20 Quotes from Jen Wilkin on the Ten Commandments

The following quotes caught my attention as I read Jen Wilkin’s insightful new book Ten Words to Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands (Crossway, 2021). For a limited time, it is on sale for only $7.49 through the TGCW21 bookstore.

The first word [she uses this synonymously with “commandment”] serves as the umbrella statement for the other nine. If we obeyed the first word, we would automatically obey the others. (28)

The second word portrays idol worship as progressive: do not make, do not bow down, do not serve. The second word portrays idol worship as contagious, causing trouble for generation after generation. The second word portrays God as zealous for his glory: deeply committed to being worshiped as he deserves. His jealousy is right and righteous because it is inflamed by the denial of what is rightly his. (34)

Any time we take the attributes of the gods the world around us worships and apply them to God to make him more palatable and less threatening, more accommodating and less thunderous, we produce a graven image. We whittle down his transcendence, we paint over his sovereignty, we chisel away his omnipotence until he is a pet-like version of the terrible pagan god we would never be so foolish as to bow down to. (39)

To misuse the name of the Lord—to take his name in vain—is to misrepresent the character of God. . . . Doing so misuses his reputation to suit our own ends, speaks of or to him without accuracy or due respect, and miscredits him for self-serving actions done in his name. To misuse the name of God is to commit an act of defamation against Yahweh himself. (49–50)

More than the deliberate cessation of work for the purpose of decompressing, Sabbath is the deliberate cessation of any activity that might reinforce my belief in my own self-sufficiency. In contrast to cultural ideas of rest marked by self-care, Sabbath rest is marked by self-denial. (65)

There is no such thing as a noncommunal sin, and there is no such thing as a noncommunal obedience. . . . Personal sin always results in collateral damage. . . . Personal obedience always results in collateral benefit. (68)

We remember the letter of the Sabbath command by resting from labor. We remember the heart of the Sabbath command by laboring for the rest of others. (70)

The fifth word is the hinge point in the Decalogue at which the discussion of showing honoring moves from God (1–4) to human authorities (5) to one another (6–10). . . . The Ten Commandments deal with matters of heavenly submission, earthly submission, and mutual submission—in that order. (76, 77)

Because the church is the family of God, we need be at no loss for fathers and mothers to honor. Nor need we be at a loss for spiritual orphans to parent. If your family of origin was a painful one, the family of God can be a haven and a recompense. If your family of origin was a happy one, how much more so the family of God? (83)

It is not just the pace that changes with the sixth word, but the focus. Having given five exhortations to honor God and elders, the Ten Words now turn their attention to the business of honoring one another as fellow image bearers. We progress from discussion of how we relate to our heavenly Parent, to our earthly parents (human authorities), to our brothers and sisters (our neighbors). Essentially, the last five words will speak to the proper treatment of siblings. (89–90)

Contempt may win followers, but it is not pastoral. It masquerades as righteous anger, but it is, in fact, self-serving and self-elevating. It may make a point, but it always has a victim. (96)

Lust itself is an act of contempt, reducing someone to a source of sexual gratification and nothing more. If the sixth command prohibited regarding our neighbor as expendable, the seventh prohibits regarding our neighbor as consumable. (102)

Satan has succeeded in convincing believers that lust is just something to be managed instead of something to be slain. (105)

Our offending eyes and hands and feet and ears and lips and tongues and noses serve at the pleasure of our hearts. What our hearts delight to do, our members rush to accomplish. (106)

Delight yourself in lawlessness, and your disordered desires will govern you. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you new desires. (109)

There are two ways of living: as a taker or as a giver. When it comes to matters of wealth, do you perceive yourself as a terminus or a distribution point? If a terminus, you will labor without rest to acquire that which you cannot keep. If a distribution point, you will labor to give away that which was never truly yours to begin with. When we hear others praying for their daily bread, does it occur to us that we might be the means by which that bread is supplied? (120)

