Grace and Truth
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Series 9 - Comparisons Between Islam and Christianity
III. First Commandment: You Shall Have no Other Gods Before Me
1. Worshipping Idols Today
1. Worshipping Idols Today
If we live in an industrial country, we hardly ever come across people who worship idols, be they of wood, stone or even gold. Yet if we visit Asia or Africa we are bound to run into many idols with many people who really worship them in fear.
In an “India Airlines“ magazine was a picture of Durga, the goddess of war, with her six arms that kill any aggressor. Human skulls were scattered around Durga. Valiant as she was in war, anyone who would approach her would be burnt by the fire lashing out of her mouth. And she smiled while she killed her enemies.
You will find carved statues of elephants in India that represent the god Ganahati. From time to time, Hindus lay fragrant flowers before them. On special feasts, garlands of flowers decorate plastic elephants that are almost two or three stories high. Crowds accompany these idols down the streets until they throw them into the river or the sea in the hope that the fishing may be good and the area be spared from the devastating annual floods.
During a special feast thousands of cows are driven into temples and sprinkled with sacred water to keep them healthy. Then their horns are painted with bright colors as a sign of dedication.
If we were to visit Ladakh Valley beyond the Himalayan Mountains or travel to a Buddhist country, we would see huge golden, smiling statues of Buddha and people prostrating before them in total reverence. One third of humanity still worships idols and thus breaks the first commandment. These idol worshipers believe in the power of these statues and in reincarnation. Large numbers of people in Africa and Indonesia are still in spiritual bondage to such customs. Others worship their ancestors. But if they were to experience the authority of Jesus, they would be released from any fear of spirits and from idolatry and divination. Then, they would no longer need magical spells or blue beads and would reject dead idols because they would be shielded from every influence of evil spirits.
Our heavenly Father delivers us from all sorts of fear, even from the overpowering dominion of the jinn, and sets us completely free from all effects of sorcery. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the ultimate protection from all the evil powers. Whatever is written or uttered as curses in the name of the powers of darkness against those who follow the Lord Jesus will be shattered in the name of our Lord. He remains the mighty fortress to all those who turn to Him.
2. Modern Day Idols
Unfortunately, a new mode of idol worship has permeated industrial countries, where statues have been replaced by cars televisions and celebrities. Man relies more on modern technology than on the living God. He gets into his car and drives very fast on asphalt roads. The car has become an idol for modern day people. They enter into it and deliver themselves to its power. While Israelites in the past were dancing around the golden calf, modern civilization rotates around the latest model car. The owner saves and sacrifices for his car; he cleans it, polishes it and listens to the engine's hum more than he listens to the people around him. He spends considerable time and money on it - more than he does on the poor. Has man become a slave to modern technology? Throngs of people flood into stadiums to watch auto-racing and athletic events. But few sit in church pews and participate in public worship.
Jesus warns us especially against loving money. He said, “No one can serve God and money, for he will either love one or hate the other, or reject God and cling to money.“ “The love of money are the root of all evil.“ Socialism and capitalism have the same goal, for while capitalists are rich, socialists want to become rich by manipulation and violence. People dance around the golden calf even today. Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. No one can serve God and money. Jesus was poor but content. He strongly warns His followers against wealth, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare“ (1 Timothy 6:9; Matthew 6:24; 19:24).
Yet, the dominant idol that rules over all cultures and religions is our super-ego. Every person tends to think that he is the best, the most beautiful and important of all. If they do not really think about it, they unconsciously want it. Everyone thinks that he is the center of the world. A three-year-old girl was once asked, “What would you like to be?“ “A statue!“ she answered. “Why?“ “So that everyone has to look up to me.“ Pride and selfishness flow in our blood. This is the complete opposite of the humble spirit of Christ. Jesus said, “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes only from God?“ “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.“ “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.“ “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not“ (John 5:44; Matthew 11:29-30; 16:25-26; Jeremiah 45:5).
3. Overcoming Idol Worship
Why should forbidding the worship of other gods beside God be the first commandment? In fact, there is only one God. All the celebrities of this world are temporary. God alone lives forever. He created us, so to Him be the glory and honor. He is the center of the whole universe. Our selfishness should be broken every day until we repent and serve God with gladness. We need to put ourselves at God's disposal. Neither our bank account, our health, nor our talent should be the basis of our life.
Abraham dearly loved Isaac, his legal heir and long-awaited son. He was so preoccupied with his son that he seemed to be more important than God. Then the Lord tested His servant. He ordered him to offer his beloved son as a burnt offering to Him. Abraham was willing to do what seemed impossible, to offer his son as a sacrifice and give glory to God alone. Yet God refused in the last minute to let Abraham slay the child of His promise, and offered a ram in his place. In this state of inner turmoil, God was glorified when Abraham was ready to be separated finally from his own son. He proved that he loved the Lord more than his own son.
