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God's Boundaries for Abundant Living
Psychologists tell us that boundaries provide security, protection, and self-esteem. Long before psychology, God provided ten clear boundaries to protect His people from harm and give them the highest values ever recorded on the earth. "God's Boundaries for Abundant Living" gives a fresh look at the Ten Commandments and will help you discover God's boundaries for your highest, best and most abundant living.More from this series
Second part of the analysis here is coming out of verse, second half of 4b. It says, no manmade, not just an icon or a statue, but no manmade likenesses. Images that are real or imagined, pictorial representatives of God, are to be used as a means of worshipping the living God.
It’s just what it says. Not only an idol but no likenesses. Likenesses is a resemblance. The point is exactly the same as with the idols but it broadens the scope from statues only to any real, perceived, or imagined pictorial representation of God.
Don’t use even false mental pictures to worship God. Don’t make an idol and don’t make a likeness. He just expands it even farther.
I brought a quote by A.W. Tozer. And Tozer writes that idols fashioned with hands or idols fashioned in the human mind are no less idols. To think thoughts that are unworthy of God, to think thoughts that lowly represent Him, are just as much as idols as those that are made by human hands.
And it’s interesting where, you know, this isn’t a prohibition against Christian art. This is a prohibition against using things in the act of worshipping God to help you draw close to Him by some visible representation.
Why? Because it reduces Him. Can I take a sensitive subject? And then I’ll bring some close to home?
You know, for the first four hundred years of the church, the cross was never a symbol of the body of Christ. It was introduced to the church in about the fourth century.
The crucifix, the cross with Jesus hanging on the cross, you know, limp and in His pain? Was not introduced in the church until the seventh century.
There are many, many people and I say this sincerely, and lovingly, and kindly. Many people who use the crucifix as a means or an object of promoting their worship.
And the problem is is that it tells only part of the story. It vividly tells what part of the story? The humanity of Christ. The compassion of Christ. The love of Christ. The payment of Christ. The suffering of Christ. And that is something we need very much to understand.
But what about the power of Christ? The empty tomb? The risen Christ? The controlling God who is sovereign over all the world?
And so, if over time, you use a crucifix, what happens? It reduces God. It begins to shrink Him. You view Him as a God who’s in pain. A God who has suffered.
But it begins to send only part of the message. And that’s the whole point behind using symbols.
You know, in the evangelical community? We’ve done the same thing. Remember in the 1950s? Some of you do. Remember when people would put all the pictures? And I’m not saying that people were using the pictures to worship God. There’s been great debate whether we should use pictures at all.
But in the 1950s, the average picture of Jesus was what? Jesus meek and mild. I mean, the guy always looked like he needed to get out in the sun and get a tan or something. And if you blew on Him, He would fall over.
And he, you know, He had the, kind of, the long hair and the really white skin and was always, kind of, like this. What does that tell your five year old about Jesus?
And then, you know, in the 60s, you know, and the early 70s, you know, Jesus became, kind of like, the campus radical. You know, He’d have a little scruffy beard and look like He was starting a revolution.
You know, you know, by the 80s, the pictures of Jesus, He looked like a model. He looks like He, you know, He’s, you know, doing Bowflex commercials. You know?
What is it? Why have those pictures changed and why do we make all these different pictures of Jesus and why is He, even though we know He was, His background. Why is He always white in our pictures?
Have you ever, you ever talk with people from other nationalities and other cultures and other backgrounds? And they see that our pictures of Jesus. In fact, if you go to Japan, guess what culture Jesus looks like there? [Unintelligible] He’s Japanese.
I have it on rather good authority, he was Jewish. And that He looked Jewish.
Do you understand the point? We reduce Him.
The second command is all about, even sincere people like you and like me, taking God an unconsciously, most of us don’t have a little idol that we’re lighting candles to and have a little thing on the mantle.
But the same principle, we keep reducing Jesus, reducing God, trying to tame Him. And basically, you know what we’re doing? We’re like the little boy. What we really want is a bike! Except we don’t want a bike, we want a great marriage.
Oh Jesus, Jesus, be this. You know, I’ll do these things. Give me a great marriage. Or we want our kids to turn out right. Or we want financial prosperity. Or we want to be healthy all the time. Or we just want to be happy. Oh, Jesus, will you please make me fulfilled?
