The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
So who, or what, is God? He tells us: Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), Love (1 John 4:8), Savior (Isaiah 43), Redeemer (Isaiah 48:17), Protector (Psalm 121), Defender (Psalm 68:5), Healer (Exodus 15:26), and Friend (John 15:15).
The entire Bible revolves around this first commandment, undisrupted from the Old to New Testaments. Positively applied, it is the victory of every Biblical character, and the negative application is the single correlate to every character’s downfall. In my own life, I can fully attest to this, for better or for worse, every single time. It’s almost like He’s trying to make a really important point.
This weighty charge will compel every area of your life, it will require the submission of your entire soul and will be impossible to obey without the help of the Holy Spirit. I hope this sounds as good to you as it does to me. ; )
The Human Infection
Since the fall of our first parents, mankind has wanted more than God, and we’re foolishly convinced we can get it. Lucifer chose to reign in hell rather than serve in heaven, and humanity has been plagued by the same foul appetite ever since.
All sin finds its root in these illogical, unnatural choices. Flannery O’Connor describes them as simply “choosing the lesser good.” A teacher once told me that God crowns us with free will, gifted for the purpose of freely choosing the best on on our own. He then gives us a menu offering excrement and the finest filet mignon. We choose the excrement. The definition of fallen will, disordered desires, warped perspective. We call it sin.
Good, or Best?
If you think your membership in Christendom fully protects you from these twisted inclinations, think again. The church itself is hardly secure from idolatry. I propose that the tallest and ugliest idols rule some of our churches. Some worship exclusively at the most saintly altars, in the name of Christ, thinking with a sense of self-satisfaction that they are worshipping Christ himself. The devil laughs. He is proud to see us worshipping our church communities and leaders, the idea of being “spiritual” for the sake of personal promotion, the words of the brightest theologians, our greed for philosophical knowledge, our own prideful notion of our “calling,” or even our most noble ministries, as long as they are keeping our eyes on ourselves and off of the Christ with whom his nefarious designs end.
Make no mistake: these are good things. The choices on the proverbial menu God gives us aren’t always between excrement and filet mignon. Sometimes it’s between family and Him, or heroic pursuits and Him. It’s hardly the plainly bad things that make the most tempting idols, but the good and the best things. God uses the most wretched things, fully surrendered to him, for our benefit, while even the best things, unsurrendered, will be the instruments of our detriment. It doesn’t matter if it’s sex or the most spiritual friends, if you’ve tackily applied a cross to the altar of another god, justifying your worship to yourself, or if the altar remains in its brazen secular glory- if its not built for God, it will fail. First things must be put first, and He must be the first love.
And before we’re too pleased with ourselves for our scrupulous adherence to a Christian lifestyle, let’s consider this: Humanity often determines “moral rights” and “moral wrongs” by actions, while Christ determines them by intent (1 Samuel 16). The enemy smirks when our religious urge to redeem ourselves restrains us from indulging our animal desires. He sneers when pride alone holds us back from indulging our lusts, and otherwise prevents us from behaving “in poor taste.” He cackles when we’re apparently cured of milder behavioral sins as long as our spiritual pride is alive and thriving. He is happy to treat a spiritual cold as long as we have the spiritual cancer. If pride alone prevents us from carnal sin, I’m afraid we are sinners of the worst kind. Our feeble, pharisaical attempts to redeem ourselves fail. There is no other Redeemer before him.
Here’s the great news: it’s not about us. Our fragile affections are suspended in an ever-shifting state, reordered by a victory here or altered by an insecurity there. We must take frequent honest inventory of our souls, noting what belongs and is permitted to stay and what must go. For that which must go, there is no need to condemn ourselves. His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)! We can lay our mess in its gruesome entirety at his feet and ask him to untangle it. He will. Only he can make something out of nothing and when we give him our nothing, he is faithful to redeem it (Isaiah 43:19; Hosea 2). It’s what makes him God! Hallelujah. There is no other Savior but him.
This is hardly a hopeless dilemma. Certainly salvation begins the process of reordering our naturally corrupted pile of loves, while sanctification, the process of fixing our hearts ever more firmly on Christ alone, is a daily effort. He will accept our humblest efforts, offered to Him, and reject our noblest efforts if they are not.
If you want an honest review of the landscape of your soul, ask the Holy Spirit to show you. As you consider those loves that occupy too much of your heart, also consider the loves you lack, whose abscences are painful. Take a good, hard look at your deepest hurts, and ponder to what you are actually clinging to heal them. Emotional wounds are often a festering ground for idols as we frantically fumble for things to grasp in an effort to heal ourselves and abate the pain of our injury. When we sense a scarcity or loss in an area of our lives, we proceed with an inflated sense of value for that thing, erecting an idol in the void of our cankering wound, causing it to only further putrefy. Instead of condemning yourself for your idolatrous heart, ask him to heal you there. He is the Healer, and will be faithful to heal you. His wounds cover yours. We are only as strong as that which we cling to, and he loves us so much that he makes the Strongest Thing, His perfect steadfast love, abundantly available for us to cling to in the midst of our wild and desperate human thrashing (Proverbs 18:10). There is no other Healer besides him.
No Other Gods
No other Love before him. No other Redeemer before him. No other Savior but him. No other Healer before him. No “in addition to,” no “instead.” No other gods before him. He is first in all of his functions.
Father, restore our fallen wills. Reorder our loves with your own hand. Clarify our distorted perceptions. Healer, heal us fully. Thank you that You are faithful to the heart that seeks You and faithful to finish what You started.