The First and Most Broken Commandment

Sinclair Ferguson: John Newton — of “Amazing Grace” fame — once shrewdly wrote to a correspondent that a misunderstanding of the law of God lies at the root of most mistakes in the Christian life. Many of the spiritual masters have agreed with him. That explains why as much as 30–40 percent of the Reformed catechisms are devoted to an exposition of the Ten Commandments. What did they understand that we fail to grasp? Much. And hearing the law through their ears will help us greatly as we consider the first commandment of the Ten: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Sinai’s Background We can sketch a Reformed understanding of the law under six headings: The law is rooted in the covenant-making and covenant-keeping character of Yahweh. It is prefaced by the words “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:2). It is a summons to reflect his moral glory. The law was given in the

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How to Expose the Idols in Your Life

Joe Carter: Few stories in the Old Testament tend to make us feel more superior to the Israelites than the tale of the golden calf in Exodus 32:1–6. How backwards they must have been to think you could make a god out of metal! How silly to think bringing offerings to a statue would bring peace, joy, and happiness! The entire story is almost too absurd to believe. Or at least, until we examine our own idols. Imagine if the Israelites could see the idols we bow down before—cable-news shows on big-screen TVs, grades on a report card, acceptance on social media. They would likely find our idols even more ridiculous than we find their golden calf. The reason idolatry is listed first in the Ten Commandments is because idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. As Tim Keller points out, “We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one.” The secret to change, then, is always to identify

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How to Find Your Rival Gods

Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. Tim Keller: It is impossible to understand your heart or your culture if you do not discern the counterfeit gods that influence them. In Romans 1:21-25 St Paul shows that idolatry is not only one sin among many, but what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him … .They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:21, 25) Paul goes on to make a long list of sins that create misery and evil in the world, but they all find their roots in this soil, the inexorable human drive for “god-making.” In other words, idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. No one grasped this better than Martin Luther.

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The Attraction of Idolatry

Kevin DeYoung: We know as Christians, on an intellectual level, that we have idols—be it family, food, football or whatever. But to see the allure of idolatry can be hard for those of us in the Western world. That’s why I appreciate the points laid out by Doug Stuart in his Exodus commentary (450-54). Stuart suggests nine reasons idolatry was attractive to the Israelites and in the cultures of the Ancient Near East. 1. It was guaranteed. If you do the right incantation, you get the right results. Just say the right words and the gods show up. Who wouldn’t want that? 2. It was selfish. In the ancient world, the gods, though they were powerful, needed humans to feed them. Sacrifices were brought to the gods because they were hungry. Consequently, you can get what you want from the gods simply be bringing them the sacrifices they need 3. It was easy. Sure, you need to show up and

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Are you living blind to one of your greatest enemies?

Brad Bigney, author of, Gospel Treason: Betraying The Gospel With Hidden Idols: What am I talking about?  Idolatry. Yes, idolatry.  So why do we live blind to it so often?  Here’s why: idolatry doesn’t operate out in the open; that’s not how it happens. It’s elusive and often flies under the radar undetected.  And this is compounded by the fact you can struggle to even know your own heart, because the human heart is so deceptive. Jeremiah tells us: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds’ (Jer 17:9–10). Your heart and my heart are deceitful and desperately sick so we can’t trust them.  It’ll lead you into back alleys, one-way streets and dead-ends; all the while promising you life, joy, peace and purpose, but it’s a lie. It always

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Unmasking Idolatry

  Tony Reinke: From Luke Timothy Johnson’s Reading Romans (2001), 48: Paul’s starting point is the analysis of idolatry in Romans 1:18–32. Jews thought of idolatry as a matter of worshiping the wrong gods, and therefore something that only Gentiles could do. Paul thought more deeply on the matter. He saw that idolatry was a disease of human freedom, found as widely among Jews as among Gentiles. Idolatry begins where faith begins, in the perception of human existence as contingent and needy. But whereas faith accepts such contingency as also a gift from a loving creator from whom both existence and worth derive, idolatry refuses a dependent relationship on God. It seeks to establish one’s own existence and worth apart from the claim of God by effort and striving (“works”) of one’s own. Paul will use the striking expression “the flesh” (sarx) and speak of “life according to the flesh” (Romans 7:5, 18, 25; 8:3–7). He means by flesh the