We have to examine ourselves from time to time and see if there are big or small idols that stand between us and the Lord. They may be books, jewelery, portraits, memories, hobbies, habits, money, houses and so on. Even people can sometimes capture our hearts.
The temptation of idol worship is manifest in people deifying their rulers. Whole peoples were captured by Napoleon, Ataturk, Hitler, Nasser, Khomeini and others. Yet their books and memorials were often burnt and destroyed soon after their death. The prophet Jeremiah warns people against any infatuation with people or relying on human help. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his strength“ (Jeremiah 17:5).
People often idolize cinema stars and sports champions as though they were gods. They are spellbound by musical concerts and turn into hysterical masses in stadiums. We need to be careful here. We do not say that serving and respecting people is sin. But it is spiritual treason to love or trust a human being more than God. Has God not been connected with us in an everlasting covenant? No wonder Christ calls people “an evil and adulterous generation“, because they do not love God with all their hearts, respect Him deeply or trust Him alone.
Idol-worship takes various forms today as a result of the void created by backsliding from God. The Lord is a jealous God, and He wants to possess our hearts alone. He is not satisfied with part or most of our love and obedience to Him. He wants to possess us completely and eternally. Therefore, the ancient and modern idols must disappear from our lives, and we should renew our commitment to our heavenly Father again. Ask yourself, what are the hidden idols in your life, and what should you do to destroy them forever?
4. Is the Christian Faith at Odds with the First Commandment?
Jews and Muslims can agree on the Christian interpretation of the Ten Commandments up to this point. Yet they accuse Christians of violating the first commandment by their creed. “You Christians are actually infidels“ they argue, “because you break the first and greatest commandment. You blaspheme God by claiming that there are three gods, and that one of them died on the cross.“ Jews and Muslims accuse Christians of blasphemy because they believe in the unity of the holy Trinity.
How did Jesus Himself respond to such an accusation? Jesus faced these attacks from hardhearted people daily. Jesus expounded His oneness with God very clearly: “I and the Father are one“ (John 10:30). Never did He say, “I and the Father are Two,“ but one! Afterwards He said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.“ Before being arrested, He prayed for His followers, “So that they may be one just as We are one“ (John 17:22). These words testify to the unity of the holy Trinity. The plural form is, here, understood to be the singular. Jesus bore witness to His perfect unity with the Father. This truth cannot be grasped mathematically. “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit“ (1 Corinthians 12:3). This is an eternal spiritual truth. If we are not open to the spirit of God we cannot understand spiritual realities.
Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, He will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him“ (John 14:23). Jesus promised His followers that the Holy Spirit will dwell in them. At the same time He assured them of His perfect union with the heavenly Father, and that they both would dwell in the hearts of their followers.
Christians do not believe in three separate gods, but in one God who revealed Himself as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. By confessing the unity of the Trinity, we do not break the first commandment, instead we fulfill it. The Spirit of God has been poured out on our hearts as a result of our reconciliation with God in the death of Jesus Christ. The faithful Spirit encourages us to call God our Father and sanctify His Fatherly name. We believe equally in Jesus and love Him with all our hearts because “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us“ (Romans 5:5). We should recognize that the unity of the Holy Trinity is concealed to anyone who has not been born again by the Holy Spirit and does not search to find this glorious truth.
The Quran actually does not attack the Trinity Christians believe in. Instead, it attacks a sectarian Trinity, which all Christian churches also oppose and attack. The Quran fights against the Trinity of the father, the mother and the son (Sura al-Maida 5:116). The Quran also opposes the belief that God is Jesus the son of Mary (Sura al-Maida 5:17,72) or only the third of three (Sura al-Maida 5:73). Rather the precise understanding of the Holy Trinity in the Bible is that God is the inclusive unity, the everlasting oneness, the Trinity of the Father who speaks through His Word and works through His Spirit. We reject the biological Trinity of father, mother and son, as well as the claim that God is Christ, the son of Mary. We confess God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as the one and only God.
5. What does the Old Testament Say about the Trinity?
The Old Testament contains some striking references to the unity of God in the Holy Trinity. Not even the Quran can deny this.
In Psalm 2:7,12, we read of God's revelation about Jesus a thousand years before He was born, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.“ He also warns people, “Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you perish in the way.“
Isaiah 7:14 states, 700 years before the birth of Christ, “Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel [i.e., God is with us].“
Isaiah 9:6 contains the great promise, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.“ These divine words in the Old Testament bear witness to the deity of Jesus and His perfect unity with the Father.
