Thursday, October 15, 2015

Are you an Idol Worshipper?

This may seem like a very strange question, but it is a very important question for each of us to ask ourselves. The aged apostle John ends his first letter by challenging us to “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Throughout his first epistle John has been emphasizing the tremendous of privilege of having fellowship with God as our Father and with His Son. He teaches us that fellowship is based on righteousness, love and truth. John outlines the conditions for fellowship and gives caution to fellowship in the first one and a half chapters. This is followed by the behavior that fellowship with God brings, giving us the characteristics and consequences of fellowship.

So why does John end this book on fellowship with an exhortation to keep ourselves from idols? Because idolatry is the enemy to fellowship! So let’s look at this verse a bit. First we’ll break down the verse and then we’ll seek to answer the question “what is an idol?” Then we’ll focus at what the Bible has to say about idolatry and detect possible idols in our lives. We will finish up by reviewing questions that we can ask to identify our idols.

Breaking it down 
John’s exhortation begins with “keep your-self from idols.” This word keep expresses urgency and decisiveness. It has the thought of no hesitation! It means to guard or defend your-self from idols. Do not fool with false religion because of the serious damage it can do to your soul. Do not desert the reality of fellowship with the Father and His son for an illusion. Anything or anyone that substitutes for God is idolatry. The heart is a citadel, and it must be guarded against from attacks from without. 

In verse 20 John reminds of Him who is true! This is the secret of the life that is real, genuine and true! Because we have met the true God, through His Son Jesus Christ, we are in contact with reality. Our fellowship is with a God who is genuine. The word real means “the original as opposed to a copy” and “the authentic as opposed to an imitation.” Jesus Christ is the true Light (John 1:9), and true Bread (John 6:32), and true Vine (John 15:1), and Truth itself (John14:6). He is the Original; everything else is a copy. He is authentic; everything else is only an imitation and anything else can become an idol. 

What is an Idol?
So if we are going to keep our-selves from idols we need to know what an idol is. An idol is any person, object or activity we give a higher priority in our life than our relationship with the God! An idol can be your home, your job, a vehicle, a relationship or even your family. An idol can be a pet, a computer or what you look at on the computer. An idol can be alcohol, drugs, sex or any sin. An idol can even be the work you do for the Lord, if you lose sight of the Lord, being consumed by the work itself. God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:4-5, Deut. 4:25, 6:15, 32:21).

In Jeremiah 44:2-6 we read, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘You have seen all the calamity that I have brought on Jerusalem and on all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke Me to anger, in that they went to burn incense and to serve other gods whom they did not know, they nor you nor your fathers. However I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, “Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate!” But they did not listen or incline their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense to other gods. So My fury and My anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as it is this day.”

In Ezekiel 14:1-8 a group of elders came to Ezekiel, God had cut them off from speaking and making their request to Him because they had set idols up in their hearts. They had separated themselves from God through these idols. We are never told what their requests were and neither are we told just what the idols were, but we are told where they set the idols up, it was in their hearts! God declared that these idols in their hearts were a stumbling block to themselves and to others. Idolatry is dangerous not only because it robs God of His place in our hearts, but also because it involves the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:20, Deut. 32:17).

Idolatry is not a pagan problem, or a Jewish, nor is it an Old Testament issue. It is a human issue. An issue of the human heart! John Calvin once said, “The Human heart is an idol factory” and Romans 1:21, 25 would support this declaring, “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened...who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”

Idols in the Human Heart
Let’s look at some idols that can set up stronghold in the heart.

1. Pride: Isaiah 2:11 says, “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.” Listen to Proverbs 16:5, “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.” Both James and Peter quote from Proverbs 3:34 reminding us that “God resist the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

2. Lust or covetousness: The Lord Jesus reminded us that lust really begins in the heart (Mt. 5:27-28). In Luke 12:15 He warns us to “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Paul writes in Ephesians 5:5 “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

3. Physical idols: In Exodus 20:3-5 God was very clear when He said, “You shall have no other gods before Me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.”

4. Self: We live in a “Me first” generation, but the Lord Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. This world lives for self, thinking only of itself, but the Lord is to be our priority!

5. Entertainment: This is such a big thing in North America and around the world, if the enemy can keep us entertained and keep our minds off of Christ he will. Entertainment is not wrong in its self, but Paul instructs us that “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17).

6. Traditions which become rules: The Lord addresses this in Mark 7:8-9, 13 when He admonished the Pharisees, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” 

7. Religion: Can become an idol if Christ is left out of it by focusing more on the ritual and routines than focusing on Him. The Lord Jesus emphasizes this in Matthew 23:27-31, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.”

8. Hatred and bitterness: Can become an idol if we do not forgive and let something fester and consume us. This is why Paul says, “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:26-27, 30-32).

9. Fear and worry: Is another thing that can become an idol. But we are encouraged to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:6-7).

10. This World: This is what John writes when he says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15). If we live for this world it can become an idol to us!

Paul’s formula for removing idols from our lives is found in Colossians 3:1-5, “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 on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

As we have seen there is a constant theme about idolatry throughout Scriptures. When those at Thessalonica were saved we read that they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” ( 1 Thess. 1:9-10). The object that they turn to was greater than the object they turned away from! We ought to be just as troubled when we see idols in our lives as Paul was in Acts 17:16 when his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city of Athens was given over to idols. When we start discerning and challenging the idols in our own hearts we may have a fight as Paul did in Ephesus (Acts 19). John Newton, the writer of Amazing Grace, once wrote:

If I may speak of my own experience, I find that to keep my eye simply on Christ as my peace and life, is by far the hardest part of my calling…It seems easier to deny self in a thousand instances of outward conduct, than in its ceaseless endeavors to act as a principle of righteousness and power.” 

