Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Duties of the First Commandment: Knowing God
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Question 104 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the duties required in the First Commandment?” It gives the answer, “The duties required in the First Commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honouring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in any thing he is offended; and walking humbly with him.” Each of God’s commandments enjoins certain good actions and forbids evil ones. This week we consider that good work, required by the First Commandment, of knowing God.
The first thing required of all mankind is that they know and acknowledge God “to be the only true God and our God.” Here “know” means more than to simply be aware of God’s existence. The Bible is clear that all men know that there is a God, that He is divine and sovereign, and that He will judge all flesh (Rom. 1:18-20, 32). It is impossible for a human being to not know God in this general sense. Therefore, the commandment is requiring that we truly know God, in consciously affirming and considering Him as He really is: the only true God and our God. As we consider the nature of God, we become immediately aware that God does not exist the way the creature exists. God simply “is.” His being is necessary being. Everything else is contingent being, which by definition cannot account for itself (its existence and attributes). Thus, every object that ever was, needed to be brought into existence by some power outside itself, and so there was a time when it was not. Therefore, everything else does not “need” to be.
Consequently, resistless logic demands that for there to “be” anything, there must be a being who is not contingent or dependent on any other being but who simply is; a being who has the power of being within Himself; who always was and always will be. God is that necessary and eternal being who brings all other beings into existence, in time, by His own power and the sole prerogative of His will. Thus, every “thing” that exists is a creature brought into existence by God, who alone is the Creator and therefore the God of all the things whose existence is entirely dependent on Him. We cannot stop God from being the only true God and our God. However, as creatures created in His image, we are commanded to know and acknowledge Him as He really is. To keep this duty we must exercise our minds and wills in positively affirming God:
1. As He truly is: the divine, sovereign, all-powerful Creator and judge of all things; and
2. As our God: so we must acknowledge our creatureliness and His absolute rule over us.
Now it should be clear that there are many who do not “know” God in this sense of rightly acknowledging God as He is, and ourselves as we are. The Scriptures speak of the time when Gentile believers did not know God: it was when we lived for idols (Gal. 4:8), and in the lusts of the flesh (1 Thess. 4:5). There are also those who profess to know God, but in their works they deny Him and show themselves to be “abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work,” (Titus 1:16). Accordingly, only in Jesus Christ can anyone know God in the way this first commandment requires. For only then is the willful blindness of sin overcome and the eyes of faith and truth given, so that a man humbles himself as creature and sinner, and exalts God as Creator and Just; for “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one,” but “the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding that we may know Him who is true,” (1 John 5:19-20). Thus, those who do not know God do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 1:8). Accordingly, Christians must look to the grace of God in order to keep this commandment in rightly knowing God. Once God gives us this saving knowledge, then we are responsible to seek His grace, for He commands us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (2 Peter 3:8). Seek to grow in the grace of knowing God!