Ask the average person off the street to mention what they know about the Bible, and chances are pretty high you’ll hear something about the 10 Commandments. Most of us know about them, even if we can’t name all of them (and 90% of us can’t). But I’m guessing that most people have never really tried to measure their lives against them.

I’ve done this with people one on one, and they generally assume they’ll be able to score at least a 3 or 4. But let’s be honest. How do you measure up?

1. You shall have no other Gods before me. Can you say, I have never put anything before God in my life. He has always been pre-eminent in my thoughts, affections, and actions.” If I look at my own life, I’ve often gotten more excited about a new relationship, or a job promotion, or a new possession, or even a new TV program—than I have about God and his Word. So I’ve failed question number one.

2. You shall have no carved images of me. This commandment is about reshaping God according to your liking, believing wrong things about him because you’d prefer that he be a different way. Have you consistently refused to do that, believing fully everything his Word reveals about him, without doubting, or wishing he were different?

3. You shall not take my name in vain. This has to do with more than not saying, “G.D.” It has to do with how highly we regard the name of God. Can you say, I have always held God’s name in highest respect. I have always represented that name well—never, for example, calling myself a follower of his yet and not obeying him fully. I’ve always lived up to the name ‘Christian.’” Yes or no? (Status update: I’m 0 for 3 so far.)

4. Remember the Sabbath. This has to do with giving God fully what belongs to him. In Scripture, God points out that we should give him of our time (one day a week) and of our resources (the “firstfruits,” often 10% of our income). Can you say you’ve consistently done that? And if you think you’re good here, remember that the purpose of the Sabbath was to rest in God’s provision for you in all circumstances. When life has gotten tough, have you always stopped to rest and trust God in the midst of it?

5. Honor your parents. This has to do with how you relate to authorities in your life. Your parents are the first representation of the authority of God to you. Can you say, “I  have never disobeyed nor dishonored my parents … nor any others in authority over me. I have consistently respected them and given them honor and willing obedience. I’ve also done this with other God-appointed authorities, like governmental officials, my boss, and local police.” If you think you pass this one, just pick up the phone and call your parents.

6. You shall not kill. Aha! You say, Finally! I can totally put this in the “W” column. But then Jesus came along and messed that up, because he said to even hate someone in your heart, or to desire their harm, breaks the heart of this commandment. Can you say, “Not only have I never murdered anyone, but I have never had hateful thoughts nor taken the slightest pleasure in seeing harm or misfortune happen to another human?”

7. You shall not commit adultery. Maybe you think you’re good on this one. I’ve never cheated on my wife. Or, Hey, I’m not even married! But Jesus messed this up, too. He said that to think lustful thoughts about someone who isn’t your spouse is adultery in your heart, which is what God sees. Can you say, “I have never entertained thoughts about physical intimacy with someone to whom I am not married?” Yes or no?

We’re coming in to the home stretch here. How are you faring so far? My score sheet is still sitting at “0.”

8. You shall not steal. We just passed tax season, a time when people justify theft because they need their money more than the “big, bad government.” Have you ever fudged those numbers? How about at work? No one will know that this meal wasn’t actually a work expense, you think. Who’s it hurting, anyway? And you can steal more than money, too: have you always corrected others when they praise you for someone else’s work? Can you say, I have never taken anything that doesn’t belong to me—money or credit or praise I didn’t deserve, anythying. I have always been completely truthful and fair in all of my dealings.”

9. You shall not lie. I shouldn’t even have to go over this one. We don’t like to think of ourselves as liars. We like to think we “struggle with the truth.” But for most of us it’s no struggle. When I lie, for instance, it’s usually to exaggerate my accomplishments and minimize my failures. I want people to be pleased with me, which means I love their opinion more than God’s … so I’m breaking the first commandment in the process. Double whammy. Can you say, I have never lied nor slandered another person. I have never exaggerated the truth for my own benefit or covered up my faults or hidden awkward things I don’t want outher people to know. I have always told the truth in every situation regarding every person I have ever known.” Yes or no?

10. You shall not covet. This might be the worst one. Can you say, I have never been greedy for something that wasn’t mine, nor jealous of the abilities, looks, position or possessions of others. I have always been fully content in what I have.” I’m pretty sure the entire HGTV network is built on coveting. It’s like “‘Cribs’ for people with tools and a little bit of disposable income.”

So, how did you do? Personally, I’m “0” for “10.” I’m betting that if you were honest, you’re right there with me. And if you get a “0” on the only exam in a class, do you really think you are going to pass the class?

We generally have one of two responses when we come to this point. The first is to get upset with the commandments, as if they’re unfair. How could God possibly require perfection like this? But God’s holiness isn’t the problem. These laws aren’t making our hearts sick and rebellious; the commandments are just revealing how sick and rebellious we already are. The second response is to shrug it off. Well, nobody is perfect. I’m sure God grades on the curve. But that diminishes God’s holiness, too.

Scripture never does either of those things. It maintains, from beginning to end, that God demands perfection. And if we were left to our own devices, the only appropriate response would be despair. Who can do this? The bar is far, far too high for us. But here’s the beautiful part: God demands perfection, and the gospel is that he also supplies it.

The gospel says that our sin was so bad that Jesus had to die to save us. But it also says that he is so loving that he was glad to do it. You’ll never understand the beauty of the resurrection until you see the grave Jesus lifted you out of. He went into your grave because you were a lawbreaker. His cross was your fate, his grave your eternal destiny. Jesus took that penalty gladly, entered your grave boldly, and shattered your shame completely when he walked out of the grave on Easter morning.


For more, be sure to listen to the entire message here.

PS – I first got the idea of trying to “measure up” against the 10 Commandments years ago, from Will Metzger’s excellent book, Tell the Truth.