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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Love for God drives out idols
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 1st Commandment (God alone)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 96:1-3
Psalm 115:1-3
Psalm 115:5-6
Hymn 1A
Hymn 48

Readings: Isaiah 44, 1 Corinthians 10
Text: Lord's Day 34
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation in the Lord Jesus,

Though it’s troubling to admit it, I’m an idolater.  It doesn’t make me feel any better, but so are you.  We’re all idolaters.  We all have sinned against the first commandment at some time or another.  We have divided allegiances.  At our best moments, led by the Holy Spirit, we love God and earnestly want to serve him only.  At our worst moments, the remnants of our old nature make themselves known and we love other things more than God.  It’s ugly and it’s upsetting to think about it.  This happens to all of us.  We can be honest and admit that it is so.  The law brings us to that admission. 

As you know, that’s one of the functions of the law of God.  The Ten Commandments work as a sort of mirror for our lives.  We look into that mirror and we see ourselves for who we really are.  The picture is not pretty.  There’s bad news looking back at us.  We are reminded that we don’t have the righteousness which God’s law requires of us.  So, what do we do?  We flee to Christ. 

Every time the law points its finger at us, we again turn to our Saviour with faith.  We rest in him and trust his perfect work on our behalf.  We call out to God and ask him to forgive us because of Christ’s death.  We ask him to not see our sins, but to see Christ’s perfect righteousness and holiness on our behalf.  The good news is that God hears us and he does forgive.  The good news is that God grants us the righteousness of Christ so that we will never come into condemnation.  He does that for you, brother, for you, sister.

Also, when it comes to the first commandment.  Through Christ’s suffering and death, you are forgiven all of your running to idols.  Our Lord Jesus lived a perfect life, he never worshipped idols, he never even had the slightest inclination to do so in his heart – and the gospel tells us that his righteousness is yours.  You have a complete Saviour who gives you a perfectly righteous standing before God in heaven.  When it comes to your redemption, what Jesus said on the cross still holds, “It is finished.”  You need not ever doubt it or question it.  Resting and trusting in Jesus, in his person and work, you are there with him in heaven in principle.  And some day you will be there with him in person. 

The gospel announces that you’re forgiven and redeemed.  Through faith you are united to Christ.  And faith bears fruit.  Union with Christ means that our lives start to look more and more like the life of Christ.  His priorities are increasingly ours.  His devotion is too.  So, is his love.  Christians, united to Christ, want to serve God because they love him.  They want to please God and they want to thank him.  Redemption brings us to another function of the law.  You see, the law not only points us to Christ, it also shows us how to live out of union with Christ.  It shows us how a Christian will live out love for God and gratitude to God.  You say you’re bought with the blood of Jesus, a new creation?  Well here in these Ten Commandments we find out what a new creation really looks like.

It starts with the first commandment, what has sometimes been called the root commandment.  And this commandment is really ultimately about love for God.  When our Lord Jesus summarized the law in Matthew 22, he summarized the first part by quoting Deuteronomy 6, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  And so we can say that ultimately this first commandment comes down to that as well.  This is about where our hearts ultimately rest, to whom our hearts are committed, who has our attention and our devotion. 

As we consider the first commandment this afternoon, we’re going to take the approach of Lord’s Day 33.  We’re going to use the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new as the lens through which we consider this commandment and its place in our lives.  And so, this afternoon we’ll hear about the first commandment and how love for God drives out idols.

The first commandment is simple:  “You shall have no other gods before me.”  “Other gods” are things that people have or invent in the place of or in addition to the true and living God who reveals himself in Scripture.  We have or invent these and then we take one step further:  we trust in them.  We look to these idols for solace, for pleasure, for our well-being.  Everything we should be looking to the true God for, we sometimes look to these idols instead.

Now we could have a long discussion about the different things that can become idols in our lives.  Before we can avoid and flee idolatry, we have to know what idolatry is and what it can look like today.  These diagnostic questions could be helpful in identifying your idols:

  • Who or what do I make sacrifices for?
  • Who or what is most important to me?
  • If I could have or experience anything I wanted, what would that be?
  • Who or what makes me the most happy?
  • What is the one person or thing I could not live without?
  • What do I spend my money on?
  • Who or what do I devote my spare time to?

Those are good questions to ask ourselves.  To summarize it, an idol is anything that’s more important to you than God. 

