Apostasy and the 1st Commandment

Step Three: Apostasy from the LORD – Breaking the First Commandment

Exodus 20:3 – You shall have no other gods before me.

If one walks down a path that includes having no respect for the LORD’s name, and then crafts their own idols – that is, replacing the LORD – then how would one ever really know God? That is the problem when one habitually breaks the Law with no remorse – it leads to a road of apostasy. James Durham speaks of what is required of the “LORD’s people” in the first commandment, saying, “It requires the right knowledge of God: for there can be no true worship given to him, there can be no right thought or conception of him, or faith in him, till he be known[1] He continues, giving two more requirements: both the suitable acknowledging of God and such duties as a result from his excellency.[2] The point is that the “LORD’s people” know their heavenly Father like no other. If one does not know the Father in the way the Father asks – that is, in the way one is asked to respect His name, and in the way one worships God above and beyond all idols – how will one ever know God to the point of actually being a believer? One author also said on this issue:

“A man’s chances of successfully living the Christian life without an accurate and adequate knowledge of God are about the same as arriving at a desired vacation destination without knowing how to get there.”[3]

How does this break the first commandment?  It breaks the first commandment in that when one falls into the pattern of breaking the second and third commandments, they place themselves in front of what God has designed – making their ways more important to them; and even more, making themselves a god.  When one falls into believing their self to be above and in front of God’s commandments, believer or unbeliever, they have made themselves their own god by telling God that their way, their thinking, and their practices are more important than following that which God has given “His people.”

Properly knowing God, is knowing His commandments, who He is, and what He commands of His people. If one walks down a path of constantly breaking the Law, loosing respect for His name, not worshipping Him alone, then how will God be first? He will not be. God lays His commandments out for His people as principles in which they are to live accordingly in life, so that He will be first and foremost in the life of the believer. If one uses the name of God like that of any other, or if one worships anyone or anything like that of god, then God cannot be number one in their life.  It is impossible to live for God while serving one’s own personal desires of living.  The command which is the most important and most easily broken is the command that lays at the heart of every apostate.  The reason one leaves what they had either confessed or heard from the gospel, is because he or she places something from their everyday life in front of God.

The first command states, “You shall have no other gods before me.” When an individual is living for himself and walking down a pathway of apostasy, there is much importance to be seen at the end of the first command as it says, “before me.” It means that the individual lives in the midst of many gods, but always is held accountable before God. In today’s culture, with the many gods this world has to offer, in the many forms it has to give, and the many ways the idols of today can be worshipped, one must at all times understand that they are before God at all times.  In this lies the ultimate struggle in one’s apostasy – that  not only does one walk away from the gospel, but completely places idols, gods, etc, in front of God Himself, and therefore easily forgets the gospel truth that they are in the presence of God at all times.  The first commandment demands loyalty to God in every way.  One cannot do so once they have not properly followed the third and second commands of the Decalogue, because if one does not honor the LORD’s name, nor worship Him first, how will they then, on the road of apostasy, believe that they can remain loyal to the One and true God? They cannot; instead, they will continue to walk down that path on which they started, dishonoring His name, not worshipping Him like they are called, and completely apostatizing from Him and the gospel truths, not remaining loyal to Him.

The first three commandments parallel themselves to one another in one way or another, saying the same thing.  One – “no gods before Me;” two – “keep to the way I have imaged Myself;” and three – “do not use My name for mischief.”  They all make an absolute demand for “His people” in understanding Him – that His name represents His person and His work. His exclusive demand comes from the fact that He is the only true and living God, and He has revealed Himself (which is at the core of the gospel).  The Law is to bring the “LORD’s people” to a pursuit of sanctification; to be used as a growth process, and as a list of principles to follow, which God has given in love for His people in order for them to be redeemed. The freedom in the Law has been given for His people in the Law of God so that they can be brought constantly as a redeemed people with His Law that intends for them to be in harmony with their God.  That is how the Law is love for the believer – that they can be in harmony living in the way that their God has commanded for them to live in this world.

[1] James Durham, Practical Exposition of The Ten Commandments, p. 73.

[2] James Durham, Practical Exposition of The Ten Commandments, p. 72-4.

[3] Buddy Hanson, God’s Ten Word: A Commentary on the Ten Commandments (Tuscaloosa: Buddy Hanson, 2002), p. 3.


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