The Ego Papers

When Jesus Christ comes into your life, he doesn't come to destroy your personality.
He does destroy your ego, and it's good for it to go
--that independent self that seeks always to be the center of the stage.
He will wage relentless, unending war against that, and the weapon he uses is the cross,
those hardships and trials and humiliating experiences
which he brings you through that brings that ego to an end.
It puts it where God put it-on the cross, in the place of death.
He does not destroy the essential man; he indwells it, he enhances it, he glorifies it.
The result is true manhood, true womanhood, attractive and beautiful and easy to live with.
Man as God intended man to be becomes manifest in the world. That is incarnation!
--Ray Stedman

The "I am god" Problem
The Great God Self
King Ego
i am not god

Your God is Way Too Small

Made in the Image of God

Psalm 34

The Happiness of Those Who Trust in God

 A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.

I will bless the LORD at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
5 They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces were not ashamed.
6 This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.
8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
9 Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!
There is no want to those who fear Him.
10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger;
But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.
11 Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20 He guards all his bones;
Not one of them is broken.
21 Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.


Psalm 51

Prayer of Repentance

 To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
9 Hide Your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
The God of my salvation,
And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
18 Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion;
Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,
With burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

Psalm 57


Prayer for Safety from Enemies

To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.” A Michtam of David when he fled from Saul into the cave.

1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by.
2 I will cry out to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me.
3 He shall send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches the one who would swallow me up.  Selah
God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.
4 My soul is among lions;
I lie among the sons of men
Who are set on fire,
Whose teeth are spears and arrows,
And their tongue a sharp sword.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.
6 They have prepared a net for my steps;
My soul is bowed down;
They have dug a pit before me;
Into the midst of it they themselves have fallen. Selah
7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and give praise.
8 Awake, my glory!
Awake, lute and harp!
I will awaken the dawn.
9 I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing to You among the nations.
10 For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens,
And Your truth unto the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.


Psalm 62

A Calm Resolve to Wait for the Salvation of God

1 To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.

Truly my soul silently waits for God;
From Him comes my salvation.
2 He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be greatly moved.
3 How long will you attack a man?
You shall be slain, all of you,
Like a leaning wall and a tottering fence.
4 They only consult to cast him down from his high position;
They delight in lies;
They bless with their mouth,
But they curse inwardly.  Selah
5 My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be moved.
7 In God is my salvation and my glory;
The rock of my strength,
And my refuge, is in God.
8 Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us.  Selah
9 Surely men of low degree are a vapor,
Men of high degree are a lie;
If they are weighed on the scales,
They are altogether lighter than vapor.
10 Do not trust in oppression,
Nor vainly hope in robbery;
If riches increase,
Do not set your heart on them.
11 God has spoken once,
Twice I have heard this:
That power belongs to God.
12 Also to You, O Lord, belongs mercy;
For You render to each one according to his work.

"Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." (Luke 17:34)

Worship in the Image of Me

The Second Commandment for Today

Article by 

Executive Editor,

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness. (Exodus 20:4)

We may not fashion our own golden calves today, but the second commandment’s prohibition of “carved images” remains surprisingly relevant to how we approach God in our daily lives and in our weekly corporate worship. 

Very little time passed between Israel receiving the “Ten Words” at Mount Sinai and then flamboyantly breaking the second commandment. In Exodus, we find God’s people not only stumbling right out of the gate — grumbling shockingly soon (Exodus 15:24) after their dramatic deliverance, through the Red Sea (Exodus 14–15) — but then, immediately on the heels of receiving God’s law, they replay the fall of humanity by breaking the covenant almost as soon as it was inaugurated.

The first and second “words,” or commandments, of Exodus 20 form a pair: (1) no other gods and (2) no carved images. The first deals with whom we worship (the true God alone), while the second concerns how: not in our own preferred way, nor by adopting the practices of surrounding, unbelieving peoples. Rather, it says, worship God in the ways he has revealed — ways that are often countercultural and sometimes uncomfortable, both then and today.

How Will They Worship?

