Rev. Mark H. Creech
From ancient idols to modern misconceptions: The call to worship only God
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By Rev. Mark H. Creech
June 8, 2024

In 1989, the Chicago Tribune editors published their top photos of the decade. One poignant image, taken by Michael Fryer, showed a somber fireman and paramedic carrying a fire victim away from the scene.

The fire, which occurred in Chicago in December 1984, initially appeared to be a routine incident. However, firefighters soon found the bodies of a mother and her five children in the kitchen of an apartment. Fryer noted that the firefighters believed, “She could have escaped with two or three children but couldn’t decide whom to pick. She chose to wait with all of them for the firefighters to arrive. All of them died of smoke inhalation.” Sometimes, you simply cannot leave those you love behind.

This powerful image of sacrificial love echoes how deeply God loves us. Yet, despite His unwavering love and faithfulness, humanity was not loyal and left God.

Humanity Left God

According to the Bible, mankind’s fall from God began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God created them and placed them in this paradise, allowing them to eat from any tree except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Tempted by the Serpent, Eve ate the forbidden fruit and shared it with Adam (Genesis 3:1-6). This act of disobedience introduced sin into the world, leading to their separation from God, their expulsion from Eden, and the onset of suffering and death (Genesis 3:7-24; Romans 5:12).

Humanity Strayed Further

As humanity expanded, people continued to stray further from God, leading to widespread wickedness and corruption (Genesis 6:5). Notable events include Cain’s murder of Abel (Genesis 4:8), the pervasive evil that prompted the Great Flood during Noah’s time (Genesis 6:11-13), and the prideful construction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4). Despite God’s provisions of guidance through covenants and prophets, mankind’s tendency for sin and rebellion persisted (Jeremiah 7:25-26; Nehemiah 9:26).

Significance of the Ten Commandments

This continued disobedience and idolatry (Exodus 32:1-6; Deuteronomy 9:16; Judges 2:11-12) set the stage for God to deliver the Ten Commandments through Moses on Mount Sinai, with the first commandment emphasizing the need to recognize and worship only God: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1-3; Deuteronomy 5:6-7).

Before the Ten Commandments, the nature of religion varied widely, with periods of monotheistic worship of the one true God interspersed with polytheism and henotheism. Worship encompassed venerating celestial bodies, natural elements, various animals, and a wide array of man-made idols. Sometimes a nation would worship only one god but also acknowledge the gods of other nations to be as real as their god. Humanity engaged in grossly wicked practices that were contrary to what God had revealed about himself and his will up to this point in history.

When God reestablished his covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God afforded a clear set of laws that touched on every level of human behavior in only ten commands. The giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai to the Hebrews marked a significant moment in religious history. The first commandment not only forbade the worship of many gods but required the exclusive worship of the one and only true God.

The Priority of the First Commandment

What makes this commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” the priority? Why is it first on the list? The once renowned professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University, the late William Barclay, addressed the question, saying:

“It is necessary, to begin with God, for the very simple reason that, if men believe in gods at all, they will necessarily wish to be like the gods in whom they believe, and, therefore, the kind of gods they believe in will make all the difference to the kind of life which they live…It is of the first necessity to get the idea of God right, for a man will quite inevitably become like the god he worships. If he worships a licentious god, he will become a licentious man. If he worships a hard stern god, then he will, as the world has so often tragically seen, become a hard stern man. If he worships a sentimentalized god, he will have a sentimentalized idea of religion.

    “It is from here that ethics takes its start. A man’s god dictates a man’s conduct, consciously or unconsciously.” [1]

God’s Invisible but Evidence He Exist

One of the great problems, however, that people have believing in God, worshipping, and following his commands is that he is invisible. Yet God has not left the world without evidence of his existence.

The late Dr. Billy Graham wrote:

    “There are many arguments we could marshal to give evidence of the existence of God. There is scientific evidence pointing to God’s existence. For example, whatever is in motion must be moved by another, for motion is the response of matter to power. In the matter of power, there can be no power without life, and life presupposes a being that emanates the power to move things, such as tides and the planets.

    “Or there is the argument that says nothing can be the cause of itself. It would be prior to itself if it caused itself to be, and that is an absurdity.

    “Then there is the law of life. We see objects that have no intellect, such as stars and planets, moving in a consistent pattern, cooperating ingeniously with one another. Hence, it is evident that they achieve their movements, not by accident but by design. Whatever lacks intelligence cannot move intelligently. An arrow would be useless without a bow, and an archer.

    “What gives direction and purpose and design to inanimate objects? It is God. He is the underlying, motivating force of life.” [2]

The Written Word and The Living Word

Nevertheless, the primary means that God uses to reveal himself is through the Scriptures – through the Bible – for which there is also abundant evidence that the Bible’s content is divinely penned. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of the one true living God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

God has also revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus was God wrapped in human flesh, whose purpose was to show what God is actually like (John1:1). Christ reveals God’s love, his righteous character, and God’s plan of redemption for restoring mankind to himself.

