No Other Gods! – The Danger of Idolatry8 min read
One of the most exclusive statements in Scripture is this: “I am the Lord thy God… thou shalt have no other God’s before me.” The Law began with a declaration of God’s unquestionable supremacy, for its knowledge is the foundation of all obedience. Then the first commandment given was for Israel to recognize that statement and act upon it. In Mark twelve, the Lord Jesus called this the first commandment, not merely in number, but in priority and greatness. Why?
- Because the Lord IS the only true God. To worship any other would be to bow unto a lie. God demands unadulterated, undivided, unquestionable worship, because of Who He is. True commitment on our part is consistent with His nature. Thus idolatry contradicts His Person.
- Because the Lord is a jealous God. He says “I will not give My glory to another.” He has the only right to demand worship and the only authority to see that through. He is alone in His supremacy. No other can nor will have any part in the glory inherent to Himself. Thus idolatry contradicts His demands.
- Because “no man can serve two masters: either he will love the one and hate the other, or cleave to the one and despise the other.” Thus, idolatry contradicts logic.
If idolatry is a very sinful thing, it must also be a very subtle thing in the life of the believer: we are more apt to fall for elusive sin than for open, flamboyant sin. Idolatry could begin by hints of pride: we focus on ourselves rather than seeking God’s preeminence, and then lose our zeal to serve. It could begin by slight compromise: we pretend a small taste of something won’t hurt, but before long find ourselves consumed with obsession. It could perhaps even find its roots in an overemphasis of life’s legitimate things (e.g. rest, leisure, work, hobby, etc.). Maybe a believer in a trial loses confidence in God’s power, causing him to look to other means of peace. There are so man facets of life in which we can find ourselves idolatrous, but perhaps the simple way to summarize the process is this: idolatry forms when we underestimate and take our eyes away from God.
With that in mind, what exactly is an idol in the life of a Christian? In a simple definition, it is that which draws our hearts away from the truth of Who God is, what He deserves, and what He demands. It is what contradicts God’s nature, yet that which we give precedence to as if meaningful. Scripture calls idols “strange” or “foreign” gods, because they diverted from Truth.
In reality, there are two types of idolatry. (1) Idolatry rooted in putting something other than God on the throne of ones life, in that it controls desires, emotions, and affections; and (2) Idolatry rooted in neglecting to put God first in all things. One is active. One is passive. Both are deadly.
As for serving other gods, how can we identify if we are doing this? What does idolatry consist of? (Keep in mind that these things will never be true in their fullest form of the believer. It is impossible to serve two masters. These things are only tendencies and fall-backs we can see in our lives, but they will never make up the fullness of one’s life who is truly saved.)
- Worshipping other gods. While the true Christian will never fully convert to another god, we can certainly ask ourselves, “Do we give divided attention to our Lord?” Is there such thing as “God plus something else” in our lives? Or does He have our whole hearts?
- Sacrificing to other gods. What makes up the activities of your life? What would you sacrifice for temporary pleasure? Would you sacrifice the assembly for a job, or an assembly meeting for a show? Do you set aside spiritual things in some form to make way for carnal (fleshly) pleasure?
- Walking after other gods. What do you tend towards? What is the direction of your life? Is it toward holy communion with your Father? Or will spiritual living be hindered by your current trajectory?
- Worshipping a false version of God. How big is your God? Is He the Most High? Is He worthy of reverence and respect? Or could your view of Him do with some advancement?
While we might not be guilty of “replacing” God as it were, surely we are all guilty of neglect. Idolatry isn’t only full rebellion against God. It can be holding something back from full submission, when He demands ALL of the believer. Can you sincerely come before God in prayer and offer up everything you are and have for the Master’s free and full use? Or is something too precious for you to give up for the Most High God? The Father gave His only Son. How dare we hold something back that is not even a fraction of Christ’s worth.
As with any other sin of the flesh, there is a way to resist idolatry; although, it will always be present to battle with. As believers we have been called away from such sin: tremendous insult to God’s face if we should treat it lightly! First Thessalonians 1:9-10 says “Ye 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, Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” Christianity represents a completely new outlook on life and a change in allegiance from idols to the true and living God. At salvation we renounced all other gods in terms of allegiance and position, yet we must day-by-day struggle to live that out. Sometimes it isn’t easy. But it is what we must do. One can almost hear the tender concern of John as he says at the close of his very practical letter “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” This must also be our supreme concern. How are we to do this, though?
Well, if we haven’t already fallen into some form of idolatry, we can certainly take measures to avoid and prevent it. Firstly, we can elevate our view of God – doctrinally, reverentially, practically, prayerfully, etc. It is impossible for the human mind to conceive too high an estimation of God: we have only to raise our view of Him continually. This can be accomplished through consistent study and prayer. Secondly, we can pray for prevention. Of all people desiring us to abstain from idols, of course the jealous God of Heaven would be most zealous in helping us with the issue. Thirdly, idolatry has a difficult time finding a place in a heart of worship, that is, a heart full of Christ. Often we fall into idolatry, because there is room for it. The solution, then, is quite simple: don’t leave room for it, while always assuming that you still must be more full of Christ than you are presently. Always look to be better. This will keep a focused view toward Him that we might not be lazy in the battle for our devotion.
But if we still have yet to put away idols, perhaps a few examples from Scripture would benefit us.
Consider Jacob in Genesis 35. He had a place to go: Bethel – the house of God and the place he received God’s promises. But before he could go, it was necessary for him to get rid of idols for his own sake and his family’s. To do this, he buried them, leaving them to rot and never be seen again. This is what we need: (1) A distinct direction to pursue that there might be no division in our hearts as to who we would serve. And if you don’t know where to start, why not begin in God’s house (assembly) and the place where you received His promises (the Word)? (2) An acknowledgement of accountability. Our lives will not be lived without influencing someone. Just as Jacob had a family to act on behalf of, so must we remember that our idolatry will have effects – perhaps in places we would never expect. (3) A blunt end to our idols, as we leave them to die.
Similarly, with Moses and the golden calf, we see him grinding it to powder and causing the people to drink water mingled with that powder. He fully destroyed every trace of the idol and made so that Israel would never forget its bitterness. Let us not be passive about destroying our idols: let us grind them to powder as it were. And let us never forget the bitterness of their nature, of their effects in our lives, and of their affects to the heart of God.
Also notice the record of Josiah in 2 Kings 23. With him, the destruction of idolatry began with a tender heart toward God’s Word and with the open reading of it, as he considered whether or not the current pattern of God’s house was consistent with the revealed pattern. Then he thoroughly destroyed idolatry and instituted the proper ordinances of God’s Truth. Such is what we must do. Let us have hearts tuned to the Word, willing to obey. Then let us not only destroy idolatry, but develop habits which we neglected in times past. We are not only called away from idols, but unto true service. We must be diligent in both these things – the going and the coming. So then, what are we waiting for?