Are You An Idol Worshiper?

By Timothy P. Hadley

This may seem like a very strange question to ask believers, but it is a very important question for us to consider for ourselves. The aged apostle John ended his first letter by challenging us to “keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21 NKJV). Throughout this book John emphasized the tremendous privilege of having fellowship with God as our Father and His Son. John taught that fellowship is based on righteousness, love and truth. He outlined the conditions for fellowship and gave cautions to fellowship. This is followed by a description of the behavior that fellowship with God brings, showing us its characteristics and consequences.

So why did John end this letter with an exhortation to keep ourselves from idols? It is because idolatry is the enemy to fellowship!

Breaking It Down
The word “keep” in this exhortation expresses urgency and decisiveness, without any hesitation. It means to guard or defend. We are not to fool with false religion because of the serious damage it can do to our souls. Do not desert the reality of fellowship with the Father and His Son for an illusion. Anything or anyone that becomes a substitute for God is idolatry. Our hearts must be guarded!

First John 5:20 reminds us of Him who is true. He is the reason for a Christian life that is geniune. Because we have met the true God, through His Son Jesus Christ, we are in contact with reality. Our fellowship is with the God who is real. The word “real” speaks of an original or something authentic, rather than a copy or imitation. Jesus Christ is the true Light (Jn. 1:9), true Bread (6:32), true Vine (15:1) and Truth itself (14:6). He is the original!

What Is An Idol?
Expanding on what we have already said, an idol is any person, object or activity we give a higher priority in our life than our relationship with God. This of course can include a house, job, vehicle, pet and computer. Alcohol, drugs, immorality and other sins can be defined as idols. Things we view as good can also be idols, such as friendships and families. An idol can even be the work you do for the Lord if you lose sight of Him, being consumed by the work itself. Nothing should take His rightful place. Remember, God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:4-5; Dt. 4:25, 6:15, 32:21).

Jeremiah 44:2-6 says, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘You have seen all the calamity that I have brought on Jerusalem and on all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke Me to anger, in that they went to burn incense and to serve other gods whom they did not know, they nor you nor your fathers. However I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, “Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate!” But they did not listen or incline their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense to other gods. So My fury and My anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as it is this day.’”

Later, in Ezekiel 14:1-8, we find a group of elders whom God had cut off from speaking and making requests to Him because they had set up idols in their hearts. These elders, through the idols, had separated themselves from God. The idols were a stumbling block to themselves and others.

Not only does idolatry rob God of His place in our hearts, it involves the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:20; Dt. 32:17). This problem is not limited to a specific people or group; it is a human issue – an issue of the heart! John Calvin once said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” Romans 1:21,25 declares, “… Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened … who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”

Idols In The Human Heart
Let’s look at some idols that can establish a stronghold in the heart.

  • Pride. Isaiah 2:11 says, “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness [arrogance] of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.” Listen to Proverbs 16:5: “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.” Both James and Peter wrote: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5; see Prov. 3:34).
  • Lust or covetousness. The Lord Jesus reminded us that lust begins in the heart (Mt. 5:27-28). In Luke 12:15 He warned, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Paul wrote: “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:5).
  • Physical idols. As to these kind of idols, God was very clear: “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Ex. 20:3-5).
  • Self. We live in a “me first” generation. However, the Lord Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt. 6:33). This world lives for self, thinking only of itself, but the Lord is to be our priority!
  • Entertainment. If the enemy can keep us entertained, keeping our minds off of Christ, he will. Entertainment is not necessarily wrong in itself, but we are told that “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17).
  • Traditions which become rules. The Lord addressed this while admonishing the Pharisees, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men – the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do … All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition … making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mk. 7:6-9,13).
  • Religion. Even religion can become an idol if Christ is left out of it by focusing more on the ritual and routines than on Him. The Lord Jesus emphasized this in Matthew 23:27-31, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.”
  • Hatred and bitterness. If we do not forgive, and we allow a matter to fester and consume us, the resulting feelings can become idols. This is why Paul said, “‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil … And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:26-27,30-32).
  • Fear and worry. The struggle about things that trouble us can also become an idol. Therefore we are encouraged to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
  • This world. John wrote: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15). If we live for this world, it can become an idol to us.

When giving instruction as to removing idols from our lives, Paul presented an infinitely great option: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:1-5).

We see a good example by the believers at Thessalonica when they were saved. They “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Th. 1:9-10). The object that they turned to was far greater than the object from which they turned away!

We ought to be just as troubled when we see idols in our lives as Paul was when “his spirit was provoked within him” as he saw that the city of Athens was given over to idols (Acts 17:16). Upon discovering and challenging the idols in our own hearts, we will need to be strong in the Spirit as Paul was in Ephesus (19:23-26). John Newton, the writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” also wrote: “If I may speak of my own experience, I find that to keep my eye simply on Christ as my peace and life is by far the hardest part of my calling … It seems easier to deny self in a thousand instances of outward conduct, than in its ceaseless endeavors to act as a principle of righteousness and power.”

