You Shall Have No Other Gods

EXODUS 20: 3-6 You shall have no other gods before me." You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

After God declares that He is the only true God, He commands that He alone should be worshiped. Then God defines true worship as loving Him and keeping His commandments. Our worship must be governed by faith and obedience, not by images or imaginations. The worship of God is spiritual, not material. So we are forbidden from making images of God and worshiping idols.

Part of this commandment is to prevent us from identifying the true God with any created thing. Another part of this commandment is to keep us from recreating God from our own imagination. No image of God is to be created, not even a mental image in our mind. An image is a limitation and God has no limits. If we predetermine what God is like, we have created Him in our image or created Him out of the limits of our mind. We can never adequately represent nor comprehend the All-Knowing, All Powerful, All Present God. God is love; God is spirit; therefore, He is intangible.

John 4:23-24 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

Dreaming up our own ideas about God is a form of idolatry. Some people refer to God as "the man upstairs." That’s demeaning, and it comes from an inaccurate concept of God. Others form a view of God that comes from their own personal preferences. I have heard people say, "I don’t like to think of God as Judge. I prefer to think of Him as a loving Father.” This pick-and-choose method creates an image or idol in the mind - an idea of God that does not fully represent Him.

Sometimes we are not satisfied with God as He is. We want Him to fit our perspective, rather than change our perspective to fit Him.

This past week I read a story about a man named Bob, who was walking along a steep cliff one day when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. As he slid down the cliff, he reached out and grabbed a branch that was sticking out and hung on for dear life. He looked below him and saw the chasm stretching down hundreds of feet. He looked up and saw no footholds with which to climb back up. So he hung there, absolutely terrified, and began yelling for help.
“Help! Help! Is anyone up there?” He heard his own voice echo, but nobody responded.
Then finally he heard a voice. “Bob! Bob! Can you hear me?”
Bob was thrilled and his heart swelled with hope. “Yes! I can hear you! I’m down here, clinging on to this branch.”
“I can see you, Bob. Are you alright?”
“Yes, but…who are you? Where are you? I can’t see you?”
“I’m God, Bob. I’m everywhere.”
“What? You mean the God?”
“Yes, Bob. That’s Me.”
“Okay. Well, Lord, please help me out here. I promise that if you get me out of this one, I’ll never sin again. I’ll be the nicest person in the whole world. I’ll go be a missionary in Africa or something. Just get me out of here.”
“Take it easy on the promises, Bob. Let me get you out of there, and then we can have a long talk. Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen to me carefully.”
Bob shouted excitedly, “I’ll do anything you say! Just tell me what to do.”
“Okay, Bob. Let go of the branch.”
(There was a long pause.) “What?!”
“I said to let go of the branch, Bob. Trust me. Just let go.”
(Another long pause.) “Um… Is there anyone else up there?!”

And that’s how many of us respond to God. We want Him, but we want Him on our terms. God is who He is. We must worship who He is, not who we want Him to be. And we must worship Him truthfully. Anything we might conjure in our minds or craft with our hands is idolatry.

So how do we know if we have any idols, "molten or mental,” before which we bow? Anything that takes our focus off God is an idol. What commands your attention and your affection? What is God’s competition within your life? What is your primary focus? An idol doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it can be a good thing. Some people park their idols in their garage. Some people worship their idol at work. Some people put their idols in bank accounts. Some people idolize pleasure and themselves.

Anything that competes with God for our affection and our attention can become an idol. An idol is anything that has a hold on us. When we allow anything apart from God to dominate us, compel us, or control us, we have an idol. Idols are such a danger to us that God not only warns us, He died on the Cross to set us free from enslavement to idols. Always be on guard against anything that pulls you away from God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Elisabeth Elliot said “The Christian life is a process of God breaking our idols one by one.” Detecting and exposing the idols in our life is essential to getting free. We can make idols out of many good and worthwhile things, even within the church, if they become more important than God. That is why we are going to spend a few weeks studying “Gods at War.” Our task is to search our mind and souls in the light of the Lord’s Word and the Holy Spirit, and discover all the idols hidden in their dark domains. We will prayerfully consider questions that are designed to expose any idols hiding in our heart. Be alert, for the gods (that is the demons and the Holy Spirit) will be at war for our heart. We are capable of remaking a god in our image instead of letting God remake us into His image! The goal for us through this study is to identify the idols in our heart, confess we have them, renounce them, seek God’s deliverance, repent, and commit ourselves to God.

Ezek 14:6-8 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices! "'When any Israelite or any alien living in Israel separates himself from me and sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet to inquire of me, I the LORD will answer him myself. I will set my face against that man and make him an example and a byword. I will cut him off from my people. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

Sometimes we set up idols in our heart because we enjoy them. This makes them particularly difficult to destroy. However, the consequences of worshiping and serving idols are horrendous. For example, if we disobey this command and worship and serve something other than God, our children suffer. It is well documented that there are consequences in homes where drunkenness, drugs, or other forms of immoral behavior occur. The wounded children suffer the consequences of their parent’s sin and this continues to affect succeeding generations.

However, there is hope. Notice it says “of those that hate Me,” which refers to those who do not repent and still walk in the sins of their parents. God never punishes those who repent of their sin and their parent’s sins. The repentant are those who turn away from familial gods (that’s the way our family has always done, that is just my Irish temper, I’m just like my mother, etc.) to worship the true God. To those who break the generational sins through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, God promises to show His love.

Are you still not sure this is important? Here are just a few consequences of idol worship:

  1. Idols will Disappoint You. They always promise more than they can deliver.

Jer 10:14 Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. His images are a fraud; they have no breath in them.

