I had a reader ask about how to stop idolatry – and that is a REALLY CRITICAL topic that deserves a good bit of attention! So I am planning a series about idolatry this week. If we don’t get to the root of our sin and rebellion against God and completely tear out our idols – we can’t fix the real problems and we won’t have the power of God’s Spirit. So this is an unbelievably important concept and it’s really the place to start at the beginning of our journey to be in right relationship with God, in my view.
I believe that practically all sin against God is rooted in idolatry and pride. Most of the marriage/relationship books I read did NOT deal with idolatry. This is a HUGE, HUGE piece of the puzzle here. We cannot skip this stuff! If we are not willing to do this VERY PAINFUL and difficult step – we will not see real change and we will not experience God’s power in our lives or our relationships!
Idolatry is probably THE BIGGEST problem with our relationships with God and our romantic relationships.
WHAT IS IDOLATRY?
It is so easy to think – in our Western culture – that we don’t have a problem with idolatry. I mean, I never carved a statue and bowed down to it. I never went to a pagan shrine and bowed down and prayed to an idol made of wood/silver/gold/stone. I never gave money to a statue. I never sacrificed my children to a carved image. So – I’m not an idolator, right?
Here is Wikipedia’s definition of idolatry. We’ll start here:
Idolatry is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol, a physical object such as a cult image, as a god, or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving undue honour and regard to created forms other than God. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although views as to what constitutes idolatry may differ within and between them. In other religions the use of cult images is accepted, although the term “idolatry” is unlikely to be used within the religion, being inherently disapproving. Which images, ideas, and objects constitute idolatry is often a matter of considerable contention, and within all the Abrahamic religions the term may be used in a very wide sense, with no implication that the behaviour objected to actually consists of the religious worship of a physical object.
Behaviour considered idolatrous or potentially idolatrous may include the creation of any type of image of the deity, or of other figures of religious significance such as prophets, saints, and clergy, the creation of images of any person or animal at all, and the use of religious symbols, or secular ones. In addition, theologians have extended the concept to include giving undue importance to aspects of religion other than God, or to non-religious aspects of life in general, with no involvement of images specifically. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. Man commits idolatry whenever he honours and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money etc.”
The first two commandments are about idolatry (Exodus 20):
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep my commandments.
HOW SERIOUS IS IDOLATRY?
Our God counts idolatry as the worst of sins. It is the same to Him as adultery would be in marriage. We are in a COVENANT relationship with Christ Jesus – His blood is the blood of our covenant with Him. We are not to break our covenant relationship. A covenant is to be in effect for life – and if someone breaks a covenant, the penalty is supposed to be death.
God HATES idolatry. He punishes idolatry severely – especially when He has warned His people to repent over and over, sometimes for decades, and they refuse to repent and return to Him with all their hearts. Read through the Old Testament sometime. It was always idolatry that provoked God to wrath. Every time God punished His people as a nation and practically destroyed them, killing most of them and causing many of them to go into captivity and slavery -it was because of idolatry primarily. (Read Psalm 78 for a synopsis). And, quite honestly, OUR nation of America (and many other Western nations) are committing SERIOUS idolatry and rebellion against God right now. We are storing up God’s wrath for ourselves and we cannot be surprised when God decides He has had enough and our nations are ripe for destruction. God gives grace for a long, long time – allowing us plenty of time to repent and return to Him. But eventually, our time runs out and we will suffer the consequences of rebellion, sin and idolatry. So – I believe that unless there is a MASSIVE repentance and turning back to God in our country and many other countries – we will experience the collapse of our governments, economic devastation, disasters, etc.
This is SERIOUS stuff. There are brutal consequences – lethal consequences for individuals, families, future generations and nations. We and our children will face the consequences for our sin. This is why I believe it is SO incredibly urgent that we all wake up and tear down all of our idols, repent to God and begin to set a godly example for our children so that we might leave them the blessings of God, not the wrath of God.
HOW RESPECT AND MARRIAGE RELATES TO OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
God expects us to worship and praise Him alone. He alone is worthy of our reverence, awe, total respect and fear. When we REALLY understand how HUGE, how POWERFUL, how AWESOME, mighty, omnipotent, omniscient and sovereign our God is – the only response we can have is awe, fear, trembling, reverence and praise. And we MUST put Him first and everything and everyone else in our life has to come a distant second to our love for God and willingness to obey Him in everything.
Most of us have a wimpy little image of God – just like most of us as wives have a wimpy little image of our men in marriage.
Our relationships with our husbands totally parallel our relationship with Christ. We show an incredible amount of disrespect to our men today – and we don’t even realize it! And we do the exact same thing to God. We are constantly offending Him in hundreds of little ways and we don’t even see it. We order Him around as if He is our servant. “Get me this!” “I want that!” “Do this for me!” We have the same air of disrespect for our husbands and our mighty God. It does NOT work like this, ladies! We cannot treat Christ or our husbands with disrespect and have intimacy with them. We have to approach them with genuine respect and appreciation for who they really are. We have to show real faith in them. We have to stop the disrespectful stuff and figure out what respect looks like and do that.
