You Shall Not Make For Yourself an Idol

The Ten Commandments:

  1. Golden CalfYou shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. You shall not kill/murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet

The Second Commandment 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

What is an idol?

According to dictionary.com, an idol is:

1. an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.
2. Bible.
a. an image of a deity other than God.
b. the deity itself.
3. any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion: Madame Curie had been her childhood idol.
4. a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.
5. a figment of the mind; fantasy.

Let us consider each of these five definitions.

  1. An image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed

The key points of the Second Commandment are that we should not 1) have images or likenesses that 2) we worship. The Second Commandment does not, as some have claimed, forbid artwork. It forbids the worship of images.

Many Christians wear crosses or have artwork depicting Jesus displayed in their homes. If one pulls Exodus 2:4 out of context, it would seem that any sort of God-themed artwork would be forbidden. However, verse 5 makes it clear that it’s not the artwork per se that is problematic, but the worship of these images.

Owning a cross or a statue of Jesus can be a wonderful reminder of what Jesus did for us on the cross. However, when someone prays to the statue, or uses the cross as some sort of talisman to attempt to get closer to God, this becomes idol worship.

What about worshipping the Bible? Although the Bible is the Word of God, it’s not God. Worshipping a physical book is idolatry. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humanity – it points us to Him, but it isn’t Him. By way of analogy, this blog tells people a lot about me, about how I think and what I believe, but reading my blog isn’t the same as knowing me. Similarly, the Bible tells us about the One who wants us to know Him in an intimate, personal manner. Don’t worship the Bible – worship the One who gave it to us.

  1. An image of a deity other than God, or the deity itself.

Here, we’re no longer talking about crosses or paintings of Jesus, but of objects representing other so-called gods. Whether it’s a golden calf or a statue of the Buddha, the worship of any object representing any god other than the God of the Bible is forbidden. It doesn’t matter if one believes the object itself is a god, or just represents a god, any worship of or through an object is sin. There is only one true God – the God of the Old and New Testaments. The worship of any other so-called god takes away from our ability to have a relationship with the true God, and thus is sin.

  1. Any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion

American IdolIn modern America, few of us worship actual objects, per se. However, how many of us worship other people? Many people derive meaning and purpose for their lives from the teachings of the Pope, Billy Graham, Darwin, Barack Obama, Joel Osteen, the Dali Lama, or a host of other people. This is idolatry. When we put our faith and trust in anyone other than Jesus Christ, we violate the Second Commandment.

There are many Christian teachers whom I respect and from whom I learn a great deal. However, it is critical that I take whatever they say and compare it with God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. I am never to take what mere man says as infallible. To do so becomes idolatry.

  1. A mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.

The worship of spirits, angels, demons, ghosts, and the like is clearly forbidden throughout the Bible. Ancestor worship, the occult, New Age practices, and so forth all fall under this category. There are numerous passages throughout both the Old and New Testaments that clearly forbid such practices.

  1. A figment of the mind; fantasy.

SexDrugsRockNRollThis one is interesting. How many people worship a false Jesus? Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims believe in a Jesus that was just a mere man, not God in the flesh. They deny the true nature of Jesus – they hold to a fantasy Jesus.

What about people who see Jesus as only loving? A Jesus that would never allow anyone to go to Hell? Or, a Jesus that picks and chooses who He will save, and who He will not, never giving some the opportunity to be saved? Both of these views deny the true nature of Jesus as revealed in the Bible. Both views are figments of man’s imagination. Both views are idolatry. Both incorporate certain aspects of God’s true nature, but deny other aspects. To worship man-made God who ignores sin is idolatry, as is worshipping a man-made God who only loves some people, but not others.

Can anyone follow the Second Commandment?

Ultimately, the answer is no, we cannot. We all get meaning and purpose from people and things other than God. Due to the limitations of our finite minds, none of us can truly understand the fullness of the nature of God, so we all worship something less than the actual God. At times, we all put other things before our worship of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We all fall short of following the Second Commandment perfectly.

Thankfully, despite our sin and idolatry, we can still be saved. If we repent of our idolatry and other sin, and place our trust in Jesus Christ, we are saved. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” We need to acknowledge that Jesus Christ alone can forgive our sins and restore our relationship with God the Father. Any other worship is idolatry.

