No Other Gods (First Commandment)

Hagia Sophia (iStockPhoto.com)
Hagia Sophia (iStockPhoto.com)

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3; Deut 5:7)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why does God claim exclusive right to our allegiance and forbid worship of other gods?

God’s sovereignty over our lives arises from his role as creator. Did we do anything to earn our creation? No. Our first independent act after God created us was in fact to sin and rebel against God’s only law—do not eat of the tree (Gen 2:17). Did we do anything to earn God’s restoration and salvation? No—God himself paid the penalty of our sin in sending his son to die on a cross on our behalf.

God’s permits only one path to salvation—through Jesus Christ. We cannot approach God on our own. Two reasons suggest why.

The first reason arises because of God’s eternal nature—God stands outside of time. God’s infinite nature implies that he can approach us, but we cannot approach him. Think of the problem of setting a meeting date with an eternal God—maybe God’s convenient date is 30 AD or maybe 3000 AD. How exactly are we to show up or even arrange the date? The apostle Paul writes: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6)

The second reason arises because of God’s Holy nature. Holy implies sacred or set apart. God is holy; we are not. God’s holiness precludes us from approaching him on our own.

Because we cannot approach God on our own, either physically or morally, a hidden path to God outside of Christ logically does not exist. In fact, the idea that a hidden path to God exists ignores both of the above problems and focuses on three misconceptions about God’s holiness.

The first misconception argues that we are basically good and can approach God without divine intervention. If we were basically good, then God’s holiness would pose no problem. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross would be unnecessary and keeping the Law of Moses would be theoretically possible. Unfortunately, after Adam and Eve bad seed (original sin) ran in the family.

The second misconception argues that God himself is not good, which is obviously not true. As the ultimate sovereign, God is the ultimate lawmaker and defines what is good and what is not. It is not an accident that God declares creation to be good seven times in the creation account [1]. God declares creation good because he created and sustains it. Because our lives depend on both God’s creation of and provision for our universe, God must be good!

The third misconception presumes ignorance of God’s holiness. As the apostle Paul told the Athenians:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31)

In view of modern communication systems, the Gospel message is close to reaching the entire human race—even people groups unknown to Paul’s generation. The ignorance argument is accordingly less credible today than in Paul’s time.

God deserves our worship. The first commandment in the law requires it.

[1] Genesis 1 verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31.

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