Ten words that lead to life

An interview with Jen Wilkin about "Ten Words to Live By"

June 3, 2021

Western culture would say abundant life is a one free from the rules and commands that weigh us down and hold us back. Unlike King David, our culture sees boundary lines, whether religious or not, as oppressive. Naturally, the Ten Commandments have never been more suspect than they are now, even among the people of God.

But Jen Wilkin, in her new book, Ten Words to Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands, has called the church to “an exercise in remembrance” that the law of God is life-giving and beautiful. In the face of the misunderstandings of our culture, Wilkin argues that these Ten Words of God, when understood right, will “steady and strengthen us on the narrow path that leads us home.” She recently answered some of our questions about this latest word. 

In your new book, Ten Words to Live By, you write about the Ten Commandments recorded in the book of Exodus, with which many Christians are familiar. What prompted you to write a book on this topic?

I find that we’re actually only familiar with them in passing. Few of us are able to recall all 10 off the top of our heads, and even fewer could recall them in order. If we do remember them, we tend to view them as straightforward and simplistic. I know I certainly did for a very long time. I wrote the book to help deepen our understanding of what they ask of us, what they offer us, and how they relate to the grace we receive through Christ.

While many, especially non-Christians, may view the Ten Commandments as a set of rigid and restrictive rules, you argue that the law of God is “life-giving” and “beautiful.” Can you explain why these “Ten Words” are life-giving and not life-depriving? 

James speaks of “the law that gives freedom.” The psalmist speaks of the law as his delight. Ezekiel 20:11 says, “I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live.” Since Eden, humans have responded to boundaries as restrictive, as a violation of our will. But laws exist for a reason: they help us to live in community. God’s laws show us how to live in right relationship with him and one another by establishing good boundaries for our flourishing.

Picking up on that, how do God’s laws help us live in community, and why is that important for the church to remember?

The church is the family of God. All healthy families have household rules to help them live at peace with one another and ensure all are committed to the flourishing of the home: speak kindly to each other, apologize quickly and often, don’t hit or bite your siblings, pick up your belongings, etc. God’s laws are the household rules that help us care for each other and honor him as we should. The “one anothers” of the New Testament are grace-driven expressions of these laws.

Christians may assume that since the Ten Commandments were given to the people of God in the Old Testament, we can disregard them today. How would you counsel Christians today to view the Ten Commandments?

God’s law is a reflection of his unchanging character. While our relationship to the law changes once we are in Christ, our duty to it remains. Whereas before we were condemned by it, now we are sanctified by it. Whereas before we offered only a grudging obedience out of fear or a hope to earn God’s favor, now we offer a joyful obedience out of gratitude for already having his favor. The law was obeyed perfectly by Christ, and those who wish to be conformed to his image will eagerly seek to obey it.

What are some ways we continue to violate these ancient commands still today? 

Perhaps the most pervasive example can be seen in social media usage. The Third Word commands us not to defame the name of the Lord. The Ninth Word commands us not to defame the name of our neighbor. It is easier to defame an “invisible” person than one standing right next to us. We say hurtful things about others in their absence that we would never say to their faces. Social media makes everyone invisible. We unleash our vitriol on one another with no sense that an actual person is the recipient of our attack. But every time we defame someone made in the image of God, we defame their Maker. All sin is first and foremost against God. It may be possible to break the Third Word without breaking the Ninth, but it is impossible to break the Ninth without also breaking the Third.

For lawbreakers like us, what does it mean that Jesus Christ fulfilled the law? What kind of hope does that offer for Christians?

He obeyed it perfectly on our behalf to redeem us. We are saved by his good works! But he also obeyed it perfectly as our example. We are sanctified by following in his footsteps!

For those of us who continue to “stumble and falter along the way,” in light of the person and work of Jesus, what sort of encouragement and strength can we draw from these Ten Words now carved on our hearts?

The Ten Words are for our sanctification, but while our sanctification is certain, it is not sudden. We will spend our lives pressing on toward the mark, and often missing it. For the unbeliever, there is only increased wrath for every failure. For the children of God, there is grace without measure. I can’t think of better “good news” than that — to be given a lamp for our feet along life’s dark path, and to be given a healing balm for when we stumble and fall. We will indeed stumble, but we will stand again and resume the race. God is faithful to complete what he begins!

Photo Attribution:


Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24