GOD’S FIRST COMMANDMENT: BELIEVE ME!
When God created Adam and Eve (the first parents of the human race), He placed them in the Garden of Eden. In that garden there was a special tree that God had created; the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong’. God summed up the entire issue of morality by giving Adam and Eve one commandment to live by:
Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.
GOD’S COMMANDMENT WASSIMPLE: There was only oneLaw, not many.
GOD’S COMMANDMENT WASEASY: It was a commandmentnot to do something. No effort was required.
GOD’S COMMANDMENT WASCLEAR: God was indicating that righteousness cannot be achieved through learning the difference between right and wrong. To learn right from wrong would be a sin worthy of death. The way of righteousness would be to simply believe God; taking Him at His word and obeying His commandment concerning the forbidden fruit.
Throughout the Bible ‘believing God’ is also referred to as ‘faith in God’.
FAITH = ACKNOWLEDGING GOD
God presented a perfectly logical idea to Adam and Eve; that a knowledge of right and wrong would enable them to achieve righteousness. It makes sense, doesn’t it? How can a person do what is right if he does not know the difference between right and wrong? And God knows the difference between right and wrong, doesn’t He? And look at how holy God is! But God told Adam and Eve that learning right and wrong would be a sin worthy of death. He asked them to ignore ‘logic’ and take Him at His word; to simply trust Him.
Why would God do that? Why would He command Adam and Eve to act contrary to their own intelligence? Because God’s commandment represented the question of whether or not Adam and Eve would acknowledge Him, and His infinitely greater wisdom as the Creator of the universe. Adam and Eve were being asked to acknowledge the profound difference between God and ourselves; that the smartest of human beings are mere children in comparison to the One who created us. They were being asked to acknowledge that, no matter what might seem to make sense to us, if God says something different, then we are always smarter to trust Him rather than anything or anyone else.
Adam and Eve’s choice was simple; when challenged with the most important decisions of life, would they lean upon their own understanding, or would they acknowledge God’s glory and depend upon Him? In both the Old Testament and the New, God’s relationship with mankind is frequently compared to that between sheep and a shepherd. God wants us to acknowledge that in comparison to Him, we as human beings truly are ‘sheep’. We need the guidance and protection of our Divine Shepherd. Sheep who wander off often come to tragic ends; those who stay close to their master enjoy safety.
Man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4
Know that the Lord, He is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For you were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
1 Peter 2:25
I would ask my reader to bear with a personal story. Many years ago I was a public employee, working for my local county road commission. Some of the men who worked there had other careers on the side, doing construction and other things after work. Sometimes my co-workers would laughingly tease each other, saying ‘Man, if I had your money, I would burn mine!’ In other words they were saying that the other guy was so rich that, if they could have his money, they would throw their own money away.
Although this idea is silly, but it conveys the point that I am trying to make here. God’s wisdom is so much greater than ours, that if confronted with a choice between His wisdom or ours, every one of us would be well-advised to take His and ‘burn’ our own. This is what the forbidden Tree in Eden represented; the question of whether or not we would acknowledge God, and how much wiser He is than we are. When God’s wisdom is properly appreciated, it can rightly be said that it is He alone who really has any wisdom at all:
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:17
To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen.
It was not that God wanted mankind to be ignorant. He did not forbid Adam and Eve to build computers, split the atom or map human DNA. In fact, God commanded Adam and Eve to subdue the earth and rule over it. God loves human intelligence, industry and creativity. It was He who made us this way, and put these traits within us.
It is true that many professing Christians give people the impression that Christianity is a religion of ignorance and superstition, but this is not true. God does, however, require us to acknowledge that ultimately, when confronted with a choice between knowledge or simply believing Him, the truly intelligent person will always trust God above all else.
FAITH = OBEYING THE LAW
Roughly 3500 years ago, long after the days of Adam and Eve, God gave 10 commandments to the world through the prophet Moses (Exodus chapter 20). These 10 commandments sum up God’s moral requirements; what we must do if we would be blessed by Him and receive eternal life. These commandments are sometimes referred to as the ‘Decalogue’ (10 sayings).
