There are many different denominations of Protestantism, and it is impossible to generalise in a way that covers them all. However, this diversity arose historically from fewer sources, the various teachings of which can be summarized, in general terms.
Lutherans, Reformed and Anglicans, and Anabaptists all taught, and their descendents still predominantly teach that, the Ten Commandments have both an explicitly negative content, and an implied positive content.
Besides those things that ought not be done, there are things which ought not be left undone. So that, besides not transgressing the prohibitions, a faithful abiding by the commands of God includes keeping the obligations of love.
The ethic contained in the Ten Commandments and indeed in all of Scripture is, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself", and, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Lutherans, especially, influentially theorized that there is an antithesis between these two sides of the word of God, the positive and the negative.
Love and gratitude is a guide to those under the Gospel, and the prohibitions are for unbelievers and profane people. This antithesis between Gospel and Law runs through every ethical command, according to Lutheran understanding.
The Anabaptists have held that the commandments of God are the content of the covenant established through Christ: faith is faithfulness, and thus, belief is essentially the same thing as obedience.
However, they emphasize the union of the believer with Christ - so that the will and power to perform the commandments does not arise from the commandment itself, but from the gift of the Holy Spirit. Apart from this grace, the commandment is only productive of condemnation, according to this family of doctrine.
Modern Evangelicalism, under the influence of dispensationalism, commonly denies that the commandments have any abiding validity as a requirement binding upon Christians; however, they contain principles which are beneficial to the believer.
Dispensationalism is particularly emphatic about the dangers of legalism, and thus, in a distinctive way de-emphasises the teaching of the law (see antinomianism). Somewhat analogously, Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement typically emphasize the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the freedom of the Christian from outward commandments, sometimes in antithesis to the letter of the Law.
Quakers and pietism have historically set themselves against the Law as a form of commandment binding on Christians, and have emphasized the inner guidance and liberty of the believer, so that the law is fulfilled not merely by avoiding what the Law prohibits, but by carrying out what the Spirit of God urges upon their conscience.
For those Christians who believe that the Ten Commandments continue to be binding for Christians, their negative and positive content can be summarized as follows:
Preface: vs. 1-2
Implies the obligation to keep all of the commandments of God, in gratitude because of the abundance of his mercy and forbids ingratitude to God and denial that he is our God.
1. vs. 3.
Enjoins that God must be known and acknowledged to be the only true God, and our God; and, to worship him and to make him known as he has been made known to us
Forbids not worshiping and glorifying the true God as God, and as our God; and forbids giving worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone
2. vs. 4-6
Requires receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed; and zeal in resisting those who would corrupt worship; because of God's ownership of us, and interest in our salvation.
Prohibits the worshiping of God by images, or by confusion of any creature with God, or any other way not appointed in his Word.
3. vs. 7
Enjoins a holy and a reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.
Forbids all abuse of anything by which God makes himself known. Some Protestants, especially in the tradition of pacifism, read this Commandment as forbidding any and all oaths, including judicial oaths and oaths of allegiance to a government, noting that human weakness cannot foretell whether such oaths will in fact be vain.
4. vs. 8-11
Requires setting apart to God such set times as are appointed in his Word. Many Protestants are increasingly concerned that the values of the marketplace do not dominate entirely, and deprive people of leisure and energy needed for worship, for the creation of civilised culture. The setting of time apart from and free from the demands of commerce is one of the foundations of a decent human society. See Sabbath.
Forbids the omission, or careless performance, of the religious duties, using the day for idleness, or for doing that which is in itself sinful; and prohibits requiring of others any such omission, or transgression, on the designated day.
5. vs. 12
The only commandment with explicitly positive content, rather than a prohibition; it connects all of the temporal blessings of God, with reverence for and obedience to authority, and especially for father and mother.
Forbids doing anything against, or failing to give, the honor and duty which belongs to anyone, whether because they possess authority or because they are subject to authority.
6. vs. 13
Requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.Forbids taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor, unjustly; and, anything that tends toward depriving life.
7. vs. 14
Enjoins protection of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.
Forbids all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.
8. vs. 15
Requires a defense of all lawful things that further the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others
Prohibits whatever deprives our neighbor, or ourselves, of lawfully gained wealth or outward estate.
9. vs. 16
Requires the maintaining and promoting of truth between people, and of our neighbor’s good name and our own, especially in witness-bearing.
Forbids whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbor’s, good name.
10. vs. 17
Enjoins contentment with our own condition, and a charitable attitude toward our neighbor and all that is his, being thankful for his sake that he has whatever is beneficial to him, as we are for those things that benefit us. Forbids discontent or envy, prohibits any grief over the betterment of our neighbor's estate, and all inordinate desires to