And we shrink a God and then we package Him and if you don’t believe it, I mean, if you can stand it, with some great exceptions, go turn on your cable TV and watch about ten hours straight of Christian programming.
Who is the Jesus of cable, evangelical, Christian TV? He’s the Jesus that will make you wealthy. He’s the Jesus that will take away your problems. He’s the Jesus that is strong and powerful. He’s the one who’s going to make you upwardly mobile.
He’s the Jesus that, if you will call in at this number at this time, He can solve all your problems in twenty minutes. And, by the way, if you give ten dollars, He’ll give you a hundred back.
We have created a God, and shrunk a God, and made images of Jesus, to do what? Control Him, tame Him, and get Him to fulfill our personal agendas.
And the second command prohibits it. The first one says that God demands that we worship Him in spirit. The second aspect is that we must worship Him, He demands that we worship Him in truth.
Notice, as we continue the analysis. No manmade idols or images, real or imagined, are not only to be made but they’re not to be worshipped or served.
Look at the next aspect of this command. Because I want you to understand. God knows our hearts. Once we make them, it’s only a matter of time before we worship them.
Anybody remember what happened to the bronze snake that Moses held up? Eventually they worshipped it so they had to destroy it. Anybody remember what happened to the calves, the golden calves that Rehoboham made as he was trying to call the people to worship? They began to worship it.
The statues of Christ, of the saints, the icons of church history. Anybody know what’s happened to most all of them? Somewhere, sometime, people are bowing down, kissing, and worshipping them.
We make idols that selectively take the parts of God that we like and then we make a manmade realignment of them to fulfill our own lusts.
And under this, will you jot down, and most of, in this group know the passage. Jot down Romans chapter 1 verses 18 through about 32.
Although they knew God, they didn’t glorify Him as God. Neither did they give thanks. But they exchanged, what? Their worship of the Creator for creatures. And they begin to make, what? Idols, or statues, or icons, of things in the sea, things in the air, multiple animals.
And then the progression is, God gave them over. The worshipping of idols and the reduction of God, whether intellectual, or whether in physical statues or likenesses, always reduces God and always ends up in immorality.
You can just take it to the bank.
And Romans 1:18 to 32 shows the slide and progression when you don’t glorify God as God and then the shift is, you don’t give thanks and then we begin worshipping the creation instead of the Creator.
The application here is, we must remove the idols from our lives. Could I, since there’s got to be at least someone in the crowd going, you know what? That guy was pretty good but when he said this thing about the crucifix, I am really ticked off. I mean, I don’t really worship it and I think he’s pushing it a little bit and that’s, kind of, picky, picky, picky.
Well, I’ll tell you what. I want to give equal time for those from different traditions. Some of us, could I talk about, maybe some potential idols among just regular, ordinary Bible believing Christians in America and around the world?
One, wonder how many of us have made our churches idols and the church size. I wonder how many people are really excited, I’ve been one of those mega-church pastors, okay? I started out with thirty-five people in a little town in Texas, then went and we, you know, we had several hundred and then went to thousands of people and we did the multi-buildings and five services and video overflow for each one.
And I can tell you something. There’s something so exciting and intoxicating about watching God multiply a ministry and building buildings and twenty pastors and thirty pastors and all these things that happen all over a community.
You know what can happen to a church? Guess what becomes the idol? The success of the ministry. And it’s, you’re a part of a happening thing. Instead of being in submission to Jesus, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
You know another one? And we had to cut this one at the knees early on. Is, I wonder how many churches have made their pastor an idol?
You ever heard anyone talk about, I go to Andy Stanley’s church. I go to Charles Stanley’s church. I go to Chuck Swindoll’s church. I go to, you fill in the name of your area.
I have it on equally good authority that Andy Stanley doesn’t have a church. And Chuck Swindoll doesn’t have a church. And whoever your pastoral hero is, they don’t have a church. They are a pastor. They are a saint. They have been called by God to teach the Word of God and they are on equal footing with you, right there at the cross, and they sin and struggle just like you.
And they’ve been given a role to teach God’s Word and you know what we do? We’ve got this thing going in evangelical Christianity called “celebrityism.” And I mean, it’s idolatry.
