“Then God spoke all these words: 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 NRSV, immediately before the listing of the ten commandments

As we start a new year, our thoughts often turn to what we hope to accomplish in the year ahead. Even if we don’t end up making (or keeping!) a resolution, thoughts of the new year often include specific actions we want to take to improve our spiritual life. As Christians, we can look to the ten commandments for a list of the behaviors which help us reach spiritual health.

That said, while paying attention to the behaviors which lead to spiritual health (the ten commandments listed in Exodus 20: 3 – 17), let’s be sure to notice that before listing those behavioral commandments, God first stated the relational context of the commandments. In the two first verses, He places the commandments within the context of His long-standing love of and relationship with His people stating that He has been with them, protected them and cared for them for generations. He reminds them that He freed them (and frees us) from slavery – whether literal slavery to the Egyptians or our current slavery to our own worst habits, assumptions, and attitudes – our “sin”. This loving relationship (and not a simple legalism) is the reason for and the context of the specific commandments. As we pursue our goal of spiritual health, we too need to approach our faith with the priority on our relationship with God and His love.

Where are we in our relationship with God – our ability to sit with Him, to bring everything to Him and receive His love, His grace and His care? The state of this relationship matters tremendously because that relationship is the ground from which all the behavioral fruits we seek will grow.