And God spoke all these words, saying, "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: 1-3
In yesterday's post, we looked at what God requires of us in the First Commandment: We are commanded to love and worship God alone. Worshiping anyone or anything other than the God of Scripture is idolatry.
Question 95 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: "What is idolatry?" Answer: "Idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed Himself in His Word."
Maybe when you hear the word idolatry, you think of primitive people living in a remote corner of the world, praying to a wooden figurine. But here in the Bible Belt, we're too sophisticated for such foolishness, right?
A friend once shared this very simple definition of idolatry: "I could never be happy without (fill in the blank). If you put anything in that blank besides God, you have an idol." To be more specific, if you put anything in that blank besides God as He reveals Himself in Scripture, you've identified an idol.
A young woman whom I love dearly found out early in her marriage that she would never be able to have children. She became swamped in a morass of grief and depression. Finally, she told her husband that she could never be happy if she could not have children. Later, she confessed that having children had definitely become an idol in her life, but that, through much brokenness and many tears, Christ ripped that idol out and showed Himself to be the only worthy object of her worship. This sweet young woman later wrote, "Christ is EVERYTHING that I need. My loss...became much easier to bear because that heart idol had been torn out and destroyed."
Maybe you are single and thinking you can never be happy until you find that special someone with whom to share your life. Maybe you are struggling financially, constantly fretting, "If only we had more money..." Maybe you're preoccupied with your body, making costly and painful sacrifices to appease the god of Youth. Human relationships, financial security, physical appearance, health, entertainment, sports - all of these can be idols if they dominate our thinking or drive all our actions.
Another, more subtle form of idolatry is when we claim to worship God, but we re-create Him in our image. We decide that our opinions over-rule Scripture, that we can pick and choose what is "true for us" in God's Word. We like that God is loving and merciful, but we reject the truth that God hates sin and is pleased to condemn the wicked to eternal suffering. We like that we don't have to pay for our sins and that God freely forgives us, but we don't want to talk about the fact that even for my sins, there was hell to pay... and Someone paid it for me.
When we dissect God and value our own opinions over the truth of Scripture - all of Scripture - we are creating an idol. You either believe that God is who He says He is in Scripture, or you don't believe in the God of the Bible at all.
Maybe this gets to the heart of why the Law of God is a burden and a condemnation to the unregenerate, but beautiful to the children of God. The unbeliever says to himself, "I am not so very bad, and God is not so very good. What right does He have to make such claims on my life, to tell me what to believe and how to live?"
The Christian, on the other hand, sees his sinfulness and is painfully aware of how very far short he falls of God's standards. The Christian doesn't shush away the demands of the holy God, nor does he deny God's righteous judgment and condemnation of sinners. Rather, he acknowledges both - and thanks God for the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who kept the law perfectly for us and endured God's wrath for those He came to save.
The Christian looks at the Law of God and cries, "Father, I have sinned. Thank you that Christ's righteousness has been imputed to me and that I have sure forgiveness in Him. Thank You! I want to please you and honor You, Lord - help me to do better."
Kevin DeYoung puts it well in The Good News We Almost Forgot: "We obey the commandments, therefore, not in order to merit God's favor but out of gratitude for His favor...We obey the law in gratitude for the gospel."