All of us are enticed to give our ultimate allegiance to other gods, whether money, success, sex, family, sports, comfort, or a whole bunch of other godlets that constantly bray for our attention. Martin Luther said that whatever is most important to us is our god.
What does God have in mind when He commands and invites us to keep Him as our only God? Here's my working definition:
We keep the first commandment when the God revealed in the Old Testament to the people of Israel as Yahweh and to the world, through Jesus, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the only source of our identity, hope, and strength for this life and the next.Luther puts it better in The Small Catechism:
We are fear, love, and trust God above anything else.Why does God take such a hard line?
Why can't God share us with our gods of choice?
Why is the prohibition of false god-worship so important that it shows up first in God's moral law?
Well, it isn't because God is an egomaniac or because God is a despot. The God revealed ultimately to the world in Jesus Christ has said that He is "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Among other things, this statement is a reminder that the God to Whom the Bible witnesses is a dispenser of life. Check that, this God is THE exclusive dispenser of life. The God ultimately revealed in Jesus is the only one Who can give life and the only one Who can give new life--a life free of sin, death, and futility--to us. (See here, here, and here.)
God loves every member of the human race and wants to have an everlasting relationship with each of us.
But God will not force Himself on us.
God leaves us free to choose whether we'll take Him up on the new life He offers in Jesus Christ.
He leaves us free to choose other gods.
The fact is that, in this lifetime, when the sin in and around us keeps dogging us, we never get over being tempted to allow our particular "gods of choice" hold sway over our decision-making, priorities, and living. This is why it's so important to keep reading God's Word, praying, worshiping each week with a church family, receiving Christ's body and blood, and listening to the counsel of seasoned Christian friends. These are means by which God, among other things, will set off alarm bells in the consciences and minds of those who really seek Him alerting them to the ways in which they're wandering from God and life. We need to pray as David did in one of the psalms, that God will show us where we have moved away from Him, seek forgiveness, and receive the power to keep on the path of life.
I'm a little wary of checklists and grids. Life is messier than checklists and grids...and a lot more mysterious and beautiful.
Be that as it may, a fellow named Jared Wilson presents a checklist from author David Powlison that you might find helpful in identifying your idols. I found the questions on the list incisive and good food for thought and prayer. They might even set off alarm bells for you, pointing you to the idols that vie for supremacy in your life, helping you to have a good conversation with God, including confession and a prayer for the empowerment to keep God first in your life. Here they are:
1. What do I worry about most?Life comes from the God we know in Jesus only. Maybe honest wrestling with these questions can help us to follow God, not because it's a commandment, but because the God we know in Jesus is the life-dispenser...and because we want God to remove every impediment from our relationship with Him and so, fully enjoy being His people!
2. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?
3. What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?
4. What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?
5. What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?
6. What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?
7. What do I lead with in conversations?
8. Early on what do I want to make sure that people know about me?
9. What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?
10. What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?
11. What is my hope for the future?
God bless you!