Idolatry can take an almost infinite variety of forms.  John Calvin once said that we are idol factories – we churn them out by the dozens.  But let me just hone in on one particularly pervasive form, one that I struggle with, one that many of us struggle with.  We often add it to the worship of the true God.  It’s pride.  What Scripture calls “thinking of yourself more highly than you ought to.”  Pride is the idolatry of the self.  If we were to go through the list of questions I just posed, pride would answer those questions like this:  “I make sacrifices for me.  I’m most important to me, my self-esteem, my feelings are what matter most.  Happiness within and respect for me is what I most want in life.  It makes me the most happy when I am the center of attention and I’m getting the praise I earned and I deserve.  I could not live without the people who admire and respect me and who put me up on a pedestal.  I spend my money on me.  My spare time is all about me – it’s me-time all the way.”  Our culture says, “Go!  Go!  That’s exactly what you need to do.  It’s all about you, oops, I mean me.”  Our Dutch immigrant sub-culture is no better.  We don’t exactly have a reputation for being humble people.  Who can blame us?  After all, we worked hard.  We have a right to be proud.  Put us up on the pedestal on center stage.       

Hand in hand with that insidious form of idolatry comes the fear of man.  Making other people big in our lives, while God is small.  That’s been a problem that has afflicted Christians for a long time.  One of the most powerful examples comes from the church father Augustine.  In his Confessions, he wrote, ““There is a...kind of temptation which, I fear, has not passed from me.  Can it ever pass from me in all this life?  It is the desire to be feared or loved by other men, simply for the pleasure it gives me, though in such pleasure there is no true joy.  It is, rather, a wretched life and an unseemly ostentation. It is a special reason why we do not love you, nor devotedly fear you. Therefore “you resist the proud but give grace to the humble.””

By the way, if this strikes a chord, there’s a helpful book on this subject by Ed Welch, When People are Big and God is Small.  That’s an excellent book on putting pride and the fear of man to death in your life.

Pride and all other forms of idolatry are obviously sinful.  When God’s Word exposes it, we should have sorrow in our hearts that we have offended God with our sin.  As we look to Christ in faith, we come to hate it as he does.  And we flee from it.

We recognize that idolatry is sinful and it’s foolish.  It’s really the foolishness of idolatry that gets exposed in Isaiah 44.  God is speaking.  He describes the man who cuts down a tree.  Some of it he uses for firewood.  Some of it he worships as an idol.  This is stupid.  It’s foolish.  The irrationality of sin is laid out here for us.  This is why the New Testament warns us against the deceitfulness of sin.  Sin lies to us.  When we have idols, why do we often find it so hard to say, “This thing that has grabbed my heart is a lie”?  Why do we find it so hard sometimes think, “This idol cannot save me, will do nothing good for me after my heart stops beating”?  That’s the deceitfulness of sin, loved ones.

So, the dying of the old nature means that we recognize our false loves.  We recognize that our hearts were made to love God and not things that we’ve invented or that other people have come up with.  Paul says it in verse 14 of 1 Corinthians 10:  “flee from idolatry.”  Run away from it, have nothing to do with it.  Brothers and sisters, with our eyes open to what it is and what it looks like in our lives, we stay away from it and try, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, to kill it.

Look at God’s love for idolaters in Isaiah 44.  He says to them that he made them and he will not forget them.  And then verse 22, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist.  Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”  He reasserts his love, forgiveness and redemption and on that basis he pleads for their love and for their return to him.  How can we not love him after he has fulfilled all of this in Christ?  We love him because he first loved us.  And our love will be reflected in our avoiding and fleeing all forms of idolatry.  That’s the putting to death of the old nature. 

This love also then reveals itself in the coming to life of the new nature.  Imagine what it would look like for us to be utterly and completely passionate about our love for God.  Imagine a love where nothing and no one could get in the way.  I think it might sound something like this letter written a bunch of years ago by a young Communist to his fiancée, as he was breaking off their engagement.  His letter concluded by saying:

There is one thing that I am in dead earnest about, and that is the Communist cause.  It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife, my mistress, and my bread and meat.  I work at it in daytime and dream of it at night.  Its hold on me grows, not lessens as time goes on.  Therefore, I cannot carry on a friendship, a love affair, or even a conversation without relating it to this force which both drives and guides my life.  I evaluate people, books, ideas, and actions according to how they affect the Communist cause, and by their attitude toward it.  I’ve already been in jail because of my ideals, and if necessary, I’m ready to go before a firing squad.

That’s passionate love and devotion for something.  But of course, it’s all in the wrong direction.  But for Christians with the help of the Spirit and the Word, we can point our love in the right direction, and we can see that love develop.  This is the kind of love that the Catechism is speaking about in QA 94 at the end when it speaks about forsaking all creatures rather than doing the least thing against God’s will. 