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You Shall Have No Other gods Before Me

The Ten Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. You shall not kill/murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet

Is it possible for anyone to perfectly keep any of the 10 Commandments, much less all 10? In this series, I will be examining each of the 10 Commandments, to show how they cannot be kept, and why they point to the need for Jesus Christ as Savior.

You shall have no other gods before me

1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.
Exodus 20:1-3 NKJV

It is certainly true that most people in America today are not polytheistic. Few of us worship many gods, like the Greeks, Romans, or Hindus. Most Americans recognize the God of the Bible as the true God, although some worship another god, or no gods at all.

I certainly recognize the Biblical God as the only true God. All other gods are made-up figments of human imagination. So, I have Commandment #1 down perfectly, right?

Not exactly.

moses-tenFirst, none of us can actually comprehend God. The infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, holy God of the Bible is far beyond anything our puny, finite minds can truly grasp. One cannot put infinite knowledge into a finite mind. Therefore, our understanding of God is limited. What I understand as God is a limited shadow of the actual infinite God. Therefore, I actually worship a false God, not by choice, but by the limitations of my own mind. I worship God as I understand Him, not as He truly is. It is impossible for anyone to worship the true God, because we cannot comprehend Him truly.

Second, we all have things other than God that motivate us. Some are motivated by money; for others, it’s power, friends and family, or physical needs. Whatever motivates us or gives us a sense of worth is our god. Whenever I do something for any reason other than that it will draw me or others closer to God, I have placed something else ahead of God. Ultimately, I make myself my own god. I call the shots, not God. I’ve broken the first Commandment.

I’ve broken the first Commandment. So what?

God doesn’t grade on the curve. He doesn’t take the top X percent of good-deed doers to Heaven. He doesn’t put our good deeds on a scale, to see if they outweigh our bad deeds. God compares us to Himself. God is morally perfect; we are morally imperfect. We all fall short of God’s standard. We all fail, and we all deserve to be eternally separated from God.

The good news is that even though we are all sinners, Jesus Christ died for us.

I don’t always keep God first. I cannot perfectly keep the first Commandment. It’s impossible for me to do so. But, despite the fact you and I cannot keep God first, God still wants a relationship with us. That’s why He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to take the penalty for your sin and mine upon Himself on the cross. Our debt has been paid. All we have to do is to accept forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ and give our lives over to Him. When we receive Jesus as Savior, He begins a process of change from within us. Although the process won’t be completed until we are laid to rest and see Jesus face-to-face in eternity, God will begin the process of making Himself first in our lives from the moment we are saved. A relationship with God through Jesus Christ isn’t about getting my ticket punched to get into Heaven; it’s much more about allowing God to make Himself first in my life in the here and now.


The Ten Commandments

What are the Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20:

  1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.

  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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 nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

  5. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

  6. You shall not murder.

  7. You shall not commit adultery.

  8. You shall not steal.

  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

10CommandmentsThe Ten Commandments are only a small fraction of all of the commandments given in the Old Testament. In all, there are 613 commandments, covering topics including how to worship God, giving to the poor, sexual relationships, getting along with others, and many other things.

If we can’t keep them, why did God give them?

Contrary to what many people believe, the Ten Commandments are not a set of rules which, if followed, will gain a person entrance into heaven. Rather, they were given to make people realize they cannot possibly live up to God’s perfect standard.

The Apostle Paul said the following:

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. (Romans 7:7-11).

Nobody can perfectly obey the Ten Commandments (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Rather than being a means of salvation, the Ten Commandments demonstrate that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and all need God’s mercy and grace, which only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Even with a cursory glance, it’s pretty obvious that nobody can keep all ten commandments perfectly. I don’t know anyone who never dishonored their parents a single time, never stole anything (not even a cookie or a pencil), and never lied – not even a “little white lie.” God doesn’t grade us on the curve. He demands a passing grade of a perfect 100%. As James wrote, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” The point of the Ten Commandments is to show us that none of us can live a sinless life. This is why we need a Savior. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The Ten Commandments cannot save us. Only Jesus can save us.

10 Commandments