When you hear talk about idolatry what do you think about? For many, a picture of a golden calf comes to mind, like the one Aaron childishly maintained had jumped out of the fire at the foot of Mount Sinai. For others, it is a picture of something considered “sacred” by those who bow to a tree, a cow, or some form of graven image. Many world religions encourage adherents to bow before statues, icons, and images, a practice expressly forbidden in the Word of God (Exodus 20:3-5).
When idolatry is kept in this context, we can be fooled into thinking that we are immune to it. Does anyone reading this blog right now bow down to a golden calf, graven image, sacred cow or a tree? Probably not. However, we can also be fooled into believing these objects are indeed “idle” idols—that they have no power to obstruct or obliterate our worship of the God of the Bible. The fact is, however, that every one of us is greatly affected by the sin of idolatry, and our idols are by no means idle!
Idolatry defined: the worship of anything that takes the place of the one, true, living God and it is not limited to the worship of images. It is misplaced trust in the created thing rather than the Creator and at its core is the god of self.
Most of us are far too sophisticated to bow down to a graven image. But we have replaced the golden calf with idols that are subtle and powerfully seductive—treacherous idols like materialism, pride, selfish ambition, obsession with career advancement, self-centeredness, greed, lust, and a hoard of others things. Pulpits across the country propagate idolatry through the preaching of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, which is built upon the idol of the self. These idols will ultimately rule our hearts and shape our lives. And because idolatry is a matter of the heart, there are NO “idle” idols, because our heart is in a never-ending pursuit to worship something!
The more we focus on satisfying self, the less we focus on serving God and others. Self-indulgence—not self-sacrifice—defines the condition of many in the church today. As John Calvin once rightly observed, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” By nature we are all prone to substitute self for the Savior, having been enticed by the same five words Satan used in tempting Adam and Eve: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). This desire for self-rule has defined the desires of the heart of every man and woman ever since that dreadful day.
All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:16)
John makes it clear that there are no idle idols. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life control our minds, seduce our hearts, and bend our wills. Our only way to escape from our natural tendency to idolatry is the Gospel. Only when God is at the center of our lives (Matthew 22:37) will idolatry be rooted out of our hearts and replaced with the only One who deserves to be there: Jesus.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!