Remembering Who You Are: Ten Commandments, Signed Commitments and Dishonesty

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Would reminding people of the Ten Commandments keep people honest?  Would reminding people of commitments made keep people honest?  

Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational) came to the conclusion that both these practices kept people honest.  With students he conducted an experiment.  A simple test.  Group 1 had no possibility of cheating. Group 2 was asked to remember 10 books they read in high school and then took the test on which they could cheat if they choose.   Group 3 was asked to remember as many of the Ten Commandments as they could and then took the test on which they could cheat if they choose.  Group 2 cheated a little bit.  Group 3 did not cheat at all.  In another test, Group 3 was asked to sign a statement promising to be faithful to the honour code of the university.  They also did not cheat.  Reminders of truths we already know keep us faithful to our values, our moral commitments.

This is interesting.  Could it be that to keep us honest, faithful to the call of the gospel we need to be “remember who we are”?

Liturgies can be understood as reminders of who we are.  When we gather on Sunday to worship, we say words of confession, hear the good news in assurance, are called to holy living often using the Ten Commandments or Paul’s calls to put on the new nature.  There are sacraments repeated regularly, and blessing given weekly.  Each reminds us of who we are as the people of God redeemed by the power of God in Jesus called to seek first the Kingdom.  (See James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom.)

There are other ways we remember.  At the beginning of a meeting, we often have a time of devotions; we read Scripture and pray.  Perhaps we read a devotional.   In this beginning moment we remind ourselves of who we are. 

A mother had a liturgy every time her teenage children would leave the house for an evening out with friends and later as they left for college.  As they left the door she would simply say “remember who you are.”  In the face of the complexity internal desire and external pressure from peers and culture, remembering who you are as a citizen of the Kingdom of Christ is vital as we make decisions. 

Dan Ariely observed that there is a general willingness for us to cheat a little bit.  This should not be surprising for us.   The deceptiveness of the human heart and our ways to fudge truth to our advantage is well known.  In fact, advertisements and common proverbs often tell us it is OK. They tell us that a little cheating is not so bad because everyone does it.  They remind to serve ourselves first.  But reminders of moral commitments put a check on our behavior.  We remember that “seeking first the kingdom” is not about what others are doing or serving ourselves.  We remember that sin needs repentance and forgiveness however small the dishonesty.  Integrity (wholeness) is not just about the big stuff, but the little stuff.  We remember who we are and remembering keeps us honest.

We need reminders.  It helps us keep honest in our walk with God.  

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It's interesting that signing a document had an impact on people's behavior. In our day and age, documents are disparaged as "just a piece of paper." But there's something about writing your signature on something that is a physical manifestation of covenantal commitment. It reminds me of God himself writing the words of the commandments on the tablets of stone, later to write them on the hearts of his people by his Spirit.