We think that if we act like a certain person (we call them idols or stars) we will be popular like them; a new purchase will satisfy us; some person will fulfill our desires; or just a few more dollars will make us happy. None of these is true. Still, we shamefully pursue them.

Contrary to our expectations, the grass is not greener on the other side. Anytime we put our expectation in something, other than God, we will be disappointed. Only God can fulfill the desires of our heart.

B. Idols will Dominate You. You will no longer be in control of your life.

1 Cor 12:2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.

Notice the words “influenced” and “led astray.” Another word we use today for idols is the word “addiction.” We can become addicted to work, sports, sex, drugs, etc., and lose control of our life.

Do you have an idol or addiction? You will be led astray. Some men seek after a job promotion so much they neglect their families. Some people feed a habit so much that it destroys their health. Some are so concerned for the approval of or disapproval of a person in their life that it influences everything they do. Such a person is not just co-dependent; they are involved in idolatry and no longer in control of their own life!

C. Idols will Deform You. They will change us and warp us.

Ps 115:8 Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

We become like what we value most and spend the most time with. We make idols to please ourselves and then they change us, warping our personality, deforming our bodies, rendering us weak and helpless.

On the other hand, God’s goal is to conform us to the image of Christ. That is why we must love and worship Him. We find it difficult to do this because the gods are at war over us, but we can determine who wins the war for our soul. Which god will you choose to shape you?

D. Idols will Destroy You. Idols will destroy our fortunes, health, reputation, and family. For those who do not have Jesus as their Savior, idols will cause them eternal destruction in hell!

Hosea 8:4 They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval. With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves to their own destruction.

God’s commandments are for our blessing. That is why He gave them to us. Besides the warning against idol worship, the second commandment also includes a promise to those who obey it (verse 6), “but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The blessing is for true worshippers, who love God and place Him first in their lives. True worshippers obey God by following His Word and the Holy Spirit.

1Jn 5:2-4 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

God will never fail to show mercy to all generations that love Him and honor their covenant relationship with Him. Our God is an awesome God who loves to show mercy and kindness. He gives forgiveness and grace to all who worship Him in spirit and truth.

Notice the contrast. The consequence of wicked behavior affects a few generations, but the influence of devoted obedience continues to affect countless generations.

Godly people bring not only blessings to their succeeding generations, they bring blessings to unknown thousands within their generation. The degree to which we obey God’s commandments affects the health of the family, community, and societies in which we live.

Choosing to worship another god or idol in our life has dire consequences, not only for us but also for our posterity. If we walk away from Jesus Christ, we may discover that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will take that trip with us and follow in our sinful, selfish ways. Later, even if we repent and return to Jesus, they may not.

Devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ has its consequences too. Men and women who walk in faith have a strong influence on their children and their children’s children.

For example, early in America’s history lived two men. One was a great preacher by the name of Jonathan Edwards. The other was a lawyer named Max Jukes. Jonathan Edwards rigorously studied the Bible and possessed an outstanding Christian character. Edwards has 1,394 descendants. Among them were three college presidents, sixty-five professors, sixty prominent lawyers, thirty-two noted authors, ninety physicians, two hundred ministers of the gospel, and three hundred good farmers.

Max Jukes was the very antithesis of Mr. Edwards, a notorious crook without any principles. Of His 903 offspring there were three hundred delinquents, one hundred forty-five confirmed drunkards, ninety prostitutes, two hundred eighty-five with “evil diseases”, and over one hundred spent an average of thirteen years in prison. The crimes and care of that one family cost the state of New York over one hundred million dollars (in today’s dollars). Jonathan Edwards’s family never cost the government a single penny, but made contributions of incalculable worth.

Gal 6:7-8 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Who has the most positive effect upon the world: the idolaters who worship science and man’s philosophy, the wealthy man who worships prosperity, or the politician who worships fame and power? None of these is the correct answer. The person who worships Jesus Christ has the most positive impact. When the balances are weighed in eternity, the person who worships Jesus will have benefited more people than those who worship science, wealth, or power. For example, the apostle Paul affected more people and is still affecting more generations than all of the Caesars of Rome who ruled the world.

The great hope for the world is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. When any generation forsakes their idols and their parent’s idols, the ways they have been brought up in, and begins worshipping Jesus Christ, then God’s mercies and blessings will follow.

In summary, idols are not only made of wood and stone, they can be formed in our minds too! Whenever God is defined and worshiped according to the dictates of our own minds, we are guilty of remaking God Almighty in our image and we have broken His commandment. Our god will be too small when we redefine the Lord. We must worship Almighty God as He is, as He has revealed Himself to be, and not as we have made Him to be in our own minds.

Furthermore, money, prestige, work, or pleasure can become gods when we concentrate or depend too much on them for identity, meaning, and security. No one intends making idols of these things, but as we devote more time and attention to them, they become demonic gods that ultimately form our thoughts, energies, and character.

There are gods at war for our souls. We will worship at least one of them. Which one do you choose to worship? There are consequences for whatever we choose. God wants us to worship Him and Him only. He is the only one who loves us and is worthy of our worship. Will you commit your life to Him today by acknowledging Jesus as Lord, repenting of your sin, and following Jesus in baptism to receive the Holy Spirit?

Maybe you have been a believer for years, but the Holy Spirit is already exposing some idols that were hidden in your heart. Jesus wants to deliver you and set you free from them. Confess and admit they are idols, even idols you have enjoyed. Renounce them, repent, and ask the Lord to forgive you and deliver you from their power, setting you free to worship God alone. Then destroy whatever trace you have of your idol in your home and ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. When you walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the idolatrous desires of the flesh.

Gal 5:16-21 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.