WE ARE SO BLIND
We don’t tend to worship statues. Our idols are much more subtle. And this is where it is terrifying to me. WE DON’T EVEN KNOW THAT WE ARE IDOLATORS! We have NO idea the scope of our sin. We don’t see our mountains of arrogant pride. We don’t see our disrespect towards God or our men. We don’t see our idolatry – and we keep going 100 mph to our destruction. We don’t realize the debt we owe to Jesus. We think we just sin “a little” and we don’t have to be forgiven of much. And we judge our husbands as sinning “a lot” and we think that we are above God, we get SO self-righteous and prideful that we believe we are ABOVE having to forgive and that we can condemn and judge our husbands without mercy. We have no grace or forgiveness to give because we are blind to the depths of our own wretched sinfulness and the fact that we don’t owe God $2000, we owe Him BILLIONS of $ for our sin debt – way beyond our ability to ever pay Him back.
When we see how truly sinful we are, and how truly holy He is – and we see the debt that Jesus paid in full for us – we humble ourselves, we become broken people, we see the extent of His grace towards us and THEN we have grace to offer to others when they sin $50-$100 worth against us – because we know what WE have been forgiven of by Jesus.
COMMON IDOLS IN OUR CULTURE:
- self – I put myself in God’s place in my life. I think I am sovereign and powerful and HUGE and God is small, wimpy and impotent – if I even acknowledge His existence at all
- control – I think I have to MAKE things happen “right” or everything will be a mess. I think I am responsible for the outcome of circumstances and events and for controlling other people’s behavior. I think I am responsible for things that I actually have no control over. I can’t see where my boundaries of responsibility end and other people’s or God’s begin
- getting married
- a wedding
- being married
- having a boyfriend
- getting engaged
- having an engagement ring
- having a husband – I put him in the place of God in my soul and expect him to be Christ to me (not just to represent Christ) but to BE Christ – to be perfect, to meet all my emotional and spiritual needs and to be completely responsible for my happiness every second of every day. If I am not happy – it is my man’s fault!
- children – we live for them, sacrifice everything for them, live vicariously through them, make their happiness our biggest goals in life
- people’s approval
- people being happy with us and not letting anyone be mad at us
- peace in relationships (avoiding conflict)
- being “religious”
- following rules
- being “good”
- expensive things (clothes/houses/cars/jewelry)
- certain friends
- a presidential candidate
- salvation of a loved one
- healing from a disease
- a singer
- an actress/actor
- a crush on someone
- being thin
- looking young
- a loved one not dying
- our husbands’ visual purity/sinlessness
- our children’s behavior
- feeling “in love”
- feeling loved
- having children
- being busy
- taking pictures
- saving money
- addictions of any kind
- rescuing people
- being overly responsible for other people
As Wes Church, one of our ministers, said – “The human heart is an idol factory.” We can make ANYTHING into an idol! And we don’t even realize it!
None of these things are BAD. The problem is when we try to use these things to fill the God-shaped hole in our soul that only Christ can fill. We must keep these things in proper perspective and in their proper place of priority. And we have to be willing to hold all these things loosely in our hands to allow God to take away and give according to His will and His wisdom and what He knows is best for us and those we love.
THE “WAGES” OF IDOLATRY
The wages of sin is death.
When we are rebelling against God and full of sin – and there is no worse sin than idolatry – we cannot have God’s Spirit in control. Idolatry CANNOT give us contentment, peace, joy, love, hope, patience…
My dear friend and I were talking about this today. The fruit of God’s Spirit grows in us and turns us into a lush, lavish, fruitful tree by streams of water and all that fruit is just bursting from our lives. But when we have idolatry, pride and sin instead of God’s Spirit – our lives become a dried up, diseased, rotting tree that will eventually decay and die. The “fruit” of idolatry, pride and sin is:
- FEAR – BIG TIME FEAR
- lost connection and intimacy with God
- constant anxiety and worry
- insatiable appetite for more
- we give up all that matters most to us as we pursue our idol – even if that means we have to sacrifice our health, our families, our marriage, our children, our money, our time – we will give up ANYTHING if we think it will get us the idol we want so desperately.
WHAT ARE SIGNS THAT I MIGHT BE COMMITTING IDOLATRY?
- I MUST have THIS PARTICULAR THING/PERSON/EVENT to be happy. I will NOT be ok unless I have X.
- I am spending an inordinate amount of money on that thing.
- I am constantly worried about my idol and trying to figure out how I will MAKE things work out right so I can have what I want the way I want it.
- I cannot stop myself, I am a slave to serving my idol. I am addicted.
- I spend most of my time trying to acquire my idol or serve my idol.
- I don’t care what the cost is to my family, my relationships, my health – I WILL have what I want!
- I have EXTREME FEAR of losing my idol
- I have no joy of God in my heart.
- I am focused on negativity, complaining, arguing, rebelling against God-given authority.
- I am cherishing sin in my heart.
- I have no peace.
- I have no contentment.
- If someone asks me to give up my idol – I get REALLY, REALLY, REALLY upset, angry, defensive, combative and will do anything to keep from having to give up my idol.