6.02.2010

No Other Gods Before Me


Christianity is typically viewed as a lifestyle of “do’s” and “don’ts” – do go to church and do good deeds, don’t do drugs or cheat on your spouse. I don’t deny that knowing the “do’s” and “don’ts” is important to God and useful to us. But I think that what really matters is the prioritizations of our mind, body, and heart. Or, to put it another way, “what are my gods” or “what are my idols.”

“Gods” and “idols” we tend to think of narrow terms. These are things we literally or figuratively bow down to in worship and devotion. It can be easy for the Christian to think himself idol-free; after all, rare is the modern believer who kneels before a totem or proclaims his commitment to the devil.

And yet I would contend that our lives are strewn with idols. Or perhaps I will just assert that my life is. For when God says “no other gods before me,” it’s pretty clear that he wants all of our intellect, all of our physicality, and all of our affection. And yet I am all too often governed by, beholden to, and identified with other things besides Him:

• My wife and kids
• My friends and family
• My body image and overall reputation
• My money and possessions
• My job, career, and vocation
• My favorite activities and celebrities
• My affiliations, titles, and positions
• My knowledge and intellect
• My acts of service and righteousness
• My theological understanding

What does it mean for these things to be idols? Surely most if not all of them are inherently good things. Surely putting God first does not necessarily mean cutting any or all of these things out of my life. And yet, the enemy of the best is not the worst but the almost-best, and the idols that so many of us are seduced and ruined by are not the “obviously wrong” but the “very good but not meant to replace God.” The command and the invitation by God is that He is first; all else filters through that expectation of complete and utter devotion.

Of course, this does not mean that I don’t really care much about my wife or my job, but because God tells me to, I begrudgingly summon the willpower to go through the motions of love and honor. No, for to be governed by, beholden to, and identified with God alone means more than just an act of will; it is a transformative process that spares no part of us, but causes us to think, feel, and live as deep as we were intended to as humans.

Sadly, the things we settle for, apart from relationship with and commitment to God, leave us shallower and weaker. And yet, time and again, I am defined by, compelled by, driven by them instead of my Maker. “No other gods before me” is what I was made for, but I find it a steep lifestyle to live up to. For it means that all of my actions, passions, and sources of identity merit examination.

Christianity isn’t as easy, simple, or plain as “do’s” and “don’ts.” It is a high calling, higher than most of us in this generation are unwilling to respond to. What a tragedy; for it is what we were literally made to strive for. We settle for actions, passions, and sources of identity that hollow us out, when true and lasting and unimaginable brilliance beckon us instead. All we need is God, but instead we strew our lives with meaningless idols and shallow pursuits, and clutter ourselves from glory.

I have been given many good things to enjoy, but in converting them into gods instead, I have diminished my pleasure and distanced myself from the one true God. “No other gods before me” is not easy, unrealistic, or burdensome; it is rather a high and glorious invitation, and daily I will try anew to accept it.

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