This shows just how important it is for us “to sanctify or set apart the Lord God in your hearts” (1 Pet. 3:15). 

Identifying Your Idols
How can you identify what may be idols in your life? I found a checklist taken from David Powlison’s book, “Seeing with New Eyes” that has helped me search my heart and set the Lord apart. 12 Questions to Identify Your Idols:

1. What do I worry about most?

2. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?

3. What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?

4. What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?

5. What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?

6. What makes me feel the most self-worth? What am I the proudest of? For what do I want to be known?

7. What do I lead with in conversations?

8. Early on what do I want to make sure that people know about me?

9. What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?

10. What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?

11. What is my hope for the future?

12. What do you blog, tweet or post the most about on social networks?

Idols in the Home
We have been pretty much speaking about idols in my heart, but what about idols in the Home. The old saying is “Home is where the heart is!” The Bible mentions several people who possessed teraphim, or household idols. These images were often used to bring a blessing upon the home, but in the case of Rachel and Michal they brought much grief! 

First, let’s look at the example of idols in the life of Jacob and Rachel. God instructed Jacob to leave the land of his father-in-law, Laban, and return to the land of his fathers (Genesis 31:3). Jacob packed everything up and set out on his journey. But what Jacob didn't know was that his wife Rachel had secretly taken her father’s household idols (Genesis 31:19). God had blessed Jacob, and God was preparing him for even greater things. But pagan idols had slipped into Jacob's household.

We are not told why Rachel stole the household idols. Perhaps it reminded her of her father’s home. Maybe she took them because they were made of valuable materials. It would seem that Rachel continued to hold to superstitions and pagan spiritual practices embraced by her father’s family. Today, many Christians have difficulty letting go of non-Christian practices that exist as part of family tradition. We haven't turned our backs on God; we haven't stopped worshiping Him or enjoying His favor. But have we allowed idols in our homes. This challenges the heart!

In Michal's case, the wife of King David, she also had a household god in her possession. At one point her father, Saul, sent men to kill David. Michal helped David escape through a window and then took a large household idol and placed it in his bed. She disguised the image under a blanket to look like David (1 Samuel 19). It appears this large idol was already in her house. No explanation for its presence is given in the Scripture. 

In both cases, the wife of a godly man continued to be influenced by pagan spiritual practices that carried over from her father’s family. This goes to show that parents exhibit a powerful spiritual influence over their children that often extends into later life. 

Idols are not to be part of a Christian’s life in any form. Scripture is clear that there is only one God, and He alone is to be served. In Deuteronomy 7:26, God clearly warns us “Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing.”

During their long residence in Egypt the Hebrews fell into idolatry, and it was long before they were delivered from it (Josh. 24:14; Ezek. 20:7). As you study their history we see that the consequence of having idols among them was great!

A Lesson from the Past
In Exodus 32 we find recorded an incident that holds many important lessons for us today. In fact, the New Testament refers to the incident there exhorting us not to allow similar things to in our lives (1 Cor. 10:7, 14).

The children of Israel had been led to Mount Sinai by Moses, and had witnessed powerful signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea. Moses went up the mountain to receive the word of the Lord and had gone a while (Ex.32:1). God was present with them, but they could not see Him and gathered together and asked Aaron to "make us gods." He collected gold from the people and fashioned a calf (Ex. 32:2-4), built an altar to the calf and proclaimed a feast "to the Lord" (Ex. 32:5). The actual Hebrew word Aaron used for “Lord” was “Jehovah”. Aaron tried mixed worshipping Jehovah with idol worship. When God told Moses of the sin the people were committing, Moses interceded for them, pleading for God's mercy, even stating his own willingness to die with them (Ex. 32 7-14). Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the authority and strength of a man who had been with God and all Israel knew it. He came down, broke the tablets of stone containing the law, and destroyed the calf by grinding the idol down to powder, put it in the brook that flowed from the mountain and made the people drink the water (Ex. 32:15-20, Deut. 9:12-21). 

He made the children of Israel drink it by grinding up the calf and made the people drink it for several reasons.

· To show that the so-called god was nothing and could be destroyed easily
· To completely obliterate this idol
· To make the people pay an immediate consequence of their sin
· To make the gold of the idol absolutely unusable

When we look back over Exodus 32 there are at least lesson we can learn that might help us to keep ourselves from idols. We fall into idolatry when:

1. We are impatient with God (Ex. 32:1). When we don’t want to wait, depend on and trust God. Leaning to our own understanding often leads us to produce idols in our live because we are not enjoying or relying on His fellowship while we wait.

2. We do what is popular instead of what is right before the Lord (Ex. 32:2-3). Conforming to this world will lead us to produce idols in our lives! This is why Paul urges us “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).

3. We invent our own image of God (32:4-6). We begin to create God in our image or according to our own imagination rather than the way the Word of God presents Him! This is why it is so important to be in the Word of God to learn more of who He is and what He is like!

4. We fail to remember just how faithful God has always been!

If we are unfaithful in our love and allegiance to Christ we are very much like the unfaithful women in Numbers 5:17, 24. When she was found to be unfaithful she was made to drink bitter water. This may be what is being alluded to in Exodus 32. But what is it that will draw our hearts from the idols of this life? It is seeing the beauties and greatness of the one who loved us and gave Himself for us! May our hearts be draw to Him as we are occupied with “His glory and grace may the things of the earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace!”

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