Over the past couple weeks we started to explore the 10 Commandments. The first week we noted that gospel grace precedes the Law. The first word we encounter when we come to the Law is that the Lord has saved us from slavery to sin and death. This saving relationship has now made us able to do what we have been called to do. Herman Bavinck puts it in more technical language when he says:
Dogmatics describes the deeds of God done for, to and in human beings; ethics describes what renewed human beings now do on the basis of and in the strength of those divine deeds. In dogmatics human beings are passive; they receive and believe; in ethics they are themselves active agents.
In a nutshell, what Bavinck is saying is that indicatives (the facts of our salvation) always come before imperatives (the demands on how we live because of that salvation).
The Law opens with this beautiful reminder that the Lord has saved us. Now we find that he has saved us for something. The first commandment says that our responsibility is to ascribe to God alone all the worth, honor, and glory due to him. We are to love him completely and no one else. He is the first and the last. This second commandment tells us what our worship of God should look like. Here is what it says:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. — Exodus 20:4-6
There are two things immediately clear from this command. First, our imaginations are restrained from making any sensible image of God because it would denigrate God. We cannot make an image of him for he is Spirit. Those who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). To make an image of him would be to not worship him in truth because it could not be a true representation of him.
The second thing that this commandment immediately does is it tells us that we are not to worship idols. This is necessary because as Calvin put it:
Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.... Therefore the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth.... Daily experience teaches that flesh is always uneasy until it has obtained some figment like itself in which it may fondly find solace as in an image of God.
We need the reminder that we are not only not to have another God before the Lord, but we should not have any idol at all. Our hearts at their core want to make idols. The Lord has saved us, not some idol, and he demands our hearts completely.
This is why he says he is a jealous God. Thomas Watson notes that God is jealous for his people. That is to say, the people of God are close to his heart and he will avenge any who do her wrong. However, he also notes that he is jealous of his people. Like a spouse that will not tolerate one's beloved to go after other lovers, the Lord will not tolerate his people worshipping idols.
However, it is not just the negative that motivates God's people to obedience but also the mercy of God. The mercy of the Lord is a completely free grace, and he shows it with liberality. We cannot force God to give us mercy, but we can force him to punish us. Thomas Watson said this:
The vial of God's wrath, only drops—but the fountain of his mercy, runs. The sun is not so full of light, as God is of love.
God promises mercy on those who love him. However, it is not just love but also obedience. "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). He will show mercy on his people. He will show mercy on those who love him and keep his commandments. How do we do this? Well, we pray for the Lord to work in us. We cannot do any of this in our own strength. We need the Spirit of God to work in us (Phil 2:13). So we find that God's mercy draws us to him. And when we are drawn to God, God's mercy turns us to walk in his commandments.
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