One need not look to ancient civilizations to find idolatry and false gods. There are idols all around us in modern society. Idolatry is much more than just bowing down to an image in worship, it is anything that someone loves and is devoted to more than God. John Calvin had it right when he wrote: “The human heart is a perpetual idol factory.”
Idolatry of Our Day
Contrary to the law of God, there are many religions still today where people bow down to graven images of metal or stone. However, while the greater part of society has rejected these idols, greater and more powerful idols of the heart and mind have been erected on which people are lavishing time, money, and affection. Anything that supersedes God as the focus and priority in life becomes an idol. The essence of idolatry lies in the heart and is found in that which someone loves, trusts, and worships.
We are in a spiritual battle against Satan and his deceptive spirits who are working to steal our hearts from true worship to God. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). The forces of evil are all around, influencing people to worship at the altar of self, pleasure, sports, religion, politics, nationalism, science, education, and materialism. “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not”
(2 Corinthians 4:4).
Idolatry in Religion
Idolatry is found not only in paganism but in Catholicism and Protestantism. The Roman Catholic church is rife with pagan practices and traditions that have no foundation in the pure Word of God. The exaltation of an institution of religion of any kind is a form of idolatry. “If any man worship the beast [Catholicism] and his image [Protestantism], and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:9-10). People so often devote themselves to the cause of their fellowship or religious organization more than to the cause of Christ Himself. This is idolatry. In Mark 7:6-9, Jesus spoke of people who honored Him with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. “Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” While people may profess to love God, it is idolatry if they exalt their traditions above the simplicity of God’s Word. This can be true of professing Church of God saints. Allegiance and devotion to a tradition or to a doctrine (as correct as it may be) can become idolatrous when it is given inordinate standing in one’s life or congregation.
Worship of Man
Exalting political and religious leaders and giving them control and devotion that belongs only to God is also a form of idolatry. In Acts 12:21-23, Herod gave a great oration to the people. They shouted and said, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.” The angel of the Lord smote Herod and he was eaten of worms because “he gave not God the glory.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 warns of being deceived, for a man of sin would exalt himself above God and would be worshipped as God. This scripture often relates to the Catholic pope who professes to be the substitute of Christ on the earth. This is blasphemous and idolatrous. However, there are many ‘little popes’ who reside as overseers, pastors, and leaders in congregations and religious bodies. They place themselves on an exalted level and their words are to be deemed on the level of scripture. The people may stand in awe and shout and proclaim their spiritual bona fides as men and women of God, but this is nothing short of idolatry. It is Christ who is worthy of our praise, not man. Paul and Barnabas performed miracles for which the people began to esteem them as gods come among men (Acts 14:12-15). These true men of God rejected the praise and adoration and proclaimed that they were “men of like passions with you.” John the Revelator bowed down in worship to an angel who had given a vision. The angel responded: “See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God” (Revelation 19:10). Any people that worship their spiritual leaders are guilty of idolatry, as are the ministers who accept this kind of praise and adoration.
Worship of Self
Self-promotion of any kind can become idolatry. The worship of self is one of the biggest idols in this generation. This applies to spiritual things as well as to worldly things. Jesus said that, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory” (John 7:16-18). In religious groups, too many ministers speak of themselves and exalt their ways, whereas the apostle Paul declared: “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). We live in an age where people are trusting in their own ideas, opinions, and ways. They love themselves and live selfish, self-centered lives. This is just as idolatrous as bowing down to a statue in worship.
Philippians 3:19 refers to those “whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” People are rejecting the holy things of God and are devoting themselves to their own pleasure and satisfaction. They are controlled by ‘their belly’ and do those things which they deem pleasing in the flesh. They “serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly” (Romans 16:18). This not only applies to gluttony but to all fleshly things that control people.
Gods of this World
God is worthy of our love, but many are giving their affections to the things of this world. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15). The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are centered around modern-day idols. What are people lusting after and worshiping? What controls their time, money, and energy? What are people esteeming and turning to in their time of need? Do not pleasure of the flesh, nationalism, fashion, sports, and entertainment fit these criteria? Lawful things can become idols. Many people are offering their sacrifices at the altars of these modern-day idols.
From Idolatry to Depravity
Romans 1:23-27 relates how people have changed the glory of God into an image made like man, birds, and beasts. Verse 26 states that they “worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.” This is happening in many forms, but the scripture directly relates this worship of the creature as applying to the lust and acts of homosexuality. While prevalent in society and justified by many and excused by others, it is sin and an extreme form of idolatry.
Worship of “Things”
Colossians 3:5 teaches that covetousness is idolatry. The love of material things, wealth, prestige, power, and recognition is idolatry because it undermines what should be the primary purpose and cause to worship and serve God. “The love of money is the root of all evil”
(1 Timothy 6:10). Many have erred from the faith as they began to follow after and serve the things of this world more than God Himself. What is controlling your time, your money, and your energy? Do you place God and His work before other things? Do you reserve time to faithfully be in worship service with the saints or do you excuse yourself as you devote yourself to other pursuits? Hearts are revealed by the decisions and choices of life. What dictates where you live, who you marry, what you do, and where you go? Is it possible that an idol has taken the place of God in your life?
Exaltation of Causes
Paul warned Timothy, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life”
(2 Timothy 2:3-4). There are lawful concerns and issues of our time that we have to address, but we must not get entangled in them. Political, moral, racial, and societal “causes” can too quickly captivate someone to the extent that it controls and becomes an idol. Be careful, child of God, about getting entangled in what might appear to be a good cause. Soon, the cause becomes more important than God and His way of love, forgiveness, and longsuffering.
Worship God Alone
The idols of today are more deceptive and much more deadly than the physical idols of gold and silver. There is one God, and our love and service to Him are to be exclusive. Let us examine ourselves and see if there are any idols that need to be torn down. Purge and sanctify yourselves of the idols of this world, for of a truth, idolaters and “they that do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). ■