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5 insights into idolatry

  J.D. Greear: There are certain themes in Scripture that tend to beat you over the head with their persistence. Idolatry is one of those. It’s such a prominent theme in Scripture that some have said it is the central theme of the entire Bible.[1] And when it comes to idolatry, we humans are endlessly creative. As John Calvin said, “The heart of man is a perpetual factory of idols.” Give us the chance, and we’ll replace God with any and every object, person, ideal, or dream. Most modern people don’t quite get the Bible’s obsession with idolatry. We think of idolatry as an ancient problem for backwards people who bowed down to statues, not a relevant one for sophisticated folks like us. But we aren’t beyond idolatry. We simply dress it up in different clothes. Acts 19 gives us 5 insights into the reality of idolatry for us today: 1. An idol is anything that promises a life of

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What’s Wrong With Producing a “Worship Experience”?

Jared Wilson: In his invaluable book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani reproduces a conversation between economist James Gilmore (author of The Experience Economy) and Leadership Journal staffers Marshall Shelley (MS), Eric Reed (ER), and Kevin Miller (KM) that gets to the problematic heart of some evangelical churches’ drive toward producing a “worship experience.” I excerpted it in my current book project (on the attractional church model), and thought it might be of interest to blog readers: MS: So how does all this “experience providing” apply to the church? Gilmore: It doesn’t. When the church gets into the business of staging experiences, that quickly becomes idolatry. MS: I’m stunned. So you don’t encourage churches to use your elements of marketable experiences to create attractive experiences for their attenders? Gilmore: No. The organized church should never try to stage a God experience. KM: When people come to church, don’t they expect an experience of some kind? Consumers approach the worship service with

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Nobody Does Not Worship

Tim Keller shares this illustration in his new book, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton; 2013), 28–30: Everybody has got to live for something, but Jesus is arguing that, if he is not that thing, it will fail you. First, it will enslave you. Whatever that thing is, you will tell yourself that you have to have it or there is no tomorrow. That means that if anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anyone blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself. But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected. Let me give you an eloquent contemporary expression of what Jesus is saying. Nobody put this better than the American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace. He got to the top of his profession. He was an award-winning, best-selling postmodern novelist known around

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Moving Evangelicals Beyond Idolatry

R.C. Sproul: The central theme of Romans 1 concerns the general revelation that God makes of himself to the whole world. Paul labors the fact that the revelation of the gospel is to a world that is already under indictment for its universal rejection of God the Father. Christ came into a world that was populated by sinners. The most basic sin found in the world is that of idolatry. Man is a fabricum idolarum. So wrote John Calvin in an attempt to capture the essence of human fallenness. In Germany, a fabrik is a factory. It is a place where products are mass-produced. Calvin’s phrase simply means “maker of idols.” In cultured civilizations, we tend to assume that idolatry is not a problem. We may complain about the use of statues and focus on certain ecclesiastical settings but where they are absent, we feel relieved from concern about primitive forms of idolatry. In a broader sense, however, any distortion from the true

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Beware the Peril that Lurks in Success

By John Bloom: It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. (2 Samuel 11:2) We are never more vulnerable to sin than when we are successful, admired by others, and prosperous, as King David tragically discovered. Imagine him reflecting on his adultery a year later. It was spring again. David once had loved warm, fragrant spring afternoons on the palace roof. But this year the scent of almond blossoms smelled like deep regret. David had no desire to look toward Uriah’s empty house. If only he had not looked that way a year ago. The memory throbbed with pain. His conscience had warned him to stop watching Bathsheba. But in his desire-induced inertia it had felt like he couldn’t pull himself away. What pathetic self-deception! Couldn’t pull himself away. He would never have tolerated

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Look Away from Self to Jesus