While flattery, silence, and misattribution are the subtle pickpockets of reputation, reviling stands in the lobby of First Reputation Bank spraying bullets and sacking the vault. In the modern church, perhaps nothing attests more to our current levels of biblical illiteracy than our casual, thoughtless, and frequent commission of the sin of reviling. (128)

When the good name of our neighbor is run through the mud, the silence of his friends can be as brutalizing as the reviling of his enemies. We must not use the command to be slow to speak as an excuse for never speaking (James 1:19). God help us if we claim to be wise in our silence, when in fact we are masking cowardice. . . . There are times when we are unsure whether to speak or remain silent. But if we know our words are needed and yet withhold them, we are as guilty of bearing false witness as the reviler who began the lie. . . . Who trades in sinful silence? Satan. He likes nothing better than the silence of those who know they should speak. When we silence truth-tellers, or remain silent ourselves when called to speak courageously, we conform to Satan’s image instead of to the image of Christ. When false witnesses speak  against our neighbor, we must speak up to bear true witness on their behalf. (131, 132–33)

Idol-making, Sabbath-breaking, dishonoring authority, murder, theft, adultery, and slander can all be identified by an onlooker, but not so covetousness. Covetousness hides in the heart. The Ten Words progress from “Don’t do it” to “Don’t say it” to “Don’t even think about it.” (139–40)

The Bible provides us a lengthy cautionary tale about comparison to our neighbor. We might title it “Keeping Up with the Canaanites.” It shows us that Israel as a whole soon forgot the tenth word in a rush to compare with her neighbors. In a scene that reads like a middle schooler asking for the latest pair of shoes, Israel asks God to give her a king like the other nations. God decides to teach his people contentment the hard way, by giving them what they want. (144)

The great loss of a covetous life is that it keeps love of self as our primary concern. . . . What is more like Satan than to want what belongs to another? (147)

20 Quotes from a New Book on the Gospel and Social Justice

The following quotes caught my attention as I read Thaddeus Williams’s outstanding new book, Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Zondervan, 2020).

Social justice is not optional for the Christian. (1)

We can’t separate the Bible’s commands to do justice from its commands to be discerning. The oppressed deserve more than our good intentions. We must love them not merely with our hearts and hands but with our heads too. (3–4)

Look deep enough underneath any horizontal human-against-human injustice and you will always find a vertical human-against-God injustice, a refusal to give the Creator the worship only the Creator is due. All injustice is a violation of the first commandment. (18)

The doctrine of human depravity swings like a wrecking ball, leveling any ideology that says, “My gender group, my ethnic group, my economic group makes me good, and their group is evil.” (46)

In Christ, ethnic enemies become family, oppressed and oppressors become brothers and sisters, and privileged and underprivileged become equally loved siblings under the same all-loving Father. (48)

Propaganda is the uranium that powers tribalism and the social meltdown it incurs. . . . We find three common marks. One, propaganda offers a highly edited history that paints the most damning picture it can of a given people group. Two, it encourages us to treat individual neighbors as exemplars of their damnable group. Three, it gives us a way to blame all of life’s troubles on that damnable group and its members. (54)

We must see Social Justice B for what it is. It . . . is a theodicy. It attempts to explain the world’s evil and suffering by making group identities the primary categories through which we interpret all pain in the universe. No matter how much it waves the banners of “justice,” “equality,” and “liberation,” do we really think such a grand experiment in collectivist group blaming will end well? If the body count of the last century has taught us anything, it is that ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. Telling damnable stories about entire people groups, seeing individuals as exemplars of their groups, and blaming the hardness of life on them are really bad ideas. They should be given no foothold in the church of Jesus Christ. (60)

When Jesus commanded his listeners to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, he was talking to real people with real enemies and real oppressors. The kingdoms of the world play the self-defeating game of tribalizing, retaliation, and escalation, running up body counts in the name of “justice.” The kingdom Jesus invites us into does not play by those rules. (65)

When we automatically assume damning explanations for unequal outcomes, we not only lock ourselves in a prison of never-ending rage but also dull our senses to the point that we will be useless for the sacred task of recognizing and resisting the real racism, real sexism, and other real vicious isms around us. (84)

