Jen Wilkin: Rules, Reexamined
About the Guest
Best-selling author & Bible teacher Jen Wilkin chats about the 10 Commandments. Could God’s law open a window to who he really is & our eternal reality?
Jen Wilkin: Rules, Reexamined
Ann: When we first started dating, I remember going into your house and seeing this picture of Jesus above your fireplace. I had heard you mention that, even when we had talked about this picture of Jesus, because it was incredibly intimidating to you; why?
Dave: Because it was scary to me! [Laughter] It was like this holy Jesus, with long flowing hair—there was sort of a halo effect—it was “Praying hands Jesus,” I think. I just felt like I was afraid of the living room, because I felt like, “He is looking at me.”
Ann: Oh, when you were little, growing up in the ‘60s; yes.
Dave: Yes; I would walk in there, and it was just that He was a God of wrath; He was a God of holiness. He was the God of the Ten Commandments; He was scary!
Dave: And I do remember, when I became a teenager—and I was not making good decisions like I knew I should; my mom had taught me well, and I had been dragged to church by her almost my whole life—I literally would walk through there and feel like His eyes just followed me. [Laughter] It wasn’t: “I’m delighted in you.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
The other thing you used to think about God was: you thought He was like “Whack-a-mole”—
Ann: —the game, “Whack-a-mole”—that if you had anything good happen or happy—He would whack you.
Dave: Yes; if you sang a song that wasn’t praising Him…—that was my view. Some of that was tied to the Law/the Ten Commandments.
We’re going to talk about that, again, today with Jen Wilkin; she is back with us. Thanks for being here, Jen.
Jen: Thanks for having me.
Dave: You’ve written a book, obviously, about the Ten Commandments. I love that it’s called The Ten Words to Live By.
Ann: Yes, I like that too.
Dave: I’ve got to ask you where that title came from. But you have a phrase in the subtitle that’s exactly what we’re getting at here today: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands. I mean, when you think of the Ten Commandments, you don’t think: “Delighting in.”
I know you’ve been a women’s Bible study teacher for years; you’re married with kids—a lot of kids!
Dave: You’ve got a full house!
Dave: And yet, you talk about the Law of God; and as I read it—I’m not kidding—I’ve preached on the Ten Commandments, and this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The way you approach it—
Ann: You have a lot of new perspectives and teaching on it.
Jen: Oh, thank you.
Dave: Oh, yes! It’s very beautiful. I mean, I couldn’t put it down!
Jen: Thank you.
Dave: I was like, “I wish I’d read this before I did my little series on the Ten Commandments.” [Laughter]
Ann: Then you could have copied it. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, I could have copied it.
But when you think about the Law, where does the word, “delight,” come from? Because again, I think a lot of us feel about the Law the way I felt about that picture: “God’s mad; God’s angry. The Law sort of proves that.” And you’re saying, “No, it’s something to delight in.”
Jen: Yes; well, I actually got it from the Psalms. Psalm 43 says, “I delight to do Your will, O Lord; Your Law is written upon my heart.” It’s one of those Psalms we would understand as a Messianic Psalm; those would be the words of Jesus to the Father.
So then, we have to ask, “Why is that not our attitude toward the Law?” Like when we read Psalm 119, we’re like, “He’s still talking about the Law”; you know?
Dave: —120 verses! [Laughter]
Jen: Yes, we think it’s just sort of like, “Well, thank goodness, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Yet, what the Law is doing is inviting us into relationship with God and others. It is saying: “This is the way to live God’s way in God’s world.” When you believe that God is infinitely good and gracious, then you would expect that His Law is those things too.
But we’ve pitted the Law against grace so often; in fact, anytime that you start talking about the importance of the Law, someone will say, “Oh, don’t talk about the Law; because you’ll have a bunch of legalists; you’ll have a bunch of Pharisees.” I always like to point out that the Pharisees were not actually lawful people—they were probably the worst lawbreakers of all—because they tried only external obedience with no concern for the internal realities associated with godly obedience, which is a joining of right motive to right action. That’s why Jesus speaks so harshly against them.
The definition in the New Testament of an unbeliever—the way that the unbeliever is referred to so frequently—is as “the lawless man.” So we should not expect that a believer would be characterized by an absence of Law. A believer is characterized by lawfulness—being filled with the Law—but being filled with a Law that is operated in according to the power of the Spirit, which indwells us as children of God.
