The First Commandment: You Shall Have No Other Gods

Luther’s explanation: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

We will see the necessity to fear, love, and trust in God throughout all of the commandments in Luther’s explanations. We will see that doing so is vital in keeping these commandments.

Trusting God can be described in the term we Lutherans use called saving faith, which essentially means trusting faith, since the foundation of that faith is trust in God alone. When we sin, we’re telling God, “I don’t wanna do it Your way; I wanna do it my way,” and we thus fail to trust Him. Everybody has faith. It may not be in the same thing, but we all put our faith in something. The question is not, “Will you have faith?” Instead, the question is, “What will you put your faith in?” At the time God gave this commandment to the Israelites, the command had a literal sense to not have any other gods besides the One True God, Yahweh. Since New Testament times, however (which we’re still currently in), it carries with it another meaning, not just the literal sense. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus painted here the image of idolatry, using money as an example. Whatever we put above God becomes our idol—it becomes our god. It can be money, your boyfriend or girlfriend, wife or husband, your children, video games, food (gluttony), the existence of aliens, your rationality, some personal sins like homosexuality, other sexual immoralities, greed, gossip, and the list goes on indefinitely.

I like the way Martin Luther explains it in his Large Catechism: “A god is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart” (LC, The First Commandment, 2). Think long and hard if there is anything in your life you run to when you’re stressed—something you run to in refuge to get away from whatever’s troubling you. Is it squandering your money on a shopping spree? Is it isolating yourself in your room and playing video games? Is it sex? Is it pornography? Is it stress eating? Is there anything you use to self-medicate your problems? We’ll come back to this a little later, but continue to think about that.

Faith in God is putting your trust in His promises because that faith is attached to His promises. God promises to protect His people, deliver them from evil, and give them all their needs (if we seek His kingdom first—Matthew 6:33); He even promises to discipline and chastise us when necessary (Hebrews 12:6), and He promises His wrath against the wicked. By faith, we put our trust and hope in the reality of Jesus’ second coming. By faith, we trust that God created the universe out of nothing. By faith, we trust God with the entirety of our lives.

Going back to what Luther said, the key word is refuge. It means to be sheltered from danger or trouble. What is it that you use as a refuge to shelter yourself from what’s troubling you? Continue to think about this as we look at a couple psalms. Psalm 9:9 says, “The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.” Due to the corruption of original sin in the world, sin oppresses us daily throughout our lives. Because of this, God desires us to take refuge in Him. He wants to comfort us through the Holy Spirit, whom we call the Comforter.

So, is there anything that replaces God as your refuge? As St. Paul wrote, God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5). The beauty of receiving the comfort from God is that we can then use that comfort we received from Him to comfort our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must accept the fact that there will be inevitable suffering in the world, especially as Christians (see John 16:33); and although we will experience abundant suffering, God promises to give us abundant comfort as well! So when you’re suffering, you can always expect comfort in God should you take refuge in Him and not in whatever idol you use to self-medicate. Luther reiterates that “to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart.” Psalm 46:1 also reiterates, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Galatians 4:8 says, “However, at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods.” At this time, Paul was writing to the church in Galatia, whose members were Christians just like us. Like us, they also suffered with every day idols. Because they were Christians, Paul pointed out that before they knew God, they were slaves to idols—to sin, which are not gods. Notice the past tense: they were slaves; they no longer are. And so it’s the same for us! We were slaves to idols and sin, and now we’re not. Therefore, Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

This is something to be excited about! We are free! We have been delivered from the curse that the Law pronounced on the sinner who has been unsuccessfully striving to achieve his own righteousness. We now embrace Christ and the salvation granted to Him by grace and are justified and righteous through His merit alone (Romans 5:15-21see also Philippians 3:9). The apostle Paul exhorts us to stand firm in this grace because of the undeserved blessing of being free from the Law and the flesh.

*Disclaimer: this article has been republished with the full permission of Sheep of Christ, which is owned by the author.*

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