True Worship: What Is Idol Worship?

“Believe this: a new day is coming—in fact, it’s already here—when the importance will not be placed on the time and place of worship but on the truthful hearts of worshipers.” John 4:23 VOICE

In Part 1, I discussed Paul’s visit to Athens where he observed idol worship within that city. Taking note that they were truly religious people, carefully examining the religious statues and inscriptions. He specifically noted on one altar this inscription: “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.”

I defined idol worship as anything that gets between us and God, and whatever we worship more than God or instead of God. As humans, we tend to worship that which is most important to us, and if it’s not God, then its idolatry, however, I think every single one of us are guilty at one time or another, because every one of us have our own idols. They might be the same ones that others have, or they might be something totally different. Spiritual or political leaders can become idols in our lives if we elevate them above God.

What we worship and how we worship is a serious matter. Jesus also teaches that worship to God must be “in truth” in John 4:24. We must do those things in worship that are approved and commanded by God in His Word.

The very first two commandments in the Book of Exodus deal with idolatry. Exodus 20:3 says, “You are not to serve any other gods before Me. You are not to make any idol or image of other godsIn fact, you are not to make an image of anything in the heavens above, on the earth below, or in the waters beneath. You are not to bow down and serve any image, for I, the Eternal your God, am a jealous God. As for those who are not loyal to Me, their children will endure the consequences of their sins for three or four generations. But for those who love Me and keep My directives, their children will experience My loyal love for a thousand generations.” (Ex 20:4-6)

Idolatry is a powerful tool that the Satan uses to turn us away from God. It has taken on many different forms. There are many pleasures of life or material goods that divert our attention away from serving God by consuming our time and attention.

Even smaller, more “harmless” things can twist our attention away from God. It can be very easy to get completely wrapped up in earthly matters. God must come first or have first place in our lives. In fact, if we seek the righteousness of God and His kingdom, first and foremost, God promises to provide all we’ll need (Matt 6:33).

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 of the earth.”

(Col. 3:1-2)

“But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do no break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:20-2).

While our culture isn’t dominated by temples, idol worship, and polytheism the way the first-century world was, we are not immune to the threat of idolatry. John Calvin wrote “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” (Institutes 1.11.8)

Sinners and saints alike still erect idols today, it simply takes place in individual hearts rather than the public square. It could be money, influence, career goals, athletic achievements, high-priced indulgences, or even another person. 

Even Christians can at times succumb to the rebellious tendency to create false gods—or to simply redefine the God of the Bible. Every time the church attempts to define God on its own terms—contrary to His self-revelation in Scripture—by rounding off the sharp edges of God’s attributes (judgement, wrath, goodness and severity ), and reimagine Him as a kindly cosmic Santa Claus rather than a holy, righteous Judge. In that sense, there is very little difference between pretending God is not who He says He is and worshiping things. Only focusing on grace, favor and goodness.

We need to understand that Paul’s straightforward exchange with the philosophers of Athens is a timely warning about the futility. emptiness of idolatry, and a call to repent of such foolishness while there is still time.

What is the root of idolatry?

“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5.

Here we can clearly see what is behind idolatry: covetousness. When the things of earth become great to you and divert your mind and heart from the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit.  All too often, the biggest idol in our lives is the one that looks us right in the mirror each and every morning. We are by nature egocentric, self-involved people. Our thoughts naturally go in one pattern: me, me, me. This spirit, which is promoted by every form of media available today, is the same spirit that filled the devil when he challenged God. (Isaiah 14:12-15) This spirit is horribly destructive and can only be countered by humility – by placing our lives in God’s hands and yielding completely to His will.

In parts 3 and 4 of this message,  I’ll look at some of the things Christians and Americans tend to worship.

As we walk in the light, the glory of the Lord will rise upon the Church. 

Blessings,

Dr. A

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