Augustine wrote, ” O poor soul, how you debase yourself when you love earthly things. You are better than them! Only God is above you and you were made to love him only!”
God – the God of the Bible – is the Creator of all and leaves no room for any other imagined deity. He is eternal, uncaused, self-existing and absolute perfection, and nothing can be added to him or taken from him. No other being is its own cause. No other being rivals the One True God. In the Ten Commandments we read,
6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 7 ‘You shall have no other gods before Me. 8 ‘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; 9 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, 10 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 11 ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.Deuteronomy 5
That message is repeated throughout the whole of Scripture. The Christian believer is to love and serve Him as Lord and as God; there is never to be any place given to any other god, idol, or power. Further, we are to worship and revere Him as He is, as He has objectively revealed Himself to us in His Word, and not merely as we might wish or imagine Him to be. Idolatry, at times incorporating the religious influences of the pagan nations around them, and ultimately essentially forgetting the One True God, brought ruin and destruction to the Jewish kingdoms in the Old Testament. Isaiah 44 conveys a key and powerful message:
6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
The superiority of God over idols is the main point of this writing of Isaiah, proven by the ability of God to foretell the future. At the end of the chapter is a detailed prophecy of events fulfilled more than a century in the future at the time of writing, and throughout the writings of Isaiah there are a number of very detailed prophecies that have been fulfilled.
7 And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
8 Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’ ”
Other “gods” made by men are idols that cannot see, speak, hear, or even do what humans can. The ancient workmen who created idols from the natural elements of creation were mere men who could make nothing superior to themselves.
9 Those who make an image, all of them are useless,
And their precious things shall not profit;
They are their own witnesses;
They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed.
10 Who would form a god or mold an image
That profits him nothing?
11 Surely all his companions would be ashamed;
And the workmen, they are mere men.
Let them all be gathered together,
Let them stand up; Yet they shall fear,
They shall be ashamed together.
12 The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals,
Fashions it with hammers,
And works it with the strength of his arms.
Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails;
He drinks no water and is faint.
13 The craftsman stretches out his rule,
He marks one out with chalk; He fashions it with a plane,
He marks it out with the compass, And makes it like the figure of a man,
According to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house.
14 He cuts down cedars for himself, And takes the cypress and the oak;
He secures it for himself among the trees of the forest.
He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.
15 Then it shall be for a man to burn,
For he will take some of it and warm himself;
Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread;
Indeed he makes a god and worships it;
He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
16 He burns half of it in the fire; With this half he eats meat;
He roasts a roast, and is satisfied.
He even warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.”
17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
18 They do not know nor understand;
For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see,
And their hearts, so that they cannot understand.
19 And no one considers in his heart,
Nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
“I have burned half of it in the fire,
Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals;
I have roasted meat and eaten it;
And shall I make the rest of it an abomination?
Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”
Nothing could be more foolish than worshipping something made of metal or wood or other materials of creation. Idolatry is declared to be a deception, which profits nothing and brings judgement. The chosen Jewish nation failed to maintain strict loyalty and obedience to God. Few of us, either individually or in our churches, have any sort of statue or image that might be considered an idol, but too often we too are given to very real idolatry.
In Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” John warned believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols.” Earlier he warned, in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” To love the world is to make an idol of some element of it. Sexual sin, materialism, jealousy, covetousness, hunger for power and prestige, the inordinate pursuit of pleasure, selfish pride; these things are idolatry and displace God from His rightful place in our lives. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” Too many of us are guilty of these things, and often we must be reminded to turn away from such behaviors and attitudes.
But all idolatry is not so obvious. John’s statement to believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols,” is perhaps a contrast with reference to “the true God” in verse 20, essentially a warning against false teachers and false teaching. A god who is not the god of Scripture becomes in effect an idol, a false god, and the god of growing segments of perceived evangelicalism is just that, a false god of their own making.
“Lovers of self” leads the list of Paul’s description of the last days in the 2 Timothy passage; if unrepentant self is loved and admired it is an idol. This has been forgotten by a broad part of the church with people often essentially encouraged to be “proud,” “unholy,” and “lovers of themselves” by the church. God isn’t championed as the living sovereign God of Scripture, holy, righteous, just, intolerant of rebellion and sin, while also love and grace and mercy; but rather merely as accepting and loving as defined by human reasoning. The gospel that is presented is broadly a man-centered gospel of happiness, hope, prosperity, and success; Jesus the life-coach. The Jesus of history becomes a divine source of inspiration and timeless wisdom but not the source of salvation through His atoning death and resurrection, for a god of purely human-defined love and acceptance requires no atonement. There is little mention of the sin of man and his utter helplessness in turning to God for salvation. Jesus is frequently referred to in literature, sermons and teaching, and especially in music in terms of filial or erotic love; Jesus the divine boyfriend. Compromise and secularization of the church is justified by saying that this is necessary to appeal to a broader segment of society and attract the un-churched. Pragmatism rather than revealed truth becomes a driving principle, with churches that warn no one of eternal judgement or teach that anyone should repent of their sins. As a result of these compromises they are no longer worshipping the living God but are worshipping an idol of their own making. This is idolatry as surely as bowing down to a statue.
Ideology often becomes, in effect, an idol embraced by the church. Patriotism and love of country is a good thing, but it can never be allowed to displace the gospel as the dominant theme of the church, and at times this has become a problem in conservative American evangelicalism. But God, as it were, is neither Republican nor Democrat. Themes of socialism, “social justice,” critical theory, multiculturalism, and leftist-Marxist ideas have begun to gain acceptance in the perceived evangelical community; these ideas are completely antithetic to the gospel. The god envisioned by those who accept these ideologies is not the God of Scripture but rather an idol, a god of human making.
“Jesus” must be the Jesus of Scripture, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity who came to atone for the sins of all who will repent and believe His gospel. The prosperity-promising Jesus, the sin-affirming cosmic boyfriend Jesus, the life coach Jesus, the inspirational philosopher Jesus, the example of divine love martyr Jesus, the socialist Jesus, the Jesus adapted to fit the culture of the day – these are idols, abominations to God. The Jesus of the Bible will be all or nothing, Lord and Savior, and anything else is a lie and a deception.
John Calvin (Institutes, 1.11.8) rightly said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” Just as idolatry brought disaster to the ancient Jewish nation, it will bring disaster to us.
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” 1 Corinthians 10:6-7