If we play by the all-or-nothing rules of today’s political tribalism, many of us will hastily sweep such evidence under the rug, believing that discrimination is a thing of the past and that anyone who says otherwise is a brainwashed leftist. As Christians, we must do better. Remember, the God who commands us to seek justice is the same God who commands us to “test everything.” If our political allegiances encourage us to swiftly write off all claims of discrimination rather than to test them, then we will fail to bring the lordship of Christ to bear in many of the world’s most aching places. (96)

Concepts like whiteness, white privilege, white fragility, and the new definition of racism have cornered the market in education, diversity training, and the lion’s share of recent Christian literature on race. But we must be careful not to confuse preaching such concepts with standing up for minority voices. They are often not the same thing. (98)

When it comes to salvation, it is not white or black or brown or any other color that matters, except red. It is the blood of Jesus and the blood of Jesus alone that sinners from every skin tone find justification in the eyes of God, and true equality in his kingdom, both here and for eternity. (107)

If we make social justice our first thing, we will lose not only the real first thing—the gospel—we will lose social justice too. . . . Justice is not the first thing. The gospel is. But that does not make justice optional to the Christian life. . . . [W]hen the gospel is not our first thing, social justice becomes something else entirely. (111, 112)

[S]imply picture the social justice activist on the social media wall. How might posting our daily outrage online become a misguided quest for justification? Elizabeth Nolan Brown cites psychological research that the kind of moral outrage we typically classify as altruistic “is often a function of self-interest, wielded to assuage feelings of personal culpability for societal harms or reinforce (to the self and others) one’s own status as a Very Good Person.” This constant imputation of guilt to others—they are the bigots, they are the phobics, they are the fascists—offers a subjective sense of something that may feel close to and yet is infinitely far from what Christ offers us in the gospel. (Note well, this false means of declaring ourselves “not guilty” is not just a problem for Social Justice B. We may find it among Christians on the right too. Rather than our justification coming from Christ, and Christ alone, we seek our own “not guilty” verdict by transferring all guilt to the left. With the alt-right, which is antigospel to its rotten core, justification takes on nationalistic and racist overtones, in which all evil can be imputed to those with more melanin.) (115)

Today we virtue-signal, we hashtag our solidarity, and we self-censor lest we utter blasphemy. This is what penance looks like in the 21st century. We have become a sort of collective Martin Luther in our quest to be very good people. Oh, how I pray that we would experience Luther’s sweet rebirth, walk through “open doors into paradise,” realize the futility of trying to be good people, and trust Jesus as all the goodness we will ever need. We can never do enough justice to earn the not guilty sentence. Jesus can and did. Social Justice B obscures that great news. (116)

Instead of saying that social justice is the gospel or in the gospel, it is more helpful to say social justice is from the gospel. (117)

The extent to which we shadowbox our ideological projections of the problem is the extent to which we trivialize the victims of real sexism and racism. By diverting our finite injustice-fighting energies in every direction all at once, “Tribes thinking” unintentionally marginalizes the already marginalized. Calling most everything racism hurts the victims of actual racism. Calling most everything sexism hurts the victims of actual sexism, and so on. (130)

The antidote to oppressive pseudoscience and racist theology is better science, better biblical interpretation, and more logic and evidence. The more truth we find, the less dark corners racist ideologies have in which to hide. The way to avoid repeating the sins of the past is by letting truth shine forth from whatever source we find it. It is not by making truth a matter of group identity. (153)

[T]he more we start weighing ideas on the melanin of the idea-speaker rather than the merit of the idea itself, the more difficult it will become for us to love God with all our minds the way Scripture commands. If we care about the greatest commandment and the pursuit of truth, we must actively resist the identity games of “Tribes thinking.” We must weigh ideas based on Scriptural fidelity over social status. (155)

It is by the blood of Jesus and only by the blood of Jesus that sinners of every color can find true blamelessness from any sin, including the sin of racism. When it comes to justification, it is not black or white, but only red that counts. (185)