Dave: So is there a sense that, if I’m a follower of Christ, I delight in the Law; but if I’m not, it is burdensome?
Jen: I will use it [as an unbeliever] one of two ways; right?
Jen: I will either just break it, at every turn, to show that I am a law unto myself; or I will use it to self-elevate instead of to magnify the Lord.
Dave: Yes, I have one of my brothers—it’s a common thing that people say—“I can’t go to church; it would crumble.” It’s because he feels like: “I don’t keep the Law,” and “Law-keepers go to church; Lawbreakers stay away.” And it really should be the opposite; right?—the Law can draw us.
Jen: It can! And that’s one of the things, I think, that we have lost sight of. Historically, in the church, the three-fold use of the Law has been taught:
- First, that it’s a mirror that shows us our sin.
- Secondly, that it is a rod that prevents the spread of license; in other words, the reason that you don’t speed when you’re driving down the road is, not just because you know you shouldn’t, it’s because you know it’s dangerous. So we want everyone to obey the speed limit, because it keeps all of us safer.
Dave: Do you hear that, Honey? You’re supposed to obey the speed limits. [Laughter]
Ann: I think that that’s you she’s talking to.
Jen: Yes; so your speedometer, you know, is a gauge for whether you are obedient or not; but it also shows you how to be in relationship with others by keeping others and yourself safe. Then, your speedometer is also showing you that you are walking in the right path if you are going the speed limit; and that’s the way that the Law functions for us.
- But in the life of the believer, the Law shows us what is pleasing to the Lord and shows us how to be holy.
Ann: Yesterday, we talked about how God gave us these Ten Commandments in order for a specific reason.
Jen: Yes, yes.
Ann: And then, we only hit one: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Let’s talk about number two, and even the order of that: “You shall not make for yourselves a carved image.”
Jen: Yes, “You shall not make for yourselves a carved image.” You get to it, and you’re kind of like, “Wait a minute! Didn’t we just cover this?
Jen: “Wasn’t that what the first one was about?” Yet, making a carved image is not the same thing as worshiping another god. It is actually a way of taking an idea from creation—something that came from God—and ascribing to it God’s character. Of course, this is like the most famously broken of the Ten Commandments in its immediate context; because even while Moses is receiving the Law from God, Israel is down there making a golden calf! The issue with making the graven image is: when Aaron sets up the golden calf, he treats it as though it is an image of Yahweh.
A lot of people get to the second one, and they’re like, “Well, great! I don’t whittle, so I’m safe!”
Ann: “I don’t whittle.” [Laughter]
Jen: “I’m not actually a sculptor or anything like that.”
Ann: What do we do, though?
Jen: We pick and choose which attributes of God we like the best. You know, have you ever heard anybody say, “Well, I just believe God is a God of love”? Well, yes!
Ann: He is that; yes!
Jen: He is that!
And this tends to fall along two lines:
- You either have the God that—you know, your friend, who doesn’t want to come to church, is thinking of the One, who’s attributes have been whittled away to where He’s only thundering from Mount Sinai; He’s God in heaven.
- Or you have the God, who’s been whittled down to be Abba-Daddy God, whose lap I snuggle into.
We don’t have a sense that He is both of these things; He’s all of these things.
The reason that we are not to make a graven image is because any physical representation of God, who is unlimited, can only be diminished in the way that it’s presented to us. Like you were even talking about the picture of Jesus that hung in your living room. Now, it is actually not heretical to paint a picture of Jesus, because He’s an image-bearer; He’s the perfect image-bearer of God. The reason that we would not want a picture of God the Father—or for someone to try to paint some version of that—is because you can only ever represent Him in a way that’s going to communicate less than who He is.
Dave: You know, it’s interesting: as a pastor, I think we do that all of the time. As we preach the Word, we highlight different aspects; and “Our church is known for this”; and it’s not a full-orbed—
Ann: That’s true.
Dave: —real picture of the attributes of a holy, righteous, grace-giving, personal God.
Dave: I mean, all of those need to be expressed; right?—or else we’re sort of doing that.
Jen: That’s right. And the only way you begin to develop a comprehensive vocabulary for what’s true about God is to expose yourself to all of Scripture. We don’t often do that. We want someone to tell us the most interesting parts; and therefore, we’re operating from whatever the last story is, or the most common story is, that we’ve heard.
