Idolatry

(written by Tom Woythal)

“And put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (II Timothy 4:24)

Someone once said, “Heaven is for those who love God and want to be with Him, it’s really that simple.” I like this statement because it sums it up very well. There are many who really don’t want God involved in their lives, in this life, and so why would they want to be with Him in the world to come? God doesn’t want someone in His house either who doesn’t love Him or want to be with Him, would you?

Many times we hear people say, “I don’t want anything to do with Christianity because there are too many hypocrites in the church!” Of course it is true that there are hypocrites in the church, but there are hypocrites in every walk of life. The term has been widely misunderstood. A hypocrite is not a person who is struggling with something, and whose life may be wrought with many imperfections, but rather a hypocrite is a pretender, a person who pretends to be something that they are not (in this case, a person who pretends to love God). Many hypocrites look good on the outside. They look (and act) better than many genuine and sincere believers, but inwardly they are corrupt. It is not about perfection in the flesh, but rather sincerity and faith. It is about having a perfect heart. A heart yielded to Jesus and His Spirit. This is no different than what most of us expect out of our own friendships and intimate relationships. We are not looking for a perfect spouse, for instance, but rather a spouse whom we can love, and who loves us.

At the time of this writing, there is a controversy arising across the United States regarding Confederate statues, and other statues also. Many of the people who are demanding the statues to be destroyed are also many of the same people who hate God and are fighting to remove Him from every facet of our society. The funny thing is that, technically, God condemns the construction and erection of statues in the first place:

“Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place…” (Deuteronomy 27:15)

The word “secret” is also used in other passages to refer to “protected” (“protected place” for people to observe). Most of these statutes are fenced in or otherwise protected, and they are erected in public places. What kind of things does God forbid us creating the likeness of?

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or 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.” (Exodus 20:4)

That covers just about everything. However, is erecting and displaying a statue of Robert E. Lee or George Washington really a form of idolatry? What does it mean to make and serve idols?

God condemns idolatry just as passionately in the New Testament as He does in the Old Testament, so we should have a desire to know what He is talking about. You say, “Well, we don’t worship these statues; they are simply memorials to honor famous people.” And that is true. I agree. However, not everyone would agree. In some cultures, they would see it very differently. There are many who worship men and government. If we look at North Korea, for example, they have statues and images set up everywhere for the purpose of turning and keeping the devotion of the people fixated on the leaders. God condemns this in strong terms, but ultimately it is not about the statue. A statue is just a piece of stone, metal, or wood, but idolatry comes from the heart (Matthew 15:16-20). Just as statues can be good or bad (depending on the heart of the individual), so can everything else (work, relationships, material goods, money, sex, and pleasures and desires of all kinds). Many believe that since they don’t worship statues, they are not committing idolatry.

To one person, for example, sex is a strong, passionate desire (a good thing), but to another, a compulsive and addictive lust (not a good thing). To one, marijuana is a drug to get high and escape life’s challenges and problems, yet to another, it is medicine to help bring healing and comfort. Under the law, the showbread was only for the priests (I Samuel 21:1-6). It was unlawful for anyone else to eat of it, and yet when David and his men were hungry, they ate and were guiltless (Matthew 12:1-5). The Sabbath was one of the strictest commands of the Old Testament. Breaking it carried a death sentence under the law, but yet the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. God condemns all liars in scripture (Revelation 21:8), and yet Rehab, a harlot, told a “lie,” and was commended greatly by God for the act (Hebrews 11:31). She was also grafted into the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 5:1). Even a witch’s den became a holy place when the Spirit of God showed up on the scene, took over, and gave King Saul a righteous judgment and prophetic word (I Samuel 28:11-20). It was no longer the devil’s mouthpiece, but it became God’s (I Corinthians 10:26).

A statue to one is a symbol of honor, and yet to another, an abhorrent idol. To one it is unclean, and yet to another holy and good (James 4:11-12). How can this be? It has to do with the heart and motive of the individual, and whether or not they have faith. The message of grace and true holiness is not a message of lawlessness, but rather submission to the Lord of heaven and earth. It is not that we are free to do whatever we want, but rather He is free to do whatever He wants in and through us (I Corinthians 9:21-22). Jesus is Lord, even of the Sabbath. He is Lord of all.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul draws a distinction between true holiness and the form of feigned holiness that they were accustomed to under the Law of Moses (keeping of ordinances, traditions, and the law of commandments). The law could never make a man or woman holy (Ephesians 4:24). True holiness is only obtained through Jesus Christ. We belong to Him, abide in Him, and live in Him. No man can be holy through his own works of piety (Acts 3:12). There is nothing wrong with statutes, but what makes them clean or unclean rests in the heart of the individual. If making images of anything in the earth is a sin against God (in every instance), then everyone with an iPhone camera would be in big trouble today!

