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Friday, July 20, 2012

July 2012

This month we begin our look at the Catechism (that is, the core teachings of the church) by examining the First Commandment. John Calvin once said that the human heart is an idol factory. Lutherans agree. We are masters at making our own gods. As one wag put it, "In the beginning God made man in His image, and ever since man has been returning the favor." The problem with sinful creatures such as us is that we will not have God as our God. We don't trust Him enough to do what is right.

This problem goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent (Genesis 3:l-24). The serpent told Eve that if she ate from the fruit from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that she would be like God. That is, the devil convinced Eve and Adam (who was right next to his wife, not protecting her from the devil) that God was not giving them the best He had to offer. There was something they were missing out on; something more they could aspire to be! God graciously created humanity to be receivers who trusted Him to daily and richly provide for them. But Adam and Eve rebelled against the good which God willed for them and sought His glory. They sought to be gods unto themselves! And we've been copying our first parents ever since.

There is a danger when it comes to talking about idolatry. We tend to think that only those who worship false gods are idolaters. Though this is the crassest form of idolatry, it is not the only form of idolatry. The Small Catechism says in order to keep the first commandment we must fear, love, and trust in God above all else. We break the first commandment every time we sin because in our thoughts, words, and deeds we are not putting God above all else. Rather, we are putting our sinful desires before God. For example, if I am found stealing something I prove to be an idolater since the one true God commanded me not to steal. I put my desire above His will, thus, making my desire my god. As James says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10)

To put anything at all before God is to make that "anything" your God. In the Large Catechism Luther asks, "What does 'to have a god' mean? Answer: A 'god' is the term for 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." Here the first commandment becomes to us the most devastating of laws because it reveals something about us that is utterly terrifying: I have way too many gods! I may not worship Allah, but money, security, family, work, popularity, etc. all find their way into that place in my heart that belongs solely to God himself! We are forced to confess: I have other gods! I am an idolater!

What hope is there for the idolater whose heart incessantly produces new idols in its own image? Amazingly, such a sinner (like you and me) finds hope in the God who makes Himself in our image! For this God (who alone is our God) puts on our flesh in Jesus Christ so that He might die as an idolater on the cross in place of every other idolater! That is, for you. This God will not share your heart with idols, so He is going to come take it back, He is going to burn down the factory and build a new one which looks to Him alone for all good things and refuge. He alone comes to save us from the other "gods" and our own sin! With such a promise we can only cry out, "Lord to whom shall we go (what other gods are there)?

"You alone have the words of eternal life!" (John 6:68)

Pastor Bob

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