Really, one of the books that I think holds the tension the most beautifully is the book of Hebrews: He’s the God, who thunders from Mount Sinai; He’s the God, who sits enthroned on Mount Zion. We worship Him in reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Ann: Well, it’s interesting—I read the Bible every year—and when I first started doing it, I thought, “Oh, do I want to read the Old Testament?”
Ann: You know, it’s that view of—
Jen: —“It’s weird and scary.”
Ann: —yes; “I don’t even understand some of it,” and “God seems so mean and angry.”
Now, I think I’m on year 16. When people say, “I don’t know if I want to…” I say, “No, no, no! The more you read the Old Testament, the more it makes”—I weep, just thinking about it—“the more you discover God’s great love for us, of His wooing of us, of His pursuing us.” To read both is like the most beautiful, comprehensive picture of our God.
Jen: Yes, that’s right.
Ann: Well, even in the book, this chapter you called, “This Law: Undiminished Worship.”
Jen: Yes, yes.
Ann: Why that?
Jen: Because if you worship a created thing in place of God—you know, even if it’s your spouse—what you’ve done is you’ve diminished who you believe God to be by looking for who He is in something less than. The other irony of it is: the reason we don’t carve images of God to worship is because there already are images of God who are telling us what’s true about Him—that’s Genesis 1:26—“He forms the man and the woman after His own image/in His likeness.”
If you want to look at someone to see what is true about God, we look first to Christ, the firstborn among many brethren. This is why we want to obey the Law; because we also want to be visible demonstrations of what can be made known about God, insofar as it’s possible with us.
Everybody knows that your lost friend doesn’t have any interest in reading a Bible; they’re going to look at your life and testimony to see if there’s anything different about you. When we are living according to God’s Law—again, we’re living the way Adam and Eve were created to live—we’re living the way that we will live all of eternity. God’s Law will be perfectly obeyed, again, as it was in Eden before the serpent came. What you’re doing is: you’re actually practicing toward what will be your eternal reality; and you’re showing people, who are time-bound, what it looks like to be a servant of God in perpetuity.
Dave: And by the way, Mom or Dad, your kids are watching the same thing your neighbors are watching.
Dave: They’re getting their view of God based on how we live it out—not that we’re going to do it perfectly—but it’s that big.
Ann: And if you’re feeling like—“I can’t do that! I’m failing all the time!”—we are failing; and yet, there’s something about bowing before the King of kings, asking for His power, telling your kids, “I mess up all the time,” and—
Ann: —“I need Jesus tremendously!” There’s a beauty to that as well.
Dave: “If you think I mess up, just look at Mom”; you know? [Laughter]
Ann: That’s actually true.
Dave: Okay, we’ve got to go to number three; because again—when I do this thing [sermon series], so many go down on this one: “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” I think we don’t really even understand what it means. You understand what it means, so help us.
Jen: Well, I grew up in a house, where I thought if you said a swear word, the ceiling was going to open up and lightning was going to just strike you. [Laughter] So all props to you, Mom, for driving that home, especially, if you said anything that was a substitute word for God.
The irony of the Ten Commandments conversation is: we do, actually, think they’re kind of easy. This one seems kind of easy, too: “If I just don’t swear.” But the nature of what’s being said is: “You will not bear up the Lord’s name to falsehood”; that’s a closer rendering of what is being said there. Bearing up the name of the Lord—now, we don’t actually understand the significance of the name of the Lord—but the name of the Lord represents, in the Bible, the sum total of His character; it’s everything that is true about Him.
I don’t know if you guys know what your name means. Do you know what your name means?
Jen: What does your [Ann] name mean?
Jen: Okay, that’s good. Do you know what your [Dave] name means?
Dave: David is “beloved.”
Jen: Okay; mine is Welsh; it means, “Crest of the white wave.” I don’t know why that’s what it means.
Dave: —“Crest of the white wave.”
Jen: Yes; but you know, Jennifer—in the year that I was born—Jennifer was the most popular women’s name in the United States. It proceeded to stay the most popular name for 18 years.
I have a common name; but the name of the Lord is high and lifted up; it is holy, and it’s sacred. The sum total of His character comes to bear on whatever is in view. So even in the New Testament, when we pray “in Jesus’ name,”—it’s not just a little magic sprinkle-dusting that you say at the end of a prayer so that it gets God’s attention—what you’re saying is: “In accordance with who You are, may it be so.”