After the giving of the ten in Exodus 20:1–21, which all the people heard, Moses receives laws about altars, slaves, restitution, Sabbaths, and festivals in 20:22–23:33. In Exodus 24, the people confirm the covenant, with the shedding of sacrificial blood, confessing, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7). Moses then goes up to the mountain to receive instructions about the tabernacle, its furniture, and the priesthood in Exodus 25–31 — how the nation will worship him. He is gone for forty days.

“God is not the God of our making or imagination, or even of our own discovery.”

In the meantime, Moses’s long absence wears on the nation. They tire of lockdown and are ready to move on with their lives, toward the Promised Land, saying to Aaron, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1). Aaron, in perhaps the Bible’s quintessential display of sympathy-gone-wrong, gives in. 

However confused the people may have been as to whether they were turning to “other gods” or were just too impatient to wait for God’s instructions for worship (chapters 25–31), Aaron, for his part, is clear that God (Yahweh) is not being replaced. Aaron fashions the golden calf (singular) and declares it to be the God “who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). He makes a proclamation, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5). 

In other words, the breach here is not of the first commandment, but the second. Aaron declares “the Lord” (Yahweh) to be the one whom they will worship (confirmed by the retelling in Nehemiah 9:18), but he and the people have chosen their own way, rather than God’s, to worship him. Like the surrounding nations, they will worship (through) a carved image, rather than wait for Yahweh to tell them how to worship.

When Moses returns, hot with anger, he says three times that the people have committed “a great sin” (Exodus 32:213031), which he summarizes in the terms of the second commandment: “They have made for themselves . . .” (Exodus 32:31), as in “you shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Exodus 20:4).

Underneath the Great Sin

Why is this such a “great sin” if the people still intend to worship Yahweh (and not “other gods”)? In other words, why isn’t the first commandment enough? Why would God not only provide the who of his people’s worship but also the how? Is there an underlying logic to the second commandment that makes its breaking so severe?

To begin with, the second word speaks to us about the true God. He is not the God of our making or imagination, or even of our own discovery. Rather, he is the God who reveals himself to us not only in his world but in his word. He takes the initiative to speak to his people and reveal the truth about who he is, who we are, why the world exists, and how sin has corrupted it. It would be inconsistent with the nature of God, who speaks and takes initiative, to leave it to his people to dream up (or adopt from unbelieving nations) how to worship him.

The second word, however, also speaks, perhaps surprisingly, about us as humans. Breaking the second commandment is not only rebellion against the Creator but also indignifying of his human creatures. We might even say the rebellion comes precisely through this self-indignifying.

Image-Making Images

Two key words in Exodus 20:4 are image and likeness: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness.” This is not the first time this pair appears in the Bible — nor are the associations diffuse. This is the language of the creation of man. Image appears in Genesis 1:26–275:3; and 9:6 — “God made man in his own image.” And likeness? Only in Genesis 1:26 and 5:1–3: “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.”

What about image and likeness together? Other than Exodus 20:4, we have only Genesis 1 and 5, Deuteronomy 5:8 (which repeats the second commandment), and Deuteronomy 4:16, which forges the connection with the “great sin” of the golden calf: “Beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female.”

In other words, the connections are striking between humans being “made in God’s image” and the second commandment. We will not deeply understand the second commandment without recalling the creation of man in God’s image and likeness. And in making the link, we see that to break the second commandment is not only to reject the revealing, initiating nature of God, but also to turn our own selves upside down.

“God made man in his image to display, reflect, and visibly represent the invisible God in his created world.”

God made man in his image to display, reflect, and visibly represent the invisible God in his created world. Yet the very nature of sin is that his creatures rejected this high calling by instead seeking to “make for themselves” an image of God (Romans 1:22–23). What was so tragically wrong about the golden calf was not that the invisible God does not choose to manifest himself in images in the world but that his people are “made in his image.” To make our own images of God for worship is to reject our calling and dignity as his imagers. They made an image for themselves instead of embracing that they themselves were made in God’s image.

