“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
Idolatry is one of those topics where many of us are inclined to feel rather smug about our spiritual condition. After all, I’ve never purchased any wooden carvings that depict false gods. My home is conspicuously free of pagan altars. And I’ve never once prayed to a little golden pot-bellied man. So I figure I’m good to go.
Well, Scripture has a much broader view of idolatry than we sometimes do. Have you ever longed for more money, or for a possession which God has chosen not to grant you? If so, the Bible says that you are guilty of the sin of idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). As Martin Luther writes, we must “fear, love, and trust God” more than anything else in our life – whether it’s a paycheck, a Porsche, or the fine products of Demetrius’ Discount Deities in Ephesus. All are the same; a trust and devotion that is directed at something other than God and elevated above Him in our hearts and through our actions.
The cause of greed and the root of all idolatry is a trust and devotion in and with ourselves above all else, including God. If I am ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, I fear and respect myself more than God – I am an idol-worshipper. If I care more about fulfilling the desires of my sinful nature than I do about following God’s commands, I love myself more than God – I am an idol-worshipper. If I spurn God’s commands and doubt His promises, choosing instead to go my own way and stray from the path of His will, I trust myself more than God – I am an idol-worshipper.
A close examination of idolatry and what it means for Christians can certainly knock our smugness level down a few notches. We are all guilty of idol-worship in many forms. So how do we fight and defend ourselves against this constant temptation? What weapons are most effective in our struggle to maintain God’s position of supremacy in our hearts and minds?
Not surprisingly, love is the most prominent weapon of faith against our natural inclination toward idolatry – in fact, the weapon of love should remain unsheathed and in our hands at all times since it is so potent in combatting evil of every form. As our knowledge of God’s love and His gracious promises for us grows, our own love toward Him will blossom, ripening into all other fruits of the Spirit. The closer God brings us to Himself through His Word, the less our hearts and minds are set upon earthly things – like ourselves.
Several other weapons can also be brandished in the face of personal idolatry with great effectiveness. The joy of our salvation will help us set our priorities on what matters most – God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. The peace that comes from the Gospel will still our fears and doubts that often lead us to “take matters into our hands” rather than trusting God patiently. And as we are sanctified through the Word in goodness, our evil desires will begin to shift toward the back burner as we yearn more and more for God and all the gracious gifts that He has to offer us through His Son.
The battle against idolatry certainly rages in our world today. Of all the things that people fear, love, and trust, God isn’t typically very high on the list in our society – look to our attitudes and lifestyles for the proof. Thankfully, we find forgiveness and restoration even from this treacherous sin in the blood of Jesus Christ. Satan would have us despair over our failure to place God first in our life as His law demands, but Christ would have us glory in His redemption and forgiveness as we are strengthened and fortified against further attacks.
“Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!…Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves anymore with all their sins. They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to put You first in all that I do as I glory in the salvation that I have in Your mercy and love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord. Amen.