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.” —Exodus 20:1–2
The Preamble of the United States Constitution discloses the aim the founders had in writing it:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
I’d venture those words are quickly recognized by a high percentage of American Christians. Sadly, I’d also venture that as high a percentage of evangelical Christians would not recognize the preamble to the Ten Commandments if they were rehearsed. How many sermon or teaching series through the ten commandments pick up with the first commandment ignoring the preamble? How many displays of the Ten Commandments, be they in churches, homes, or public property include it?
Placarding the Ten Commandments on public property is a bit like removing the preamble of the U.S. Constitution and posting it on state property in Mexico. Certainly, the law discloses the law of God that all mankind finds itself under, but that is not the intended audience in Exodus. Posting the law on public property in a pluralistic sentence is odd for two reasons: 1. It is the posting of their condemnation 2. It is a foreign document.
The law, as given in Exodus, with all its attached promises and threats, is given to His people, the redeemed. The law, as given here, does not speak to their bondage, but to their freedom. This is what is lost when we lose the preamble—the magnitude of the freedom the redeemed have in Christ (Romans 8:3–4). We are free from the law (it’s condemnation), and we are free unto the law (true God-glorifying obedience).
For those outside of Christ, the law is a chain of condemnation, but, as Thomas Watson said, for those in Christ, the law is a chain of pearls for our adornment. It is used by Him to conform us to the holy image of our beautiful God not so that He will be our God, but because He is our God.
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. —Leviticus 19:2 (ESV)
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. —Matthew 5:48 (ESV)