Holy, Zealous Husband

Fitting as it would be for God to end it all then and there — whether at the eating of the forbidden fruit or the making of the forbidden image — he is merciful and gracious. Not only is the breaking of the second commandment a “great sin,” but also, right there in Exodus 20:4–6 is a stunning display of God’s heart for his chosen people. He grounds his “second word” like this: “for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” 

Jealous is a tricky word in English. It may be the best equivalent of the Hebrew, but we typically hear jealousy with negative connotations. Zeal might help. The Westminster Larger Catechism speaks of the second commandment as “his fervent zeal for his own worship.” Still, zeal alone doesn’t imply the holy jealousy of a loving husband, whose righteous and exclusive desire for his covenant bride is no mark of fault. In fact, its absence would be a fault in him.

The second word continues: “. . . visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5–6). Yahweh is righteous and just. He will not sweep sin, indeed hatred of him, under the rug (and to make a carved image is to hate God). Yet, to worship him as he has revealed is to love him. 

Don’t miss the arresting asymmetry: four generations versus thousands. Four generations of repercussions for “those who hate me,” but steadfast love to thousands of “those who love me and keep my commandments.” The jealous God is a God of profound and resilient love.

Image to Come

Yet clearly a tension remains. How will this divine husband, in his holy jealousy, show steadfast love to a covenant bride who is so manifestly and deeply sinful, without compromising his justice? This presses us deeper still to the reality, at bottom, that the second commandment was protecting.

We now know on this side of the cross and resurrection that while humanity was made in God’s image, Christ himself is God’s image. The apostle Paul makes the reality unmistakable. He says of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and speaks of “Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). For those who have been reconciled in Christ to the true God, we are restored to our great calling to reflect God in his world as we are “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29; also 1 Corinthians 15:49Colossians 3:10). 

And Christ, as God’s preeminent visible image, is not only the mold for our restored destiny but also the one through whom, and in whom, we worship God. Our looking to him in worship is also the means of our renewal: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

“While humanity was made in God’s image, Christ himself is God’s image.”

The Ten Words at Sinai were not Yahweh’s final revelation to the world. His climactic word, in the person of his Son, fully God and yet fully man, would wait another fifteen centuries. But during that time, the second commandment would protect the great, singular imaging to come in the incarnation. No, our God is not opposed to images. Indeed, he made us in his image, and sent his Son as his image — and he would have his people be and look to the images of his making, not turn ourselves upside down and make our own.

We might say the incarnation not as much breaks the second commandment as fulfills it. The second commandment, all along, while protecting God’s calling on his people to image him, prepared the way for the invisible God to manifest himself, to make himself visible to us, as one of us, in the person of Christ.

The Commandment Today

None of this means that now, with Christ having come, we carve our own images for worship, or worship however we prefer. 

The New Testament is a manual for the nations, for global expansion, minimal in its external requirements for worship. New-covenant worship, with its inner essence and worldwide design, crosses and transcends tribal and ethnic divides, both carefully drawing from and courageously challenging the cultures and forms into which the gospel advances and grows. Without missionary intentionality, we are prone to overlook how subtly we can be tempted to worship God in ways borrowed from unbelievers, or in ways that gratify our own preferences or comforts, rather than in ways that stem from God’s revelation to us in Scripture.

Though not under the old covenant today, the instinct of the second commandment might lead us to ask, as churches, How central has our desire become to make our corporate worship gatherings to be comfortable to nonbelievers, and to ourselves? Do our beliefs and practices not also, in a holy sense, make us, and our world, uncomfortable? Would unbelievers among usreasonably say, “Instead of making me want to become more like them, it looks very much as if they want to become more like me”?

The second commandment also might lead us to ask, Who sets the orienting terms of my life as an act of worship? Is it God, through his word, or how much is it (perhaps almost imperceptibly) the world around me? How much am I inclined to try to make my own meaning (by borrowing it from the world) rather than embracing being made in God’s image, and seeking to live in the high calling of being his, and looking to Jesus, his perfect image?

In other words, the second commandment forces us to ask, again and again, How central is the word of God in my life and in our worship?

 (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for and pastor at Cities Churchin Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines.

February 1, 2021, April 15, 2021

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