The Lord Jesus taught us that sort of love and commitment.  Think of Matthew 10:37, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me...”  Parents can become idols.  Children can become idols.  There is only room for one on the throne and that one will be God.  If you don’t recognize the one who is really on the throne, that’s a serious problem and it has serious consequences.  However, those who are united to Christ, they say that God is king and more and more their lives reflect the reality of that confession.

This is the coming to life of the new nature.  Through Christ we have heartfelt joy in God – we know that we are at peace with him.  That brings us to love him and to want to please him.  We learn more and more to delight in knowing his will and doing his will. 

When it comes to the first commandment, this unfolds in several ways.  First of all, living out of union with Christ, we recognize that there is one true God whom we should serve.  Isaiah 44:6 & 8, “I am the first and I am the last, apart from me there is no God...Is there any God besides me?  No, there is no other Rock;  I know not one.”  We aim to know this God better from his Word.  His Word is treasured and valued by us because through it we know him, and Jesus Christ the Son of God, our Saviour.  We know him – that means that we not only know about him, but that we have a healthy relationship with him, and that brings us into trusting him alone, and submitting to him with humility and patience.  Expecting all good from him only, loving, fearing and honouring him with all our hearts.  In short, only God is God, and the coming to life of the new nature, sees this reality being recognized in our lives in greater measures.  The lies are disappearing, the truth is taking hold.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.    

It’s easy to get discouraged by this commandment, isn’t it?  The bar is set so high.  Love for God.  Whole heart, soul, mind and strength.  24/7.  We love him here in church as we sing the psalms and hymns.  The gospel addresses us and we can say honestly that we love God for it.  We love him as we pray to him in response.  Sitting around with our family as we read the Bible together, we can say with sincerity that we love God.  When we do our personal devotional reading and prayer, it’s there too.  But aren’t there moments when love for God is far from your mind?  Where you have “degodded” God?  Conveniently avoiding the real reality?  Let’s be honest and say that the first commandment isn’t easy.  None of the commandments are, but this is the root commandment and getting this wrong means inevitably getting so much more wrong.

So, where do we find the strength?  Where do we find the resources so that the coming to life of the new nature (and the dying of the old) are not just words on a page?  It’s easy to talk and when we do it sometimes sounds easy.  But then it’s 9:00 on Thursday evening and where are those words?  Let’s make it concrete, as concrete as we can.

Brothers and sisters: Jesus Christ.  He is the beginning and the end in all this.  We are great sinners, but we have a great Saviour.  We have great weakness, but he has great strength.  We’re broken, he’s not.  First and foremost we need to look to him to implement the first commandment in our lives.  If we are to truly love God and to love him more consistently, we need to fix our eyes on Christ more.  But again, how?  The Word of God is the means by which the Holy Spirit works and strengthens faith.  We need the Word to portray Christ to us so that we can entrust ourselves more and more to him.  We listen to the Word, we read the Word, we pray the Word (praying the Psalms, for instance).  As we turn to the Bible in faith and humility,  it’s the means that Christ uses to direct us to himself and to shape our lives to look like his.  So, our strength doesn’t come from our own resources, but from Christ, from his Word, and from his Spirit who lives in us.  When we look at the first commandment and its place in our lives from that perspective, there’s no need to be pessimistic, there’s no need to be cynical about the possibility of change.  There is hope.  Because our risen Saviour is so powerful and he gives us his promises to help us and to transform us. 

So, yes, of myself I am an idolater.  And so are you.  But we have Jesus Christ.  What a great Saviour!  He gives us hope for today and he works a greater love for God in our hearts and lives.  Through him and in him, we can say with Asaph in Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”  And those words are becoming the reality more and more as our sinful nature is put to death.  AMEN.


Our Father in heaven,

We are so often prone to wander from you.  We abuse and neglect your love for us.  We are so hard to impress at times.  Our hearts can be so stubborn and can easily love sin more than we love you.  We are serial idolaters.  We are idol factories.  Please have mercy on us through Christ and forgive us.  We pray for more grace so that we can put our old nature to death and see our new nature  in Christ come to life.  Help us to fix our eyes on our Saviour.  Please work with your Spirit in us so that we hate sin and grow in love for you.  Father, we need help.  We need your help.  Please hear our cry to you and answer quickly.  Shape and mould our lives, sanctify us so that we may bring more glory to your name.  We do love you as the only true God and we want to see our love and devotion become more consistent.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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