In a marriage or intimate friendship, there are boundaries. There are certain things that can compete against the relationship and contaminate it. The Bible refers to this as adultery. Adultery means to “adulterate,” or contaminate. Sex is not necessary for this to take place, and many times what takes place in the heart is much worse than a sexual act. For example, there are certain things that will contaminate fuel. Pouring water in your gas tank will adulterate the fuel and cause engine failure, while pouring in fuel additive will not contaminate, but rather aid in the smooth running and operation of the vehicle. The vehicle owner is responsible for knowing what he should or shouldn’t add to his fuel. In order to aid in making the right decisions, he has an owner’s manual that he can refer to, and qualified mechanics that he can talk to. We have God’s Word and His Spirit.

There are things that can compete in the hearts of people and contaminate their relationship with the Lord. These are what God refers to as idols. These things can be different for everyone depending on their emotional and spiritual makeup. For some people it can be some form of addiction, or it may be their children, their marriages, their families, and sometimes even their churches, traditions, or theology. Even good things can become idols depending on the individual. God doesn’t intend for the things that He gives us to become idols, and yet it happens, and it happens a lot. In Deuteronomy, God warned the children of Israel, after God intended to prosper them, “Beware lest you forget the Lord…” (Deuteronomy 8:11-20)

Years ago, I really liked to drink coffee. I looked forward to the morning when I could have my coffee (usually almost always a pot). One morning the Lord spoke to me and said, “You are looking forward to your coffee more than you are looking forward to spending time with me.” “Also, it’s not good for you. I want you to get rid of it.” I struggled with that for awhile and kept drinking it. Finally, one day the Lord told me, “If you don’t get rid of it, that sin will drive a wedge between us.” He called it sin. I heard it clearly. For me it was sin. Not for others, but for me. Not only had it been competing for my affection, but I also had an “inordinate affection” for mind-altering substances before I had given my life to the Lord years before. It was like an “old love,” and it had to go. It was difficult at the time, but I let it go, and asked my wife if she could get rid of the coffee pot for a few weeks so that I wouldn’t have to smell it in the morning. She said “No problem,” and didn’t have her morning cup, or she went to the gas station. I was amazed. I told the Lord, “I wouldn’t have been able to do the same for her if the circumstances were reversed!” He said, “Precisely,” and then God blessed her a couple of weeks later with an expensive, new, top-of-the-line coffee pot that she had wanted for a long time. Someone gave it to her. What she was willing to give up, God returned to her pressed down, shaken together and running over. Sometimes God will prove us like He did Abraham in taking Isaac up to the mountain (Genesis 22:1-18). Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son (whom God had blessed him with), and because of this, God blessed Abraham exponentially, “Your seed will be as the sand of the sea…” The “proving” is more for us, because God already knows what is in our hearts.

God has no pleasure in our sacrifices. Our own sacrifices only generate pride, and God resists the proud. He has pleasure in mercy, and the working of His grace in our lives. He desires to show Himself strong on our behalf, and display His goodness and mercy for the world to see. He will freely give us all things if our motives are right, and we can handle them. After King David got Bathsheba pregnant, and had her husband killed, God told him that He would have given him anything that he had wanted (in addition to what he already had), had he only asked. God had no problem giving David beautiful women, but David had taken something that had belonged to another man (II Samuel 12:8-9).

God wants to fulfill our desires as long as our desires don’t compete with our desire for Him (covetousness), or violate His commandment of love (for others). Pleasure is good, and God is the source of all enduring pleasure, but we should not be lovers of pleasure (or anything else) more than lovers of Him. It is really that simple.

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About Michael Fackerell

The Christian faith is about Jesus. He came to save the lost. About Jesus Christ, Bible teaching, Testimonies, Salvation, Prayer, Faith, Networking.

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