Lord’s Day 34
Q. 92. What is the law of God?
A. God spake all these words, Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, saying: I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 2. Thou shalt not….
Q. 93. How are these commandments divided?
A. Into two tables: the first of which teaches us how we must behave towards God; the second, what duties we owe to our neighbor.
Q. 94. What doth God enjoin in the first commandment?
A. That I, as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, invocation of saints, or any other creatures; and learn rightly to know the only true God; trust in Him alone, with humility and patience submit to Him; expect all good things from Him only; love, fear, and glorify Him with my whole heart; so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to His will.
Q. 95. What is idolatry?
A. Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God who has manifested Himself in His Word, to contrive or have any other object in which men place their trust.
Why the Law
“…For ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).
If this is true, then why, in Reformed churches, do we insist on regularly reading and preaching through the Ten Commandments, which is God’s law?
One reason is that the law is intended by God as a restraint against wickedness in society. When the law is upheld, evil doers are punished (Rom. 13:3, 4). The alternative is lawlessness. Another reason, already treated by the Catechism in Lord’s Day 2, is to show us our depravity and our need of Jesus Christ. But, besides these, there is a “third use” of the law, which is to show us what is pleasing to God.
When Paul says in Romans that we are “not under the law, but under grace” and that we have been “delivered from the law” (Rom. 6:14; 7:6), he means that Christ has taken the curse and penalty of the law in our place, and obtained for us the favor of God. This, however, does not mean that we are no longer under the requirements of the law. The very idea of abolishing the law was repugnant to Jesus (Matt. 5:17). Rather than abolishing the requirements of the law, Jesus teaches that God requires much more than outward obedience, that what is required is “heart obedience” that arises out of love and gratitude to God. In His teaching Jesus upholds all the requirements of the law (Mark 10:19), as does Paul in his epistles (Rom. 13:8-10; I Tim. 1:8-11), where he also calls the law “righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12).
Every true believer says with David, “O how love I thy law! It is my mediation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). The law is not a list of pleasures that God keeps from us, but the law itself is our greatest delight. The reasons for our love are, first, that the law shows us something of the perfection of God Himself; it is a reflection of His righteous character. Because we love God, we love to be like God, and so we love His law. Another reason that we love the law is that God has written it on our hearts. In our natural, sinful state we hate God and His law and so delight in disobedience (Rom. 1:32); but as a result of the new life of Christ in us, we “delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22).
The law should never be separated from the gospel but is essential for understanding the gospel, for it shows us 1) God and His holiness; 2) our sin and need of Christ; 3) how to live in thankfulness for the gospel; and 4) what the Spirit makes us to be as new creatures. We should never think that we obey the law in order to merit God’s favor. Rather, we obey the commandments out of gratitude to God for our salvation. Remember, God gave the law to Israel on Mt. Sinai after He had redeemed them from the bondage of Egypt. Their obedience was the response to redemption, not the reason for redemption.
First Things First
The first commandment is foundational to the rest of the commandments and is the most important of them all. Four things show this. First, this commandment teaches us about God, which is where everything begins. God is the origin of all things in creation, and the fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom (Ps. 111:10). Second, in identifying Jehovah as the only God, this commandment also gives Him the right to be the only Lawgiver, the One who ultimately determines what is right and wrong. Third, in its requirement, this commandment is really a summary of all that God requires in the law, to worship and love Him exclusively and wholeheartedly. Fourth, the sin which this commandment forbids, idolatry, is, essentially, the root of all other sin. Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted to be like God. The Bible says that “covetousness is idolatry” (Col. 3:5), because as soon as we desire what God forbids, we are already, in effect, denouncing the true God.
We must, therefore, understand this commandment correctly and always keep it before our minds.
Idolatry is the substitution of something or someone in the place of the true God. Idolatry takes many forms, and the human heart is an “idol-factory,” always busy devising a variety of idols as objects of affection or trust. In Old Testament times, and still in many parts of the world today, idolatry came to expression in the invention of a deity, (or a number of deities), and the representation of it with a statue before which one would worship. Such a god is created and, therefore, limited by the mind of man. Often, he is crafted to suit the moral and material desires of man. Scripture points to the folly, indeed lunacy, of such idolatry, when it points out that from one tree a god is crafted who is worshiped, while the rest of the tree is then used for firewood and food preparation (Is. 44:10-17). How can such a god really be a deity?
A false god, though, can be created in other ways than by constructing a statue. Idolatry is the invention of a god in the mind, and so there is also mental idolatry. Atheism and materialism, which say that there is no personal god, and that the only reality is this material world, are such mental idols. The Bible says that this is the epitome of folly: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Ps. 14:1). Folly is to ignore reality to one’s own harm. Other mental idols include all forms of human philosophy which attempt to explain this world apart from the God of Scripture (for example, pantheism and humanism).
Two other prevalent forms of idolatry in our day are worldliness and modernism. Worldliness sets earthly pleasure, gain, fame, education, or anything else related to this life as the goal and purpose of one’s existence. Modernism sets man and his knowledge and discovery above Scripture, and judges that the Bible is full of primitive ideas that we have now outgrown.
All heretical teaching, which formulates a doctrine that is contrary to the teaching of the Bible, is also idolatry. An example of this is the teaching that God loves everyone so much that there is no such thing as hell. Such teaching denies the reality of the justice of God as well as much of the Bible’s teaching, and in the end makes the gospel and the death of Christ unnecessary. This is just a small example, but it shows that man today is no different from the ancient Egyptians or Greeks who invented gods after their imagination. A god who is always and only loving suits the lifestyle and desires of the modern man.
