Idolatry and Our Salvation

April 18, 2019 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

I have been reflecting this week on a quote from Tim Keller that we printed in our bulletin this last Sunday. Keller writes: 

In his “A Treatise on Good Works,” an exposition of the Ten Commandments, Martin Luther said something that changed my life. He said the first law of the Old Testament law—that you must have no other gods before God—and the New Testament teaching of justification by grace through faith alone are both, in essence, the same thing. To say you must have no other gods but God and to say you must not try to achieve your salvation without Christ is the same thing. (from the essay Idols of the Heart

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). 

“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16).

Are they the same? 

I believe this evaluation starts by understanding what it means to be “God” and what it means to “have a God.” The New City Catechism states that “God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will” (Q. 2). God is the source of life and all that is good. 

To “have a God,” therefore, means to have a source for life and all that is good. If the God of the Bible is the “creator and sustainer of everyone and everything,” then he is the ultimate and only true source for life and all that is good. 

The First Commandment calls us to not look for any other source for life and all that is good apart from God himself. The essence of idolatry is seeking life and good in anything or anyone other than God.

 What about justification? To be justified means to be counted righteous. When we are “counted righteous” we have a sense of entitlement to all of the rights and privileges that righteous people deserve. What do righteous people deserve? Life and all that is good. That’s what God promised Adam in the Garden (implied in the warning of Gen. 2:16-17). 

Paul states in Galatians 2:16 that there is only one way to be counted righteous: through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s provision for our justification (Rom. 3:21-22). Since justification leads to life and all that is good, if we look for justification in any other manner than the means God provides, then we commit idolatry; we break the first commandment. 

God himself equates our salvation (i.e. justification) and idolatry in Isaiah 45:22. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Let’s honor God as God by trusting in Christ alone for our salvation!


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