasion.
Forgive me, Lord, for the iniquity of my youth when I failed to help those around me. When in your everlasting love you sent your son to die to me, atoning for my sin, my transgressions, and my iniquity so that I might grow to be a man mindful of compassion, mercy, and love that were modeled for me all the days of my life through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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