With the re-release of The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life next month, our writing team continues with a series of articles on each of the Ten Commandments in July and August!
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)
As a child I was taught this commandment well. Bible stories repeatedly revealed to me the foolishness of rebellion against an all-powerful, loving, supreme Creator. The Psalms proclaim that no other god is like him (Psalm 86:8), and that he is worthy of the greatest praise (Psalm 145:3). I am required to trust in him, obey him, hope in him, and delight in him with all of my being.
That being said, I see now that there is a god that I regularly honor and serve whose precedence in my life rivals that of the one true Lord.
That “god” is myself.
Worshipping the Other God
It’s a subtle treason, worshipping this “other god.” Unlike the outright physical worship of a graven image, the choice to love and serve myself occurs deep in the hidden places of my heart. There are natural blessings that flow from obedience to Christ, and my authority-honoring, compliant disposition has meant that, in many cases, worship of Christ and worship of myself have looked like one and the same.
The Lord, in his sanctifying mercy, reveals this sin to me as I have studied his Word. He has shown me that, while I claim to honor God as the only source of truth and eternal life, I am still hesitant to trust his Word when it doesn’t make sense to me or seem to benefit me. For example, the Lord calls me to honor him with anonymous generosity, evangelism, ongoing forgiveness of repeated offences, and willingness to suffer. My reluctance to obey in these areas reveals that I do not trust God implicitly, but still rely on my own understanding.
I desire to honor God, but he is not first.
Denying the God of Self
In his abundant grace, God has shown me how this self-worship has betrayed me. When I have chosen to follow my own reasoning, my own assessment of what is good for me and what I can handle, I have robbed myself of greater intimacy with Christ, new manifestations of his power in my life, and more peace and rest in knowing that he is able to care for me better than my self-reliance ever could.
It is not good for me to be my own god. I need a Helper! I need a Savior!
Recently a study of the book of Mark challenged me to see that Christ calls his followers to a self-crucifying life. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It is no simple thing to deny yourself; there is a terrifying, deadly decisiveness in this call to trust the Lord, even over your own heart.
But it is not a death without purpose. Yes, it is a call to die to self, but is it also a call to live with Christ! To follow Christ is to walk into his death, but also into his resurrection and eternal life.
Worshipping the One True God
So, when I feel like my heart is divided between self-interest and devotion to Christ, there are two ways the Spirit has helped me to deny myself and worship the one true God:
First, the Spirit opens my eyes to realize that I am not a god worthy of worship. That does not mean that I am without value, for my value has been established by Jesus at the cross, in that he was willing to pay an infinite cost for my ransom. On my own, the Bible tells me that I am a sinner with a deceitful heart and limited understanding (1 John 1:8; Jeremiah 17:9). With Christ, I am a saint who has freely received the righteousness of God through the work of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In my efforts to deny myself, I need to face the truth that, apart from God’s grace to me in Christ, there is nothing living and true in me. All successes in my life, all of my spiritual victories and the fruit of my own efforts are purely the result of his grace. The Bible says that until Jesus returns and frees me from the presence of indwelling sin, my heart remains deceitful. That means that when I am faced with a conflict between what God says and my own understanding, to choose the way of the Lord is to obey the first commandment from my heart.
Second, the Spirit opens my mind to embrace the immeasurable wonder and holiness of the Everlasting God, whose ways are not my ways.
Romans 11:33-36 says:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
This Scripture, spoken by Paul, has become my anthem. The more I have grown in the knowledge of God and have sought to grasp the mysteries of his ways, the more I am made aware of how magnificent he is—and how little I have grasped of him. A lifetime is far too short to explore and comprehend his depths.
As my heart grows in adoration and worship of the one true God, I am led to repent of my idolatry, and other gods are expelled from my heart.
No God Before Our God
The Ten Commandments are a wonderful gift to the Christian. They not only reveal our greatest struggles and need for God, but also point to the all-surpassing glory of Jesus Christ, the only man to ever live who obeyed them perfectly.
When we have his Spirit living in us, we have power to walk as he did. He also lovingly places us into a community of believers, the church, who can help each other walk away from self-reliance and into a life of dependent grace. God is faithful to open our eyes to see how good and right his way truly is.
He makes obedience to the remaining nine commandments possible.
What a magnificent work of grace, when self-worshipping sinners begin to grasp the manifold splendor of the Lord and bow before him in wonder and humility. How our lives will flow with gratitude and obedience when our redeemed hearts can wholly say, “Lord, there is no god before you!”