And, you know, we buy this guy’s books or this girl’s books and, you know, we go to her Bible studies because she puts this stuff. And then, you know, we have our stickers on our Bibles of where we’ve been and what we’ve been to.
And, you know, we got our multi-colored notebooks depending on where we’ve been. And it’s just…I don’t think God’s real happy about it.
We had a little rule in Santa Cruz, I was pastor there for twelve years and, because see, I didn’t grow up as a believer so I’m real sensitive to this stuff. And you know what it’s like when you are the guy growing up as a kid and I thought, I mean, you know, this is heretical. I’m sorry. But I grew up as a pagan.
And the only experience I had around, kind of, “born again” people was not good. And so, I thought everyone on the radio and everyone on TV were, I thought they were all crooks. Including some of the really good ones.
And, you know what it’s like to go on the radio when you thought all those people were crooks? You know, that was a real, you know, God, how do you work that out?
And, then I realized God really uses it and that not all the people were crooks. But I remember when that started to happen. People started to talk to me differently and start to treat me differently and talk about my church.
And I made, I just made some private rules. One, I would never call it my church. It’s Christ’s church. Number two. In my presence, I never let anyone talk about, I go to your church.
I would interrupt them politely and say, oh, do you go to Santa Cruz Bible Church? They said, yeah. I do too.
And at times, you know, my wife said, “Chip, you’re kind of rude.” I said, you know, “I know.” You know?
Because this really bugs me. But we’re going to remember that Christ is the head of this church. And what I understand is, people, when you’re an up-front person, people want to make you bigger, and smarter, and holier than you really are.
And it’s for two reasons. Number one, it sets you up in a place that’s not good for you. But number two, then, all the stuff you’re preaching is for people like you. The exceptions, right? Missionaries, pastors, the superstars.
I got news, I don’t think there are any superstars. I don’t think they exist in the body of Christ. I think there are people that live the normal Christian life, you know, they obey Scripture, they discover what their gifts are, they do what God wants them to do.
And God chooses to prosper it. And then we all, you know, put them in stained glass. Or we want their autograph on a book or something like…what’s that all about?
Could it be that the second command has a lot more to say to us evangelical, born-again, Bible-believing believers than we ever dreamed? Could it be that our connection with God is coming through this personality, or the success of our church or, or how about this one?
Is there any chance that legalism has crept in as an idol? Aren’t there some groups, you know? And if we’re one of them, then you know, he who has ears to hear, let him hear.
You know, I’ve been around people that their idol is, we don’t do these things. We don’t do this, we don’t do that, we don’t do this, we don’t do this, we don’t do that, we don’t do this. We don’t do that. And we don’t do this, this, this, this, and this.
Aren’t we holy? And, you know, as Howard Hendricks says, “There’s a whole group of people in any cemetery that don’t do any of those things either. And I’m not sure that makes you holy at all.”
But we can take pride, you know? Have you been down that road? I’ve been around people that think God is only at work in their denomination. Could it be, that’s an idol?
Could it be that unless it has a label on the outside and it looks in this denomination or has just this precise theology, even though, boy, the Bible’s clear about all these majors and some really smart, godly people might differ on some of the minors.
See, there’s a lot of different ways that people, and things, and success, and what about our view of God? What about Tozer’s thoughts about, what about these kind of images? Not the ones crafted by hands.
What about the kind that you have a God who’s harsh? And he’s a judge. And he’s down on you.
And you’re perfectionistic and driven and you feel guilty all the time. Not because it’s the Holy Spirit. Because you have a false view of God that’s an idol and he’s a harsh judge and his arms are crossed and his finger is pointed and he’s always down on you.
It’s an idol. And you know what that does? It destroys the work of Christ. Because God is a faithful, loving judge. But He’s made atonement for you through what Christ has done.
And when we live with this picture in our mind of a harsh judge. Or how about some of us who grow up and think that God is a benign, you know, grandfatherly, that he has this white beard flowing over his rocking chair. And he just winks at sin.
You know? They just quote the verse all the time. He’s gracious and compassionate, slow to anger. You know? You know? He just winks at sin and I know you’re living together but don’t worry about it because I understand, down deep in your heart, somewhere, somehow, someway you really love me.
