Well, tonight, I want to speak for about fifteen or twenty minutes on the first commandment. We're speaking every night this week on the Ten Commandments, except one night. The first commandment: "And God spake all the words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which has brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me" [Exodus 20:1-3].
This is a sin that God abhors. It is the sin--if you can say that sin is relative--this is the sin that God seems to hate the most, the sin of idolatry, having other gods before the true and the living God.
Now God gave to us the Ten Commandments. Jesus said that you sum the Ten Commandments up in two commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, and soul; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" [see Matthew 22:37-40]. Notice that Jesus always put the cart before the horse, or the horse before the cart, whichever way you want to look at it. He got it straightened out anyway. He said before you love your neighbor as you should, you have to love God supremely first.
You cannot apply the ethical teaching of Christ by legislation unless the hearts have been transformed first. And when a man loves God, he finds in that love to God the capacity to love his neighbor as himself. That's the reason you must come to Christ before you can go and love your neighbor. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always vertical and horizontal. Vertically, you must have a relationship established with God. Horizontally, after you've established this relationship with God, you have a relationship with your fellowman. Therefore, there is the ethical and the social application of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ--after we have had this encounter with Christ, after we have been justified and our sins forgiven.
God gave the Ten Commandments. And when He gave them, He knew that we couldn't keep them. There's not a man in this room who can keep the Ten Commandments. You can't even keep the commandment that says, "Thou shalt not kill" [Exodus 20:13]. You say, "Now wait a minute, Billy. I've never killed anybody, I've never broken that one." Yes, you have. You know what the Bible says? The Bible says that you can smite with your tongue. In other words, you can kill another man's reputation with your tongue; and God says you've broken that commandment. [See Jeremiah 18:18.]
When Jesus interpreted this commandment, He said if you've ever had hate or malice in your heart, or hated someone else, you're guilty of breaking that commandment. You're guilty of murder. [See 1 John 3:15.]
"Thou shalt not commit adultery" [Exodus 20:14]. You say, "Billy, I've never committed immorality like that, openly." But Jesus said if you've ever had lust in your heart, you've already committed the act in God's sight. You've broken the tenth commandment. [See Matthew 5:27,28.]
You say, "But, Billy, I don't normally tell lies." A lie is anything that is conceived to deceive another person, whether it's the letter of the truth, or the law or not. God talks about the spirit of the law. And so all of us tonight are equally guilty.
And you just can't keep the Ten Commandments. You cannot even keep the Sermon on the Mount. You read the Sermon on the Mount, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew, and you can't live up to it. There's not a person in this room tonight who can live up to the Sermon on the Mount. The ideal is too high. The demands are too straight. It is impossible.
Then you say, "Billy, why did God give us the Ten Commandments if He knew we couldn't keep them?"
Now in the Ten Commandments there is no salvation, there is no love, there is no grace, there is no mercy. I go to Mount Sinai where the Ten Commandments were given through Moses, and I hear the thunder. I see the clouds, I see the smoke, I see the judgment of God. And God says that if any man breaks these commandments, he shall die. "He shall be separated from me." He will suffer the pangs of judgment and hell if he breaks these commandments. I will read those Ten Commandments and I say, "My God and my Lord, I shall go to hell. I shall be lost because I have broken the Ten Commandments." And that is what the word "sin" means. It means a "transgression of the law" [1 John 3:4]. Now I have sinned; I have broken the commandments. I deserve death, I deserve judgment, I deserve hell.
The Ten Commandments are the law, or the mirror, in which I look. John French said he looked into the mirror and saw himself for the first time. When I look into the law in the Ten Commandments, I see a mirror. I see myself. I see how far short I have come. And that makes me say, "I have broken them. I am a sinner. I am lost. I am undone. I must do something about it." That was why God gave the commandments. There would never have been a knowledge of sin, Paul said, unless I had known the law [see Romans 7:7]. That is the reason John Wesley said, "I cannot preach grace until I preach law."
And Dr. George Dockery[?] at our ministers' meeting this morning, giving a very wonderful address on the nature of conversion, said, "The first step in conversion is the recognition of need." And if you are sitting there tonight saying, "I am a sinner; I have broken the law," that is your first step toward God. Any man that stands up self-righteously and says, "I am not a sinner; I am not so bad; I'm as good as the next fellow"--there's very little hope for that person.
We're always comparing ourselves with others. But the Bible says that God will judge us by a standard, by a law. And that law is a law as in Christ, but it is also the Ten Commandments. God will some day judge you by the Ten Commandments. That is the rule. That is the criteria. That is the standard by which God is going to judge us all. [See Romans 2:12.]
And I tell you frankly tonight I failed! I am a sinner! I am a law breaker! And "the wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]. And one of the commandments that I have broken is this first commandment. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" [Exodus 20:3]. Why? God tells us He is the mighty God of creation.
You know how many stars there are tonight, according to the scientists? They estimate that in our universe, our Milky Way, there are 100 million suns, and most of them bigger than our sun. They estimate that there are billions of planets, just in our Milky Way.