How important it is for us to set apart the Lord God in our hearts (1 Pet. 3:15)!

Identifying Your Idols
David Powlison, in his book “Seeing With New Eyes,”* gave “12 Questions To Identify Your Idols.” They have helped me to search my heart and set the Lord apart. Here they are for your benefit:

  1. What do I worry about most?
  2. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?
  3. What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?
  4. What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?
  5. What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?
  6. What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?
  7. What do I lead with in conversations?
  8. Early on, what do I want to make sure that people know about me?
  9. What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?
  10. What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?
  11. What is my hope for the future?
  12. What do you blog, tweet or post the most about on social networks?

Idols In The Home
We have been mainly speaking about idols in the heart, but what about idols in the home? An old saying ties the two together: “Home is where the heart is!” The Bible mentions several people who possessed teraphim, or household idols. These were often kept with the thought that they brought blessing upon the home, but in the stories of Rachel and Michal they brought much grief!

Let’s look at the example of Jacob and Rachel. God instructed Jacob to leave the land of his father-in-law, Laban, and return to the land of his own fathers (Gen. 31:3). Jacob packed everything up and set out on the journey with his family, but Jacob did not know that his wife Rachel had secretly taken her father’s household idols (v.19). God had blessed Jacob and was preparing him for even greater things, however pagan idols had slipped into Jacob’s household.

We are not told why Rachel stole the household idols, but it would seem that Rachel continued to hold to superstitions and some pagan practices embraced by her father’s family. Today many Christians have difficulty letting go of non-Christian practices that exist as part of their family tradition. We have not turned our backs on God in the sense that we stopped worshiping Him or enjoying His favor, but we may have allowed idols in our homes. This should challenge the heart!

Michal, the wife of King David, also had a household god in her possession. At one point her father, Saul, sent men to kill David. Michal helped her husband escape through a window and then she took a large household idol and placed it in his bed. She disguised the image under a blanket to look like David (1 Sam. 19). This large idol was apparently already in her house, but no explanation for its presence there is given in Scripture.

In both cases the wife of a godly man continued to be influenced by pagan practices carried over from her father’s family. This shows that parents exhibit a powerful spiritual influence over their children, which often extends into later life.

Idols are not to be part of a Christian’s life in any form. Scripture is clear that there is only one God, and He alone is to be served. In Deuteronomy 7:26 God warned, “Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.”

During their many years in Egypt the Hebrews fell into idolatry. After leaving, a long time passed before they were delivered from it (Josh. 24:14; Ezek. 20:7). If you study the history of Israel you will see that the consequence of having idols was devastating.

A Lesson From Exodus
In Exodus 32 we find an incident that holds many important lessons for us today. In fact, the New Testament refers to it while exhorting us not to allow similar things to in our lives (1 Cor. 10:7,14).

Having already witnessed powerful signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea, the children of Israel were led to Mount Sinai by Moses. But when Moses went up the mountain to receive the Word of the LORD, the people asked Aaron to “make us gods” – apparently not realizing that the true God was present with them. Aaron collected gold from the people, fashioned a calf, built an altar to it and proclaimed a feast “to the LORD” (Ex. 32:5). He tried to mix worshiping Jehovah with idol worship!

When God told Moses about the sin the people were committing, he interceded for them, pleading for God’s mercy. Moses even stated that he was willing to die with them. Coming down from Mount Sinai, Moses had the authority and strength of a man who had been with God – and all Israel knew it. As he came near the camp, Moses broke the tablets of stone containing the law. He then destroyed the calf by grinding the idol into powder and putting it in the brook that flowed from the mountain. The people were then made to drink the water (Ex. 32:15-20; Dt. 9:12-21). Reasons for this action by Moses in judgment include:

  • To show that the so-called god was nothing and could be destroyed easily,
  • To completely obliterate this idol,
  • To make the people pay an immediate consequence of their sin, and
  • To make the gold of the idol absolutely unusable.

When we look over Exodus 32 we find at least four lessons as to why we might fall into idolatry. Knowing these things may help to keep us from idols. We can fall into idolatry when:

  • We are impatient with God. Sometimes we don’t want to wait, depend on and trust God. Leaning on our own understanding often leads us to produce idols in our lives because we are not enjoying or relying on His fellowship while we wait.
  • We do what is popular instead of what is right before the Lord. Conforming to this world will lead us to produce idols in our lives. This is why Paul urged us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).
  • We invent our own image of God. We sometimes begin to create God in our image or according to our own imagination rather than the way the Word of God presents Him. This is why it is so important to be in the Word of God to learn more of who He is and what He is like!
  • We fail to remember just how faithful God has always been.

If we are unfaithful in our love and allegiance to Christ we will be made to “drink bitter water” like women who were thought to be unfaithful had to do (Num. 5:17,24). What a sad time.

What will draw our hearts away from the idols of this life? It is gazing on the beauties and greatness of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20).

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of His glory and grace.” —Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961)

May our hearts be drawn to Him – to Him alone! ENDNOTE
* Published by P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg NJ, 2003.

Author: Sebastien

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