So, you want to be free? Build the right fences. (RYF Exodus Study)

Alex Dean on November 1, 2017

What does true freedom look like? For many of us, freedom becomes something to look forward to when we obtain our driver’s license, graduate from high school, or move out on our own. It is something in the future that means less restraint, fewer boundaries, and fewer fences shaping the perimeter of our lives. Maybe you’ve had the thought: “When I’m out from under my parent’s rules, I’ll finally be free.” 

The assumption we make here is that rules limit our freedom. But in the Bible, rules are made for something different. They are made to guide us in our freedom.
At the heart of the “Book of the Covenant” in Exodus 19-24, we find the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20. Their context is as important as their content, which is why Reformed confessions and catechisms have always started there. For example, question 43 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks,


Q. What is the preface to the ten commandments?
A. The preface to the ten commandments is 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.

The next 30+ questions are dedicated to explaining the Ten Commandments, but they are all based on this critical introduction by Yahweh himself. The Lord had brought his people out of slavery in Egypt—he had already freed them. Now, he was graciously entering into a covenant with them in order to define their relationship as covenant people to their covenant Lord.
This generation of Israelites had never been free. Their ancestors had come to Egypt in the days of Joseph under God’s hand of provision, yet they were eventually forced by Pharaoh to work as slaves, for fear of their ever-increasing numbers. For years, they lived under a tyrannical ruler. Now, all of the sudden, they were subjects of the Lord, their gracious Redeemer. 
How were they to know what true freedom looked like? They needed someone to tell them. They needed someone to build the right fences. 
If you’ve ever trained a puppy, you know about the importance of building the right fences. If your backyard does not have adequate fencing, your pup will experience two equal and opposite dangers. First, there is the danger of leaving the yard and ending up in the busy street behind your house. How many of our furry friends have met their end because their owners did not set up adequate fencing?
But there’s another danger that’s equally harmful. If you don’t have the right fences, you may never let your dog outside to begin with. For fear of having the young pup end up in the street, you may decide to keep him indoors and perhaps only allow him out to take care of important business on a leash, under your watchful eye. But we all know dogs were meant to run free! They need to chase squirrels and dig holes to burry their bones. They need to play fetch and expend all of their energy so they don’t keep you up all night! They need to be free. And so, they need fences.
This illustration helps us to see what a gracious gift God’s law is for his redeemed people. Not only does it keep us from danger, preserving our lives from moral degradation and destruction. It also—and maybe especially—frees us to live like we were designed to live. It provides the necessary fences for our lives in order that we might know how God has called us to live out the freedom he has given us.
In theological terms, this concept is called the “third use of the law,” and it is a helpful reminder that though part of what the law is designed to do is to expose our sin and drive us to Christ (and what an important part that is!), once we are driven there, the law still has an important function in our lives. 
The 10 Commandments themselves are proof of this gracious truth. For centuries, theologians have divided them into two “tables” or groupings based on our duty toward God (commandments 1-4) and our duty toward others (commandments 5-10). In other words, the commandments tell us how to live as God’s covenant people, in relationship to God and one another. They govern the very relationships we were redeemed to have. They serve as the right fences around of Christian freedom.
So, what does true freedom look like for God’s redeemed people? It looks like worshipping God alone in the way he has appointed (commandments 1-2). It looks like keeping his name and his Sabbath holy (commandments 3-4). It looks like honoring our parents and human life itself (commandments 5-6). It looks like faithfulness in relationships, especially marriage (commandment 7). It looks like walking and talking with honesty (commandments 8-9), and it looks like living with a grace-driven measure of contentment (commandment 10). Of course, the rest of Scripture fleshes these things out and demonstrates how they look situationally. But these ten commandments serves as a beautiful summary of God’s moral law. 
Do you want to be free? Build the right fences. Know these commandments, and rest in their gracious Giver, who has redeemed us out of darkness and brought us into his marvelous light. 
Resources for Studying the 10 Commandments
  • The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 41-81
  • The Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 92-115
  • New City Catechism (available in App format), Questions 8-12