Octavius Winslow: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”      Jeremiah 2:13 GOD speaks of it as involving two evils-the evil of forsaking Him, and the evil of substituting a false object of happiness for Him. Dear reader, the true painfulness of this subject consists not in the sorrow which your heart may have felt in seeing your cisterns broken. Ah no! the true agony should be, that you have, in your wanderings and creature idolatry, sinned, deeply sinned, against the Lord your God. This, and not your loss, ought to lay you low before Him. This, and not your broken scheme of earthly happiness, ought to fill you with the bitterness of sorrow, and clothe you with the drapery of woe.  Oh! to have turned your back upon such a God, upon such a Father, upon such

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That Idol That You Love, It Doesn’t Love You Back

From Justin Buzzard: Everyone has to live for something and if that something isn’t the one true God, it will be a false God–an idol. An idol is anything more important to you than God. Therefore, you can turn even very good things into idols. You can turn a good thing like family, success, acceptance, money, your plans, etc. into a god thing–into something you worship and place at the center of your life. This is what sin is. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything (even a good thing) more than God. Do you know the idols you’re prone to worship? At our church we talk about 4 root idols that we tend to attach our lives to. CONTROL. You know you have a control idol if your greatest nightmare is uncertainty. APPROVAL. You know you have an approval idol if your greatest nightmare is rejection. COMFORT. You know you have a comfort idol if your greatest nightmare is stress/demands. POWER.

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Christmas as an Alternative Religion

Michael Gerson on Christmas: Christmas has become a kind of alternative religion, offering watered-down versions of profound theological doctrines. Its miracles are found on 34th Street, not in Bethlehem. The visitation of Gabriel has become the visitation of Clarence, assuring us that it is a wonderful life. The modern cult of Christmas offers a domesticated form of transcendence. Naughty or nice instead of good or evil. A jolly old elf rather than an illegitimate child, destined for an early death… I choose to take a more liberal view of the Christmas cult. Its tacky materialism can be unattractive. But the desire for Christmas miracles and visiting angels – for Tiny Tim not to die and for hooves on the rooftop and for George Bailey to be the richest man in town; for just one night of calm and hope – are not things to be lightly dismissed. ‘If I find in myself,’ says [C.S.] Lewis, ‘a desire which no experience

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No other God

“What is it to have a god?  What is God?  Answer:  A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need.  To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart.  As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.  If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God.  On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God.  For these two belong together, faith and God.  That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” Martin Luther, The Large Catechism (Philadelphia, 1959), page 9. If follows that one can worship a false god, with destructive impact, without intending to or even realizing it.  Converting to Christ introduces us not only to him

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12 Steps to Identifying Your Functional Saviours

Whatever we direct our affections, energies, and hopes towards is our object of worship. Our heart needs Jesus; our flesh craves idols. This is why growing in love for Christ requires daily execution of idols. But how do we know what our idols are? In The Bookends of the Christian Life Jerry Bridges offers twelve “questions” to help us identify our functional saviours: 1. I am preoccupied with ________. 2. If only ________, then I would be happy. 3. I get my sense of significance from ________. 4. I would protect and preserve ________ at any cost. 5. I fear losing ________. 6. The thing that gives me greatest pleasure is ________. 7. When I lose ________, I get angry, resentful, frustrated, anxious, or depressed. 8. For me, life depends on ________. 9. The thing I value more than anything in the world is ________. 10. When I daydream, my mind goes to________. 11. The best thing I can think of

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C.S. Lewis: “Three Kinds of Men”

C.S. Lewis’s short essay, “Three Kinds of Men,” from his collection of essays, Present Concerns (pp. 9-10): There are three kinds of people in the world. The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them. In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society—and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time “on parade” and “off parade,” “in school” and “out of school.” But the third

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From Josh Harris: I’m reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring to my two older kids. Last night we read the passage in which Gandalf explains the history of the pathetic Gollum as well as story of the One Ring to Frodo. I thought the following description of Gollum’s wretched state as a slave to the ring was an apt description of what it’s like to be a slave to sin: “All the ‘great secrets’ under the mountains had turned out to be just empty night: there was nothing more to find out, nothing worth doing, only nasty furtive eating and resentful remembering. He was altogether wretched. He hated the dark, and he hated light more: he hated everything ,and the Ring most of all.   “What do you mean?” said Frodo. “Surely the Ring was his precious and the only thing he cared for? But if he hated it, why didn’t he get rid of it, or go away