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
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
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.
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
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
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
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. 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