It is through the written Word of God and the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, that we are able to get the right understanding of God.

The Problem of Erroneous Views of God

Throughout history, people’s vision or comprehension of God has more often than not been erroneous. Some ancient religions involved secretive rituals and esoteric knowledge, believed to grant divine favor or enlightenment. These practices were typically only available to a select group of initiates. In contrast, the Scriptures emphasize the accessibility of God and the straightforward and open proclamation of divine truth. The moral codes associated with many ancient gods were grossly inconsistent and morally problematic. For example, some gods demanded human sacrifices and endorsed gluttony, drunkenness, and prostitution as something sacred. But the Scriptures make it clear that these practices are opposed by the one true God. To live by the wrong view of deity is idolatry and inevitably leads to a destructive way of living.

Modern Idolatry and the Fullness of God’s Character

The late R.C. Sproul, former chair of Ligonier Ministries, noted how idolatrous behavior is sometimes played out nowadays. He said:

    “I certainly encounter a view of God that is widespread…whereby God is somewhat reduced in scope from the biblical portrait that we have of him. He is seen as a sort of celestial grandfather who is benevolent in every respect and whose chief characteristic – and sometimes only attribute – is the attribute of love. We know that the Bible certainly puts a lot of emphasis on the love of God and even goes so far as to say that God is love.

    “But I think we are in grave danger of stripping God of the fullness of his character as it is revealed in Scripture. This becomes a not-so-subtle form of idolatry. For example, if we obscure the holiness of God, or the sovereignty of God, or the wrath of God, or the justice of God, and sort of pick and choose those attributes of God we like and then deny those that frighten us or make us uncomfortable, we’ve exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and we are worshiping a god who is in fact an idol. It may be a sophisticated idol – it’s not one made of wood or stone or brass – but the concept of the God we worship must be a concept that agrees with the God who is.” [3]

False Claims of Divinity vs. Jesus’ Validated Claims

Many individuals have also claimed to be divine or incarnations of God: The Pharaohs of Egypt, Roman emperors, and Haile Selassie I. More contemporary figures would include Jim Jones who claimed to be the reincarnation of Christ; Sun Myung Moon who said he was the Second Coming of Christ; and Father Divine claimed to be God-incarnate.

Still, none of these people performed miracles comparable to that of Christ: turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), feeding the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21), healing masses of sick people (Matthew 8:14-17), raising the dead (John 11:38-44), demonstrating control over natural elements, such as calming a storm with one command (Mark 4:39), and even raising himself from the dead (Matthew 28:1-10).

The Unmatched Teachings of Jesus Christ

Plus, no teachings were ever so sublime or ever so life-altering as the doctrines of Christ. They emphasized love, grace, and forgiveness ( John 13:34-35; Matthew 5:44; Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 6:36; John 8:11), offering a transformative experience where lost and broken humanity can reconnect with God through faith alone rather than mere adherence to laws and rituals (John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:17; I John 4:9-10) – a teaching that doesn’t stress that one must climb his way back to God but that God condescends in grace and mercy to rescue a perishing race (Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; Titus 3:5).

Christ’s radical message of loving one’s enemies, turning the other cheek, and the unmatched beatitudes challenge conventional wisdom and moral standards (Matthew 5:44; Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 6:36), while Christ’s resurrection proves everything that he said was true, setting him apart from any other teacher or master in human history – proving – demonstrating his claims to be equal with God – showing that he is God (John 1:1; Acts 2:24, 32, 36; 17:31). These facts are undeniable for anyone who will honestly look at the life of Jesus.

Living Out the First Commandment

So many say that they believe in God, they love God but rarely think of him, much less practice his commandments. However, people don’t characteristically leave, ignore, or neglect, what they love. Instead, they serve it and are willing to serve it sacrificially.

Such is what the first commandment calls upon everyone to do: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Nothing should take first place over the Lord – no perverse passions – no personal idol or self-created deity – no exaltation of human reasoning above God’s revelation of himself and his will (humanism, secularism, materialism) – no aspirations or plans – no parent, spouse, or child – no possessions – no god except the God of the Bible – the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament – the God of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is ever to take precedence in one’s life at any time or in any manner!

Resources:

[1] William Barclay, The Ten Commandments for Today (Harper and Row Publishers, 1973), 16-17.

[2] Billy Graham, Day by Day with Billy Graham (Worldwide Publications, 1976), March 3.

[3] R.C. Sproul, Now That’s a Good Question! (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996), 8.

© Rev. Mark H. Creech

 

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Rev. Mark H. Creech

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

Rev. Creech is a prolific speaker and writer, and has served as a radio commentator for Christians In Action, a daily program featuring Rev. Creech's commentary on social issues from a Christian worldview.

In addition to RenewAmerica.com, his weekly editorials are featured on the Christian Action League website and Agape Press, a national Christian newswire.

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