Only One Way

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In our politically correct hobbled society, the real challenge for the faithful is explaining the concept upon which both the Old and New Testaments rests: the exclusivity of true faith. In Exodus 20, we read the Ten Commandments. In the original Hebrew, they aren’t “commandments” but “statements,” and the first two statements God made are these:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2, 3 NIV)

That last statement galls many in a society that preaches a kind of moral equivalence of all world religions. One religion is just as valid as the other. One god is just as valid as another. Yet this is not what the one true God says.

And God spoke all these words… (Exodus 20:1 NIV)

It wasn’t Moses who concocted the notion of monotheism, it was God Himself who stated it: He is the ONLY God and man is to worship ONLY Him. There isn’t a lot of inclusivism in God’s first statement.

Over in the New Testament, the Son of God said something similar:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6 NIV)

God didn’t get any more inclusive during the centuries between Moses and Jesus, that’s for sure! There is only one way, not many ways to God. However, as exclusive as true faith may be, it is open to anybody who would simply believe.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16 – 18 NIV)

Exodus 20:2

The Ten Commandments is a document that has changed the world for the better. As important and as influential as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence may be, they are eclipsed by the Ten Commandments. According to God Himself, the fact man ought to worship only Him is the first step toward making the world a better place in which to live.

Depending on whether you are a Jew or a Christian, the first commandment will be different. Remember, in the original Hebrew, these are statements not commandments, and the first statement God made is this declaration:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2 NIV)

All the other commandments (or statements) rest on this one. It states in unambiguous terms that it is God who is speaking, not Moses or any other man; that what follows are God’s statements and not somebody’s opinions. This was important for the Israelites to know because, as God went on to state, it was He who delivered them from bondage in Egypt, not some human being, and because of that, the Israelites were in His debt. Because He did such a great thing for them, they needed to pay attention to His wishes, and His wishes included living by the following commandments.

This was a revolutionary concept which we call Ethical Monotheism; the notion that there is one God (Monotheism) and He is the Source of ethics and morality – or He dictates what is right and what is wrong. Why was this revolutionary? Just stop and consider the time in which Moses gave Israel God’s Ten Commandments: man was worshipping all kinds of gods, from gods that controlled the weather to gods that looked like animals. Every religion had their own code of right and wrong. What the people of God needed was what God provided: an objective morality that transcended human ideas and opinions.

If you take even the quickest glance at the Commandments, you’ll notice that most of them have to do with how we treat others. That’s included in the definition of Ethical Monotheism. God is concerned with how believers treat their fellow man. Not a single commandment has to do with what a believer should do for God. For three centuries, the Israelites had been exposed to the religion of Egypt which was all about what man should do for his gods. In the centuries to come, they would be surrounded by other pagan religions that also taught that man had to do many things to satisfy his gods – things like feeding them or sacrificing other people to them. But the Ten Commandments declared that what the one true God wants most of all is that His people treat all people well. Yes, even those commandments about not having false gods or not carrying God’s name in vain are about morality because how we treat God cannot be divorced from how we treat other people.

A new world

It’s not that God was building a new religion with His Ten Commandments or statements, it’s that He was building a new society that would mirror His vision of what real freedom was. Just how important is freedom to God? It’s the salient point of the Ten Commandments!  He began, not with a declaration that He created the universe – an impressive act to be sure – but with the declaration that He set His people free from slavery. That’s how much God hates slavery and how important He thinks freedom is.

Jesus thought freedom was pretty important, too. But for the Christian, it isn’t freedom from slavery to another man per se, it’s freedom from sin and all kinds of oppression.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NIV)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

The authors of the Magna Carta and the Founding Fathers of America based their views of freedom on the Biblical fact that God wants all men to be free. That’s why, for example, the Liberty Bell has only one sentence on it, and it’s not a quote from Washington or Madison, but part of a verse from the Bible:

Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. (Leviticus 25:10 KJV)

God, the author and giver of the Ten Commandments, makes it clear that the way to a free society; the way for any human being to live in freedom, is by simply following His Commandments or statements. In other words, freedom God’s way has nothing to do with being able to do whatever you feel like doing. If the Ten commandments teaches anything, it’s that real freedom comes from exercising self-control.

Exodus 2:3

The second Commandment, by Jewish reckoning is this one:

You shall have no other gods before me.

It goes on to forbid the making and worshipping of idols or images. On the surface, it sounds like God is discouraging the reverence of things like totem poles or icons or statues, or the worship of false gods like the weather or fertility gods, or the Greek and Roman gods and so on. However, that’s a very limited view of this commandment. In our time, most people don’t worship the weather, although we talk about it all the time. Most people don’t worship statues or Zeus or Ra. But this Commandment is not irrelevant, in fact there’s a reason why it’s Commandment number one or two, depending on whether you are a Christian or a Jew. In our sophisticated age, there are just as many false gods as there were during the days of Moses. Things like money, popularity, power, celebrity, politics, education, beauty, love, art, flag, family, talent, health, the environment, all these things are the false gods of today, and the worship of false gods is the greatest hindrance to peace and goodwill on the earth.

In a sense, the rest of the Commandments descend from this one. God makes it plain that He and He alone is the only God and that He is alone is to be worshipped. But this should not be taken as a prideful or demeaning statement. It’s a logical one. If there’s only one God, then He is the one God who deserves to be worshipped. Furthermore, think about these things:

One God means there is one human race. Though we may all look different and speak different languages, we have all come from one Creator, or one Heavenly Father. In that sense, every human being is the brother or sister of every other human being.

Because we have the same Father, all people are equal; no one nationality or society is intrinsically more valuable than the other. That doesn’t mean every society is the same or every society is a good society. It means that in God’s eyes, no matter where you may live, what language you may speak, or what the color of your skin is, you are important to God and you are known personally by God.

And the fact that there is one God means that there is one moral standard for all people. These Ten Commandments, for example, were given by God to the Israelites, but since they came from God, they are good for all people. So if adultery is wrong here, then it is wrong over there. And because there is only one God, you can’t go to another god to get justification for your adultery.

A similar thought is expressed throughout the New Testament.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. (John 3:16, 17 TLB)

By “world” in these verses, “people” is meant, not the planet on which they live. God loves the people of the world so much, He sent His only Son to save them.  He wants very much to save them – to spare them the condemnation to come.

Both Testaments also insist that when man worships anything or anybody other than the one true God, bad things will surely result. This isn’t a religious superstition, it’s the ground rule God has established. Some of those bad things are obvious. When man worships power or money or race, his life becomes corrupt and he hurts those around him. Even the worship of very good things, like family or art or even classical music can inspire great evil. The example often cited for this is the movie A Clockwork Orange. In it, men rape and murder while classical music is playing. Education is another god of this age. But some of the most educated men in Germany came up with Hitler’s “final solution,” proving a great education is no guarantee of good character. Love is a gift from God, but it can become a false god that harms people. Think about how love of country, for example, when exalted above love of God, has resulted in horrible evil being committed against others.

This is why keeping God in the very center of our lives is so important. Worship of the one true God brings perspective to our sometimes very confusing lives. It may seem strange to you that this Commandment to worship the one true God results in better human beings and a better community, but it really shouldn’t. Like any parent, our Heavenly Father takes great joy in seeing His children live decent, moral, and ethical lives. And like any parent does, when His children behave, God blesses them.

Yes, Biblical faith is exclusive. There is only one God and only way to reach Him – through a living relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. The freest people on earth are those who have been set free from the bondage to sin by Christ.

So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free. (John 8:36 TLB)

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