Idolatry is not only to have a god “instead of” the one true God, but is also to have an object or idea “alongside of” the true God. Even when a man attempts to serve both God and someone or something else, he is guilty of idolatry. This commandment teaches us that Christianity and the worship of Jehovah is an “either-or,” not a “both-and,” religion. Jesus makes this clear when He says, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). Jehovah God, because He is the only God, demands exclusive devotion. He has made us, we are His creatures, and by virtue of this He has the right to demand all rights to worship. For believers, this is doubly true, for not only has He made us, but He has also redeemed us and made us His own.
The most common form of idolatry is trust in something created, rather than in the Creator. Money, medicine, insurance, education, alcohol, entertainment, sports, or even my own wits, may all be gods in which I put my trust, when I ought to be depending on Jehovah. Though these are not true deities, each of them has the power to enslave our hearts, and steal our allegiance from God.
Is not every one of us guilty of idolatry?
The requirement of this commandment is the exclusive worship of the true God, and the Catechism uses eight different verbs to help us understand this activity of worship. Worship is not limited to what you do in a church service but involves your whole life, and so each of these verbs is worthy of our consideration and meditation.
First, to worship God is to know him, to have a right and proper knowledge of him. This knowledge must come from the Bible. Only from the Scriptures can we know God. God is not what we feel or think He might be. He is not some abstract unknown idea. He is not to be discovered by science or reason. To know God is to know Him as He has revealed Himself in the Word and by His Son (John 17:3).
Second, to worship God is to trust in Him. Perhaps this is the real test of whether one worships the true God. From day to day, are we trusting in the Lord, or leaning on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6)? What gives us security as we go through life? Is it ourselves, our friends, our money, our job, our family, our education, our insurance policies, and so many other things? God is almighty, faithful, true, and trustworthy. He keeps His promises. He will never fail His people.
Third, to worship God is to submit to Him with humility and patience. This means not only that we must obey Him, but especially that we submit to the providence of God in our lives. Life can be very difficult, and God’s people can be put through some very severe trials—persecution, grief, sickness, poverty, anxiety, and more. These are real experiences. But God sends them. With humility, we recognize we do not deserve better. With patience, we trust that God knows what is best for us.
Fourth, to worship God is to expect all good things from God only. On what do you pin your hopes? In what do you find joy and solace in life? “Rejoice in the Lord, alway: and again I say rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Our God is the God of goodness and blessing, the fountain of life. We must look to Him, and not to any creature, for true happiness both for this life and the next.
Fifth, to worship God is to love Him. Our love for God should be total—“with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” Every ounce of your strength, and every part of your being, must be used to love God. This love should be willing, sacrificial, dedicated, and single. We must be consumed, intoxicated, with God.
Sixth, to worship God is to fear Him. To fear the Lord is to have a constant consciousness of who He is, in all His heavenly majesty, and to know who you are before Him. John Calvin said that this is all we really need to know: God and ourselves. The one who fears the Lord is directed in every action, thought, and word by the awareness of God. He lives before the Lord.
Seventh, to worship God is to glorify Him. To glorify God is to put Him first, and to see that He gets the recognition, in everything we do. We are not here for ourselves, but God made us for Himself. How easily we forget this and live for our own reputation or pleasure. But, “Of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
And eighth, to worship God is to obey Him, “to renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit the least thing contrary to his will.” The least thing—if we truly worship God, we will be concerned to obey Him meticulously.
That there is only one God also means that there is only one Savior. This commandment brings us to Jesus Christ, and demands that we put our faith and trust in Him alone for salvation.
Scripture tells us that God is jealous of His worship: “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Is. 42:8). And yet, at the same time, the Bible says of Jesus in Hebrews 1:6, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” If we follow simple logic, our conclusion must be, “Christ is worthy of worship because He is God.”
And, it is in that light that we must read this first commandment. To worship God is to believe in Him. Jesus says, “Ye believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Believing in Jesus Christ, we worship the true God. We believe in Jesus for salvation from sin. We trust in Him alone, and none else for our forgiveness and righteousness. As we do this, we worship God alone, and we put aside all idolatry.
The Catechism makes this connection when it says that in keeping the first commandment we “renounce and forsake all creatures” and that each of us does this “as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul.” Believing on Jesus Christ means fleeing all idolatry, not trusting any other creature, and placing all our confidence in Jehovah God as He has revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Do you do that? Do you believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation? Are you trusting yourself or something else other than Christ for your acceptance with God? God says, “Worship me alone!” Jesus says, “Believe on me, as the only way to the Father.”
May the Lord give us this true faith!
Questions for Discussion
1. What does Scripture mean when it says that we are “not under law” but “under grace?”
2. What are the three main uses of the law?
3. Is the “law/gospel” distinction biblical? How could it be wrongly applied? How does the law fit with, and not contradict, the gospel?
4. What are the two main parts/divisions of the Ten Commandments? How are they related? Is one part more important than the other?
5. Does the law of the Ten Commandments cover all human behavior? Where do traffic laws and eating habits fit into the law? How about patience and forgiveness?
6. What is idolatry? Is having a statue that one worships the only form of idolatry?
7. What does it mean to serve both God and mammon? Why is this impossible?
8. How is idolatry connected to the rest of the commandments? Choose two other commandments and show that their forbidden sins have roots in idolatry.
9. What is the most common form of idolatry? Are you guilty of this sin?
10. The Catechism uses eight verbs to describe worship. How have these helped you to examine your heart for idolatry?
11. What is the connection between the first commandment and Jesus’ words in John 14:6? Jews and Muslims are monotheists—do they keep this commandment, or is their god an idol?