You know what the average distance is between those stars up there? Seven trillion miles! You know how far the nearest star is, outside of our own sun? The nearest star to us is 25 trillion miles! You know how many other Milky Ways they say there are now? They estimate there are over one billion more Milky Ways!
The God that we are talking about tonight is the God that created all of it, and holds it there with the power of His unlimited hand tonight. This God, the God of creation, the God that made you, that created you in His image--this God said, "I shall not have any other gods before me." The Bible says He's an all-knowing God; He knows all things. The Bible says He is an all-powerful God. He's an unchangeable God. He's a God of holiness. He's a God of righteousness. He's a God of love.
And God says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" [Exodus 20:3]. "I am the true God. I am the only God." And if you have any other gods, you've committed a heinous and a grievous sin that will damn the soul, paralyze the will, blind the mind, and send the soul to hell. And the sin that God hates the most is the sin of idolatry.
You say, "Now, wait a minute, Billy. We're living in Charlotte, a church-going town. There are no other gods here. We don't go out in the back of our houses, and build idols, and fall down and worship them. We're not guilty of idolatry." Aren't we? The Bible indicates--and I do not have time in the few minutes allotted to me tonight to expound these points--but the Bible teaches that wealth, money, can become a god. I know some poor people that only make a few dollars a week, and money is their god. They are so after money, that they will lie to get more money. They will cheat to get more money. Some will even steal to get extra money. And money has become their god.
I know others, fame is their god. Ministers are counseling people every year whose lives are wrecked and destroyed because they have not received the attention they desire. And many people get their feelings hurt at the smallest slight. And they would rather have a little bit of attention than anything else in the world. And so desire and ambition has become their god. That's number one in their lives.
There are others that pleasure has become their god. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:4: "Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God." The Scripture also says, "They spend their days in mirth" [Job 21:13]. In Revelation 18:7 the Bible says, "How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously." A man or woman that will spend all their days in pleasure, giving most of their time to pleasure, pleasure has become their god!
In other words, anything that takes the place of God in your life is your god. You spend more time in front of your television set than you do reading your Bible, so television has become your god. You spend more time in the theater than you do in the church; the theater has become your god. You spend more money on cosmetics than you do giving to the church; these things have become your god. And some of you bow down and worship your economic security--your stocks and your bonds, and your accounts, and your insurance policies. All of these things are your gods, and you bow before them. They're the things that determine your life. They're the things that determine your moral actions; not love for God, not love for your neighbor. Love of self, love of things, love of pleasure is number one in your life.
And that is the reason that God says, "Covetousness . . . isidolatry" [Colossians 3:5]. We're guilty tonight. We're guilty tonight in America of the sins that God hates the most. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" [Exodus 20:3].
But what did God demand that we do? The Bible tells us that, first, God demands choice. He demands that we choose between other gods and Him. God said, "Ye cannot serve two masters" [Matthew 6:24]. "Choose you this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your father served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" [Joshua 24:15]. Are you serving God twenty-four hours a day? Are you giving God the best of your years, and the best of your time, and the best of your money, and the best of everything? Or is the best of your life going into another channel? Choose you this day.
Jesus said you can't serve God and mammon at the same time [see Matthew 6:24]. And there are some of you who are trying to straddle the fence. You've got one foot in the world and one foot in the church, and you are trying to straddle the fence. You are going with the world that way, and the church this way. God says it won't work. Jesus said that won't get you to heaven.
Jesus demanded a choice. That's what the rich young ruler did not want to do. He wanted eternal life, but he wanted his riches and pleasures at the same time. And Jesus said you can't have it. This young man was trusting in riches. Riches had fascinated him. Money had gripped him. Pleasure had gripped him so much so that he was willing to give up his soul, as some of you are doing tonight. [See Matthew 19:16-22.]
One of these days you will meet God to give an account, and you are guilty of having made the wrong choice. Jesus said there are two roads in life. "Enter ye into the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" [Matthew 7:13,14].
Which road are you on tonight? Jesus said there are not three roads, not four--only two. He said there is the broad road, and that leads to destruction. There is the narrow road, and that leads to heaven. You are on one of those roads tonight. Which one are you on? I beg of you to change roads tonight. Get off the broad road. Get on the narrow road that leads to eternal life.
Second, Jesus said there are two masters. Matthew 6:24, "No man can serve two masters." Jesus said there are two fathers. He said, "Ye are of your father the devil" [John 8:44]. There is a sense that we are all brothers by creation. There is another sense in which there is no such thing as "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." I didn't say it. Jesus said it. John 8:44, "You are of your father the devil."
Jesus looked upon people as being in one of two classes--the saved, or the lost. One going on the narrow road to heaven, and one going on the broad road to destruction. Which are you on? There are two destinies, Jesus said--heaven or hell. God demands that you make a choice.
I don't think that anyone deliberately wants to go to hell. I don't think anybody wants to be lost. But they neglect--going along, doing nothing about it, just coasting along, hoping that some day, somewhere, you'll probably have another religious experience. Or perhaps somehow God is going to get you into heaven. And you've got an idea that you're God's pet and you're different.
