“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image…”~Exodus 20:3-4.
It is our common obligation, as children of God, to consecrate ourselves completely to him. Nothing proved more difficult, however, for God’s ancient people, than this command. We marvel in seeing how quickly they descended into idolatry. It seems that his goodness, in any moment of crisis, could easily be effaced from their memory.
The reason, however, was not that the Lord was at fault, as if he withdrew his blessings, but that they were blind to seeing his many operations. Did he not wrap their feet in his love, preventing any sharp rock from puncturing them, or becoming scorched in the sun? Yet how quickly they threw their children into the fires of Molech. Was not the Lord their victory in battle? Yet how quickly they called for the intercession of idols. The Church of God has a valuable lesson to learn. Our flesh is powerless to hold tight to our God. We must look away from ourselves, to another bonding-agent, so that we might be held firmly in Christ’s bosom. And this we have been given, from the kindness of our Mediator, in the gift of his Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6). In ourselves, we are decayed and condemned shacks. Yet when the Spirit gathers us together, he consecrates us as Temples of the Living God (1 Cor 3:16).
The effects of Adam have spread across our world. I am speaking of his transgression, which has been frequently called Original Sin. There are complex debates about the nature of this doctrine, but most agree on certain effects, amongst which is the spread of sin to our species. The result is that humanity – the appointed image of God – has blocked out the Lord with thousands of idols. This was true of those nations that surround Israel. And it is equally true in our own day. The people of God still dwell amidst unbelief and apostasy. Indeed, the City of Man has been laid upon the foundation of blasphemy and arrogance. And mankind, left alone, erects monuments of self-glorification, monuments which are simply new towers of Babel. This is why the people of God, wherever they live, always yearn for a better City, whose builder and maker is our God (Heb 11:10). How difficult it is, however, to patiently endure our current testing. All around us, and even bubbling inside of us, are the springs of idolatry. We learn, from Paul, that idolatry proceeded from ingratitude, and is perpetuated because the minds of men are seared with obstinacy (Rom 1:21). So long as Adam’s mantle drapes over us, our species is subjected to futility, and can only bear the fruits of death (Rom 6:21; 8:20). Moreover, so insidious is the power of sin that it infects the household of God, which was appointed as a refuge from Satan’s throne (Rev 2:13; 1 Cor 5:5). We see many of our friends, who once joined with us in prayer, departing after all the false gods of this world. This they do when they trade piety for profanity, humility for vanity, and prefer to soothe themselves in the balm of sinful behavior.
We must learn from them a lesson about ourselves. We are naturally inclined to evil behavior. And we cannot coast into our heavenly inheritance. Instead, we must mount up on the wings of the Holy Spirit, in order to fly with his power. For the Spirit makes us fertile to bear the fruits of obedience. It is necessary, therefore, if we would obey the first commandment, that we would strive to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This means cultivating reverence for the sacred day of Pentecost. Our Lord Jesus appointed that day to be marked by signs of his power, from rushing wind to fiery tongues, so that we would apprehend with our senses what is true of His Spirit, namely that He alone fills us with godliness. We should not get hung up on the well-worn debate, namely whether the ancient Israelites experienced the Spirit’s power. Whatever they received, it is insufficient to be compared with the advantage in the Church of God. St. Paul, for simplicity’s sake, often identifies this advantage with the Holy Spirit. “The righteous requirement of the law,” he writes, “is fulfilled in us,” because we walk “according to the Spirit”(Rom 8:4). For everything proceeds to us from our good Father, through the mediation of his Son, and in the power of his Holy Spirit.
The point of all these things is simple: the first commandment is fulfilled by the energy of the Spirit. Thus, let us not pretend to call Jesus our Lord, when we live according to the flesh, and not by the power supplied by the Holy Ghost. “No one can say Jesus is Lord,” at least not with sincerity, “except by the Holy Spirit”(1 Cor 12:3). This world brims with evils, such that Paul’s statement is self-evident, that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit”(1 Cor 2:14a). The world cannot understand why we would cleave to the promises of our Savior, holding them against the day of the Lord. And Paul gave us the reason why the natural man blocks out God’s precepts, “for they are foolishness to him”(1 Cor 2:14b). Because idolatry is a danger for us, we have no other recourse than to find our strength in God. We should present our hearts to the Lord, so that His Spirit would descend into them. Without his assistance, our hearts become crusted like the natural man. And soon, we descend into apostasy and self-love, such that we become worse than beasts. It is imperative, therefore, that we labor to have the law inscribed within us, written not on stones, but on our very hearts. And this alone is administered by the secret power of the Spirit (Rom 2:15, 29) .