The First and the Last
Last week we looked at the preamble to the Law. The Law is framed in a loving relationship with our sovereign God. The Lord has saved from slavery a people for himself. It is the truth that he is our sovereign God who has saved us from slavery that is both the foundation and establishment of the authority of the Law.
Really in effect what we see is that it is the truth of the Gospel (God saves his people from sin) that in turn causes his people to offer loving and willing obedience to the Law. If we were able to live life unto God with just this truth, the rest of the Law, enumerating what the Lord calls us to, would be unnecessary. But, in this life we still have a war to wage against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Thus, the Lord lays out what a life pleasing to him looks like. Calvin put it this way, "The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work." We must be aroused to work. The Gospel frees us to do the work that the Lord lays before us (Eph 2.8-10).
The Law thus functions in three distinct ways. First, it works as mirror showing us who God is and his righteousness. Seeing God's character through the Law reveals how much we fall short of his standard and that in turn drives us to Christ who is our righteousness. Second, the Law functions to restrain evil. That is to say, the Law can't change hearts, but what it can do is protect righteousness and the righteous. Lastly, the Law reveals what is pleasing to God. After we have looked at ourselves in the mirror in the Law and seen that we do not measure up, we run to Jesus and find our righteousness and salvation in him and his finished the work. Nevertheless, Christ then drives us back to the Law, so that we may grow up in our faith. The Law functions as a guide for our sanctification. We will look at all three uses of the Law, but will primarily examine the third use the next few weeks.
The very first thing the Law says is the Gospel, reminding who God is and that he has saved us from a hopeless situation. Now we get to Exodus 20:3 and the implications of the Gospel come. Because of who the Lord is and what he has done, he calls us to is to have no other god before him. In this command the Lord demands that we honor and adore him alone. I love what the Westminster Larger Catechism says this calls us to:
[T]he knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him; giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything he is offended; and walking humbly with him.
That is quite the list. What the Divines are getting at is that this one command encompasses all the other commands. This one command calls us to pursue God whole heartedly. It is a command to love God. As Augustine put it, "Love God and do what you will." You see when we love God, that love controls us and causes us to think and act rightly in all areas of life. It causes us to want to be like God. Love of God directs us to righteous living.
This command requires that we render unto God what is rightly his alone. It also calls us to take care and not give one iota of his glory to anything else. Rightly obeying this command means that we are to do away with all inventions in our worship and all the gods that we have invented to worship.
False gods always want what the one true God demands as his alone. However, in the promise of life, false gods always lead to death. Molech required the blood of children. Baal required the blood of his worshippers. False gods inevitably destroy and never give life. When our work becomes our god, other relationships suffer and die to appease it. When the perfect family becomes our god, we often times destroy our families. False gods never deliver what they promise.
However, God demands unfailing obedience because he is the only one worthy of this obedience. He is the only one who can give life where death reigns. Obeying this commandment can be painful. As Calvin said, the law is a whip. It can be painful because we turn from things that we have always trusted to provide the security that only the Lord can provide. What is promised is that in turning to the Lord we will find a surety that the false gods could never provide.
Thus, we know that our God is also the Lord of heaven and earth and that he is the one who has saved us from sin and death. Therefore, all we can do is have no other gods before him for he is the first and the last.
If you are interested in receiving our monthly email, sign up at the bottom of the page. If you would like to financially support us, click on donate and you can give online (make sure you indicate that the support goes to 'Edinburgh Education Fund').