When we pray “In Jesus’s name,” we do it sort of like: “Okay, now He has to do what I said; because I followed the formula”; right?—[Laughter]—or whatever it is: when we say, “No; in Jesus’s Name, I want this to happen…” or “I claim this in Jesus’ name…”; right? What you’re doing is you’re saying, “Now, God, You operate according to my agenda,”—that is taking the Lord’s name in vain. It’s like throwing back at Him something; it’s like, “Well, okay…”—anytime that you’re telling God what He should do, and then saying, “in Jesus’ name,”—or it could be that we misattribute things to His name: “Well, God told me that I was supposed to ‘x,’ ‘y,’ or ‘z.’”
It has always driven me crazy, as someone who’s had to have a bunch of volunteers in my ministry, to say, “Hey, could you help with being a greeter next week?” And someone would say, “Well, I’m going to need to pray about that.” And then, they’d come back and say, “Well, I just feel like the Lord is telling me…” I’m like, “Okay, you should have just told me, ‘No,’ upfront”; right? But what are you doing? You know, we call it: “Playing the God-card.” You’re attributing something to God; you’re bearing up the name of God to falsehood, because you put Him on your team to establish your own agenda, instead of submitting yourself to His.
Dave: Should we not say, “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers?
Ann: Yes? Or how do we pray? You know, should we ask? You know, is it just asking God to do something? Or you’re kind of doing the “name it; claim it.”
Jen: Well, I think that, if you believe that by saying it you have upped your prayer in God’s list of things He’s going to get to do, then you are thinking about it the wrong way. If you view it as a submission statement; in other words, “I submit myself to who God is in His entirety—so if you think about The Great Commission, we’re supposed to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name; or more precisely, “into the name” is the way that that reads—if you’ve been baptized into the name, it means: “Now, you are under that name’s authority.”
But when we talk about praying the name of Jesus, or when we talk about calling on the name of the Lord, when you call on the name of the Lord, it means you’re saying, “Lord, in light of who You have shown yourself to be through all time and all human history, now do those things that I’ve seen You do before and I know you’re able to do.” That’s different than saying, “If I tack this on to the end of my prayer, now You’re obligated to me.”
Dave: Can we do another one?
Dave: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”
Jen: When we think about the Sabbath principle in our current day and age, so often, we equate Sabbath with the notion of self-care.
Ann: Oh, this is big.
Jen: Yes, and so I’m not here to dog on self-care. Although, it needs to be dogged on a little bit; but we’ll save that for another time. When it comes to thinking about a practice of Sabbath, if you look at the way the command is worded, it says that, not only will you rest, but every person, animal—whatever that labors on your behalf—will also rest.
Ann: When I read that, I remember thinking, “I have never thought of that before.”
Jen: Well, think about how incredible this command is—because the gods of Egypt commanded labor without rest and so will the gods of Canaan—but we serve a God, who commands that we sit still; that’s just unbelievable. Think how it would have landed on the ears of people, who were coming out of 400 years of slavery.
What we so often can forget is that we, too, chase after the pharaohs—we, too, want labor without rest—that’s what our whole culture is telling us; you know?—that you have to: “You know, time is money,” “You’ve got to keep going; you’ve got to keep grinding.” And that—if you do rest—for many of us, our only concept of rest is a rest in which others serve us, while we are resting. But Sabbath rest requires nothing of anyone else for you to enjoy.
Ann: So Jen, how have you guys done that as a family? Because we’re living in a day and age when our kids, if they’re in any sports, one of the biggest days is Sunday.
Ann: Is that okay to do? What does it look like to obey this commandment?
Jen: Well, I do like to avoid getting mired down in whether it’s a day of the week or whether it’s not.
Jen: Because I think you should care about that, and I think you should have done your homework; don’t just let your pastor or someone else tell you what they think is the right answer to that. Do your homework on it, and then care a lot about where you land.
But what we can clearly see, from the earliest pages of Scripture, is that God institutes regular rhythms of rest in our lives. We fail to acknowledge them, at our peril; because we are created as limited creatures.