According to 2 Samuel 7:12-14, King David was promised that one of his sons, who will “come from his body“, at the same time will be the Son of God. Ever since, another name for the Messiah or Son of David has been the Son of God.
In Psalm 110:1 we read, “The LORD said to my lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.“ Are there two lords? Never! Still, these verses portray the perfect unity between God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. From the beginning, God has spoken in the form of plural, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness“ (Genesis 1:26).
This shows us that the testimony to the unity of Holy Trinity is not a Christian fabrication. Rather, it is a truth that God has revealed a thousand years before the birth of Christ. Who can stand against the revelation of God?
6. Quranic References to the Deity of Christ
Not only do the Pentateuch, the psalms and the prophets testify to the unity of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the Quran also contains verses that corroborate the Christian witness. If every Muslim would read the Quran with an open mind, he would be convinced by the verses that deal with the birth of Jesus by Mary, the virgin. Jesus was born as the Word of Allah without any human intervention. Allah blew His Spirit into the Virgin Mary and, therefore, Jesus was born (Suras al-Anbiya 21:91 and al-Tahrim 66:12).
Suras Al Imran 3:45, al-Nisa 4:171 and Maryam 19:43 especially assert that Jesus is the Word of Allah incarnate and a spirit from Him. These verses are the Islamic echo of the Gospel according to John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory“ (John 1:14).
In Suras al-Baqara 2:87,352 and al-Maida 5:110, we read that Christ has been strengthened by the Holy Spirit so that He could form the likeness of a bird out of mud and bring it to life by blowing on it. He healed the blind and the leper and made the dead alive by the permission of Allah. This harmony in action between Allah, the Christ and the Holy Spirit is clearly revealed in the Quran. Why do Muslims rebel against God and His Messiah?
In Sura Maryam 19:21 we can read, “We make Him a sign for people and a mercy from us.“ It is always surprising that Allah in the Quran speaks in the plural form and calls Christ a Mercy from the Merciful. That is, He is the same substance from the divine essence.
Quite a few references in the Old Testament and the Quran assert the unity of the Trinity. We are encouraged to join angels in magnifying God, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!“ (Isaiah 6:3). The repetition of “holy“ three times indicates that the Father is holy, the Son is holy, and the Holy Spirit is holy, and they are one in total holiness.
7. The Christian Belief in the Deity of Christ
It was no exaggeration when the apostles of Christ unanimously testified to His deity. In spite of the danger of death, Paul openly proclaimed, “Christ is the image of the invisible God“ (Colossians 1:15). John admits, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only of the Father, full of grace and truth“ (John 1:14). The apostle Peter witnesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God“ (Matthew 16:16).
The Council of Nicaea summarized the Christian faith, “Christ is God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.“
Muslims and Jews set limits on the omnipotence of God with their rigid doctrines. Who can reject God's revelation of Himself as He is? Who has the right to prevent the Almighty from having a son and sacrificing Him to save the world? God is free! Christ existed before creation. He became a man to reconcile the world to God and restore heavenly peace. Christ became a man in order to save the world. He remained sinless so that He could take away the sins of the world. John the Baptist refers to this divine calling, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!“ (John 1:29). As a result, we have been adopted and call God our Father in heaven, since our sins have been forgiven. Christ has established a great salvation for all men, not just for Christians. His salvation is for Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and atheists. He grants eternal life to everyone who trusts Him fully and accepts Him as his Lord and Savior. The Son leads us to the Father and the Father draws us to the Son. God has revealed Himself at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased“ (Matthew 3:17). Who can ever stop a voice from heaven?
8. What is the Purpose of the First Commandment?
The purpose of the first commandment is simply to love God. Moses worded this privilege in the most important commandment, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might“ (Deuteronomy 6:5). We either love God and live in harmony with His Spirit or hate Him and live against His Will. If we love God, we think about Him, listen to Him, do what pleases Him, live for Him and long for Him as a bride longs for her bridegroom and reads his letters over and over again. But those who insist on their pride and see themselves as demigods, turning their backs on the real God will obviously forget His Word, and in their hardheartedness fall eventually under the wrath of God.
Yet those who love Christ are open to the Spirit of God. They receive forgiveness for all their sins and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. They become transformed in the image of their Father since they daily pray that the name of the Father will be sanctified in their lives and their house. If we truly love God, we turn to Him and receive grace upon grace. We experience daily cleansing of conscience, live in the freedom of the children of God and take part in His spiritual ministry. Those who truly love God cast idols out of their lives stand firm in the new covenant, whose mystery is revealed in the theme of our faith and life: “God is love, and He who abides in love abides in God, and God in him“ (1 John 4:16).