The Bible teaches--if it teaches anything--there is no partiality with God. If the Bible teaches anything, the Bible says there is no difference between all sins. And no sinner shall ever get into heaven with his sins. Something must be done about our sins. And I am glad to tell you that when I look at this commandment and realize that I have broken it, and realize that I am a sinner, that I am a law breaker, that I have come short of God's requirements and God's law, then immediately I say, "I've got to do something about it."
The Bible says you can't work your way to heaven. "By His grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourself" [Ephesians 2:8].
There are a lot of you, my friends--and I want to say this tonight with all the sincerity, and the humility, and the love, and the compassion that I know--there are many of you here in the city of Charlotte, and I'm standing before my friends and relatives and neighbors. And if there is anything that I would be dead serious on--I will have to stand before God one day and give an account of what I say before you tonight, and I would not be guilty tonight of misleading you. I want to tell you this. There are many people in this city who are depending on their good works to get them to heaven. You think because you are a member of the church, because you are moral, because you believe in a high standard of ethics, because you give to the United Appeal, because you are fairly charitable, that you're going to heaven.
If you could get to heaven because of that, Jesus need never have gone to the cross. On the night before Christ died on the cross, Jesus Christ said, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me" [Matthew 26:39]. If there's any way for men to be saved, let it be found. But there was no other way. So the next day, Jesus Christ humbled Himself and went to the cross, and shed His blood for our sins. And God accepted the atonement of Christ. It was a mystery. None of us will ever understand all about the atonement. None of us can ever understand those dark tragic moments on the cross. But I know this. No man will get to heaven by his own works [see Galatians 2:16]. He will only get to heaven by coming to the cross, because on that cross Christ died to forgive sin. He poured out His love for us, and unless you are willing to come in repentance of your sin, and receive Him by faith and humility at the cross, you can't get there. You can't work your way to heaven. You can't pay your way to heaven. You can only come to the cross. God says, "I love you." God says, "I'll meet you there." God says, "I'll forgive you." God says, "I'll take you to heaven, but I'll only meet you at the cross."
I'll only meet you at one place--at the cross. And the cross is a humbling experience, because it was the place of execution. Jesus was dying and, in modern terminology, He was dying in the gas chamber. Before you can have the joy and thrill of Christian experience, before you can have forgiveness of sin, before you can be relieved of these inner tensions and have Christ to touch your life, Jesus said you'll have to come to the cross first.
Thousands in this room tonight have not been to the cross. You haven't had this encounter with Christ. You haven't given yourself to Him as Savior. Before the resurrection, there must be the cross. Before you can live a new life, you must die with Christ at the cross until you can say, "I have been crucified with Christ," as the apostle Paul said [see Galatians 2:20]. Have you been to the cross?
I'm asking you to come tonight. Let Him wipe away your sins and cleanse them, because the Bible says God will do this. And if you come to the cross, "I will wash your sins away." God has an ability that none of you has. You can't forget, but God can forget. God has something in His mind that allows Him to forget. [See Hebrews 8:12.]
I committed many sins as a boy and as a teenager in Charlotte. I can remember them. But I'm going to say this reverently tonight, God can't remember them. Why? Because one day I came to the cross, and He promises, "I will remember your sins no more." They shall be buried in the depths of the sea [see Micah 7:19].
Wouldn't it be wonderful to go home tonight, and put your head on a pillow, and to know that all the past is forgiven? What a relief! What a load lifted! But more than that, to know that the Holy Spirit lives within you to give you strength for tomorrow and a new dimension to your life, to give you power and joy and peace that you've never known. He can change your life as He changed John French's. It's all yours tonight by giving your life to Christ.
I am going to ask you to receive Christ tonight. And I want to warn you about something: You cannot come to Christ just any time you want. You can't just up and say, "Well, here I am, Lord." You can't do that. You can only come when the Holy Spirit draws you, when your heart is prepared by the Holy Spirit. Now, in a crusade like this where thousands have prayed, and the great crowd is gathered, and many people have worked, and the Gospel has been proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is working and He is preparing your heart. And He has already spoken to you tonight. He has spoken to you about your needs. He has spoken to you about the necessity of coming to Christ. That little voice inside of you right now is the Holy Spirit trying to get you to come to Christ.
Now, the Bible says that if you harden your heart toward Him--that little voice--toward the Holy Spirit, you are in danger of hardening your heart until you are "suddenly cut off, and that without remedy" [Proverbs 29:1]. You had better not put it off.
I wouldn't try to wait until tomorrow night. There may not be a tomorrow night. You had better come tonight. "Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2], says the Bible. Come now, give your life to Christ.
You say, "Well, Billy, what do you have to do?" You have to be willing to turn from your sins, and notice I said "willing." You may not have the strength to turn. You may not know how to turn, but you must be willing to turn from your sins. God will help you turn. He even helps you to repent. You must by faith receive Christ. Notice, I said "by faith"--not intellectually. You may understand part of it intellectually. When He comes into your life, He adopts you into His family and you become His child.