And I know your finances are completely out of order and, you know, you haven’t given me the first portion in the last five or ten years but, you know, I know your heart and you’re just so sincere when you sing those songs and you read in your Bible and read that little devotional. And, you know, just, just warms my heart.
That’s not the God of the Bible. That may have been your grandfather. That may be a god that you’ve created. Here’s the deal. We always create a god in our own image to fulfill our agenda and at the end of the day, it’s so we’re in control, God is in a box, He’s been tamed, and we call the shots.
And the second command says, no idols. The kind you can set on the mantle or the kind you make in your mind.
No likenesses. No pictures. No things. Not about art but in your worship. Get rid of them. And by the way, don’t serve them.
And the progression is, if you make them in your mind or you make them with your hands, the day will come because of the human heart, you will serve them.
And He says, I have a boundary. Don’t go there. I have a boundary. I love you too much, because I want you to know Me as I am. I want you to worship Me in spirit and in truth.
I want you to grapple with the mystery of My holiness and My compassion. I want you to grapple with the infinitude of My love. I want you to struggle with a sense of awe and mystery and majesty where you fall down and you don’t have words to say.
And the Spirit of God brings utterance and you worship and you pray and you love Me. And you get your image of Me from The icon. The exact representation of the godhead. Who is it? It’s Jesus.
You want to know exactly what God is like? You want to have a picture in your mind that is exactly? If you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father. You want to get the right picture? Jesus. Hebrews 1. Literally, the word is icon.
The Greek word is a picture, in the ancient world, where they would take a coin and you would take it on putty and you could press down the coin and when you took off the coin all of the exact representation of the coin would be in the putty.
That’s the same word for, this invisible God we can’t see, we can’t touch. What’s He like? You take the invisible God and you put Him in the putty of human flesh and here’s what you get. It’s Jesus.
You want to know how He feel about people that have blown it and sinned and done terrible things that they’re ashamed of? It’s Jesus with the woman at the well.
You want to know what God is really like? This invisible God when people are religious and self-righteous and think they’ve got it all together? It’s Jesus with the Pharisees.
If you want to get the right picture without images or statues, it’s Jesus and His Word. It’s Jesus in the life of authentic community. Not just in big groups but in small groups, where you peel back the layers of hypocrisy that we all wear and you unzip your heart and you get vulnerable.
And the Spirit of God, living in you, through your personality, expresses the love, the compassion, the reproof, and the correction to other believers. Because Jesus lives in you.
It’s hearing God’s Word and responding. It’s worshipping in spirit and truth. It’s saying, my picture of God will not be anything I will make, create, bow down, or serve to. And He gives two reasons.
One. He’s a jealous God. I mean, I don’t know about you, but Theresa and I have this agreement. She’s never really been crazy about and I’ve never been crazy about her being, like, first in my life.
Any ladies here? Would you be satisfied if your husband said, “You know, honey? I want you to know, you’re first in my life. And Judy is second and Mary is third and Barbara is fourth.”
And, you know what? I don’t want to be first in her life. I want exclusive rights to Theresa Ingram. You know what that’s called? Jealousy. That’s a zeal that comes out of love. That’s a protective, I want a unique, exclusive relationship with her that a spouse has rightfully for a spouse, that a parent has rightfully for the protection of your children.
Don’t you have a jealous zeal for your children when they are running out toward traffic and you say, hey! Mm-mm, not there. When they reach for the stove that is hot. Mm-mm, not there.
There is a jealousy or a zeal. Not a selfish jealously. This is a picture of God’s deep commitment and love for you that says, no images, no likenesses, no bowing down because I jealously love you to the point that I will not allow you to settle for second best. Or some reduction of who I really am.
And the second reason is that whatever you do, your children will follow. Ezekiel 18 is clear that God doesn’t punish kids for the sins of the fathers. But there are patterns about how you worship. There are patterns of lifestyle.
And if you have images or false views of God, it just gets passed on just like osmosis in the air and culture of your home to the second, third, and fourth generation.
Question. Second command. A boundary. It’s not about, do you worship the right God. It’s about, are you worshipping the right God in the right way?
Do you have any idols in your life? Are you worshipping in spirit and in truth? Could you unconsciously, unconsciously develop little idols about church size, or pastors, or your group that might have tainted or reduced the purity of who Jesus is and what He wants to be to you?