The 10 commandments are divided into two sections. The first five address the ‘vertical’ relationship between ourselves and God (and our parents).
MOSES’ FIRST FIVE COMMANDMENTS
The second five address our ‘horizontal’ relationships with our fellow man.
MOSES’ SECOND FIVE COMMANDMENTS
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR
When God gave His one commandment to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it represented the first five of the 10 commandments:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37
The forbidden fruit represented the question of whether or not Adam and Eve were willing to acknowledge and give glory to God. It represented the question of whether or not they were willing to recognize:
1) The infinite wisdom of God.
2) The righteousness and trustworthiness of God.
3) The goodness, kindness and love of God.
4) The infinite power of God.
WHAT WAS GOD’S PLAN?
OK, so faith is a right attitude toward God, and a summation of the first five of Moses’ 10 commandments. But what about Adam’s everyday relationships with other people? How would Adam obey God’s commandment to love his fellow man?
God’s plan was simple. As Adam fulfilled the ‘primary righteousness’ of believing God, God was going to enter Adam’s body through the Holy Spirit and live inside him. The love, kindness, goodness and compassion of God Himself would flow out of Adam’s heart. If Adam was willing to acknowledge and glorify God, God’s intention was to share His glory with Adam.
This is still God’s plan today. God wants to share His own nature with us. He wants us to truly know what it is like to be God.
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” says the Lord of hosts.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin; He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are sons of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
To whom God would make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
2 Peter 1:4
Righteousness belongs to God alone. It is a supernatural trait. For instance, the ability to love our enemies is supernatural; we are not capable of it. But we can experience this divine righteousness if we are willing to provide the ‘primary’ righteousness of believing and obeying our Creator.
LOVE FOR GOD MUST COME FIRST
A proper attitude toward God is the foundation of all other righteousness. When our hearts are right toward Him, they are ‘tuned’ to relate properly with our fellow man as well. It is impossible to love our fellow man if we do not love God first. The logic of this is straightforward.
Suppose a thief commits murder during a bank robbery, killing a bank employee. Do you suppose that he will be concerned about running stop signs during his getaway? Of course not. If he has committed the greater crime, he will have no regard for lesser laws. The same thing applies to mankind. If we are willing to despise our Creator and even to declare war against Him, how can we love lesser beings who are mere creations? It is impossible to truly value a human being, if we are unwilling to value God.
The apostle Paul explained how all of man’s wickedness toward our fellow man flows out of our first and greater crime of disrespect for God:
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting. Being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and evil-mindedness. They are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful. Who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
King David also recognized this connection between how we view God, and how we treat our fellow man, confessing that his adultery and murder had their roots in his opposition to God:
Against You (God), You only, have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.
This connection, between faith in God and obedience to God’s entire Law, is seen in God’s two-part description of Abraham’s character. First God acknowledged the righteousness of Abraham’s faith, and then acknowledged Abraham’s fulfillment of His other laws:
Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.
Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.
To believe God is to be pure in heart. When we repent of our unwillingness to acknowledge and glorify our Creator, forgiveness and reconciliation with Him become possible for us through His grace. The Lord Jesus referred to this in His sermon on the mount:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
The apostle Peter also pointed to the ‘heart-purifying’ nature of faith. In explaining to his fellow Jews why he declared the gospel of Jesus Christ to ‘unclean Gentiles’, Peter said…
So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them (the Gentiles) by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us (Jews); and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Faith (believing God) represents obedience to the first and greatest commandment. And where genuine faith is found, love for our fellow man and fulfillment of the rest of God’s commandments will be certain to follow. This connection between faith and love is also found in the book of Revelation, where believing the Gospel and keeping God’s commandments go hand in hand:
And the dragon (Satan) was angry with the woman (Israel), and went to make war with the remnant of her seed (Christians), which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.