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As Americans we do not have a good understanding of idolatry. We name shows American Idol. We speak in glowing, unabashed terms of someone being our idol (this is intended to be complimentary).  Judging from the usage it is seen to be positive and glamourous to be an idol. This is a master work by Satan to redefine and empty a term of its biblical moorings.

I’m afraid it is not much better when it comes to the church. Many Christians do not have a working theology of idolatry. We tend to think of idolatry as a carved figurine of wood or porcelain; something we bow down before, light incense to, or regard with some various forms of mystical power. This may be something that was done in ancient history or if done today it is in places like India or a remote tribal area.

The Bible does not present idolatry as something that is specific to a historical period or even a particular group of people. Instead, the biblical perception of idolatry is that it is characteristic of all people of all times after man’s first sin in the Garden of Eden.

There are warnings against idolatry throughout the New Testament.

  • (Ephesians 5:5) For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
  • (Revelation 21:8) But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Another loud and somewhat ominous statement is found in the Apostle John’s first epistle. The last words he wrote in that letter are simply: Little children, keep yourself from idols. (1 Jn. 5.21)

The fact that the Bible talks so forcefully about idolatry and that most people (whether inside or outside of the church) don’t have a firm understanding of it, reminds us that we need to seriously consider and understand the concept.

When we think of idolatry we need to think in terms of robbery and perversion.

  • It is robbery because in idolatry we take what is due to God and give it to someone or something else.
  • It is perversion because in idolatry instead of giving our devotion to God we give it to created things.

This is plainly seen in Romans 1.18ff when the Apostle speaks of our sinful acts as “exchanging”. In idolatry we exchange the glory of God for the glory of created things (Rom. 1.23) and we exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1.25). We steal from God (robbery) and we pervert the affections that God has given us by expending them on (worshiping) created things rather than the Creator.

Therefore…Idolatry is: honoring or worship a created thing at the expense of God, the Creator.

So often this elevation to worship of created things is not even the “bad things” per se but the good things that we shamefully elevate to the place of God. As someone has said, “We make good things ultimate things.” This is idolatry.

Therefore…Idolatry is: fear, love, serve no other gods before God:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. ”You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3 ESV)

Tim Keller reminds us that idolatry is:

  • Anything more important to you than God.
  • Anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God.
  • Anything you seek to give you what only God can give you.

Therefore…Idolatry is: anything that sits in God’s chair; specifically anything that you value, serve and build your life upon that is not God.

Therefore…Idolatry is: honoring or worship a created thing at the expense of God, the Creator.

Idolatry then is, biblically speaking, robbery & perversion. It is only through trusting and treasuring Christ, the one who was obedient for us, even to death, that we might live as worshipers of the One True God.

 

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