With our family, it was that/it was making sure that we were actually having time to do nothing. You think about how important, even the command in Deuteronomy 6 is—which I do not doubt you have talked about multiple times on your program—it assumes that there are times, where we are lying down, and rising up, and sitting together, where there’s downtime together. Anyone who has raised a family or has been in a family—so that’s all of us—knows that some of our most formational conversations and moments together have happened during times of stillness, so we’ve got to have them.
Ann: I love this quote; you say, “More than the deliberate cessation of work for the purpose of decompressing”—because a lot of times, we think, “Oh, it’s just a day of decompression,”—“Sabbath is the deliberate cessation of any activity that might reinforce my belief in my own self-sufficiency.”
Jen: Yes, yes.
Ann: I thought that was really good, because I’ve never put that self-sufficiency with that thought.
Jen: Well, that’s what we’re doing when we say, “Oh, if I stop doing my…” You know, it’s that whole: “If I quit this job, this whole place is going to fall apart”; [Laughter] you know? And then, you’re like, “Oh, they don’t even miss me,”—you know, two weeks later. Our feelings are a little hurt, because our view of our own indispensability is a little higher than it probably should be.
But I think the other critical piece is this deeper obedience that’s being asked of us. You look at the way that Jesus functions around the Sabbath laws in the New Testament: He heals a man on the Sabbath, and He totally enrages the legalists/the key legalists of His day. They say, “You’re not allowed to do that!” And He declares Himself “Lord of the Sabbath,” and points out what the Sabbath is really for, because He grants rest from suffering on the Sabbath to this man.
We have to move from simply thinking, “How can I get rested up?”—to thinking—“How might I actually be an agent of securing the rest of another?”—whether it’s rest from a financial burden or rest from unfair labor practices. Even if you are thinking about whether you’re going to buy the shirt that’s ethically sourced or the shirt that’s unethically sourced, that can be a Sabbath consideration for us. We’re not merely looking for how we receive rest, but how we might make sure that others are granted rest as well.
Dave: Wow! That’s a whole different kind concept—I mean, that’s communal—it’s bigger than me.
Jen: That’s the problem: the more you start meditating on God’s Law, the bigger it gets. [Laughter] It doesn’t get easier; it gets bigger, but it gives more ways to obey; so I guess that’s great.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jen Wilkin on FamilyLife Today. Coming up, we’ll hear Dave share a confession about his view of Sabbath rest. See if you can relate to it or not.
But first, Jen has written a book called Ten Words to Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands. We don’t want to live our lives in kind of begrudging submission to God’s commands; but instead, delight in the Law of the Lord, because when we live by God’s commands, as Psalm 119 says, it “rejoices our heart.”
I genuinely believe that, and that’s one of the reasons I love being with FamilyLife. We authentically believe that following God’s Word and God’s ways is the absolute best way to live. When you partner with us, you’re literally helping spread that message to homes everywhere. So would you consider partnering with us, atFamilyLife, to see the Law of the Lord advance in this world and revive marriages and families everywhere?
When you do, we’d love to send you a copy of Jen’s book; again, it’s called Ten Words to Live By. It’s our way of saying, “Thank you,” to you when you partner, financially, today with us. You can give, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you could just give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave with an admission about how he sometimes feels about Sabbath rest.
Dave: For me, often, Sabbath rest comes across like: “I can’t rest, because I need to make this dollar,” “…I need to keep working”; in other words, “I need to take care of myself.” Sabbath rest is a moment of faith, to say, “He’s got me.
Jen: That’s right.
Ann: It’s that self-sufficiency.
Dave: “I can take this day off. Somebody else may make more money if they keep working, but God…”—it’s like, on the sixth day, He gave double manna—
Jen: That’s right.
Dave: —“You don’t have to get manna tomorrow. I will provide so much today; I’ll take care of tomorrow.” And that’s one of the moments, where we go, “Ahhh!” and trust God. I’m going to obey His Law, not because I have to, but because I want to.” It’s a beautiful thing.
And it is—in some ways, it does help self-care—my body does better; the land does better—
Jen: That’s right.
Dave: —everybody does better. But the real reason I’m doing it is to say, “You know what? I’m going to trust You; You’re going to still take care of me.”
Jen: Yes; absolutely.
Shelby: Tomorrow, Jen Wilkin comes on, again, with Dave and Ann to talk about how to realign with God’s Law and turn from the sin that creeps up in our lives; I know it does for many of us, myself included.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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