The Subtle Seduction of Modern-Day Idolatry
No Christian that I know of, not even a nominal one, would openly and honestly declare, “I am an idolater.” Yet many believers today are, in fact, blatant idol worshipers. Perhaps our disconnect and denial is rooted in the fact that we seldom think about the sin of idolatry, either because we are ignorant of its nature or still think of it as nothing more than remote tribal natives dancing around a primitive carved pole in primordial headdress and animal skins. The fact is that idolatry is a very serious and frequent violation of God’s truth and love. However, its allure has become so sophisticated and subtle in our day that we dismiss it, rationalize it, or even embrace it in ignorant bliss for lack of clear understanding and honest evaluation.
The Definition of Modern-Day Idolatry
A.W. Tozer wrote, “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” The germination of all idolatry is rooted in diluted understanding of God. We undervalue His worthiness, dismiss His holiness, disregard His love, dilute His truth, or forget His jealousy. We begin to erect idols as our affections drift away from the exclusive worship He requires. Pastor John Piper calls this “the first dark exchange” in his commentary on Romans chapter one. The passage describes how men chose not to honor the God they knew (v. 21) then exchanged His glory for idolatry (v. 23). Piper describes it this way: “People behold and know the glory of God offered them for their joy and their trust, and they exchange it for images.” [i]
Tozer also said, “An idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.” The danger of idolatry is not found simply in the things we can hold and label as idols. Idols are conceived deep in the human soul, evolving in the mind and poisoning the will long before they are evidenced in behavior or objects.
Pastor and evangelist D.L. Moody declared, “You don't have to go to heathen lands today to find false gods. America is full of them. Whatever you love more than God is your idol.” A.B. Simpson confirmed, “As long as you want anything very much, especially more than you want God, it is an idol.” Pastor John MacArthur notes, “Idolatry is having any false god - any object, idea, philosophy, habit, occupation, sport, or whatever that has one's primary concern and loyalty or that to any degree decreases one's trust in and loyalty to the Lord.” [ii]
The Dangers of Modern-Day Idolatry
The very first of the Ten Commandments states, "You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The second elaborates with a command not to bow down before or to serve any idol of our own making. The priority of these commands illustrates God’s estimation of the danger of idolatry warring against the souls of His children. John Calvin wrote, “Every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols.” Blaise Pascal identified our serious propensity when he said, “There is nothing so abominable in the eyes of God and of men as idolatry, whereby men render to the creature that honor which is due only to the Creator.”
The first and greatest command of the New Testament illumines the path to the higher and highest ground of human experience: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” Idolatry is dangerous because it undermines our enjoyment of God’s love for us and the authenticity of our love for Him. We become apathetic and lukewarm, drifting from life-giving intimacy, provided by the blood of Christ. Once this lifeline is damaged, all satisfaction, joy, provisions of grace, fulfillments, and fruitfulness are hindered. Misery, confusion, and emptiness follow.
Psalm 115:4-8 describes the lifeless, powerless idols of man’s design with this conclusion: “Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.” We all become like that which we worship. Either we will become a testament of the grace and truth of Christ or an empty shadow of a form of godliness without the power thereof.
A Diagnosis of Modern-Day Idolatry
Let’s get specific and practical.
- When we find greater delight in our hobbies than in our walk with Christ, we are wandering down the path of idolatry.
- When we spend more time absorbing the entertainment of Hollywood than we do contemplating godly truth, we are toying with idolatry.
- When any possession dominates our thoughts and captures our affections more than the treasure of Christ, it has likely become an idol.
- When social media excites us more than spiritual interests, we are in the process of erecting other gods.
- When we find excessive delight in a relationship with some other person to the neglect of our relationship with Christ, that person can become an idol.
- When we find more delight in serving Christ than in seeking Christ, even ministry can become an idol. William Secker commented, “I would neither have you be idle in duties - nor make an idol of duties.”
- When we find greater confidence in our own strengths and capabilities than in a humble reliance on Christ, we can easily fall under the spell of the idolatry of self-worship.
Our Decisions About Modern-Day Idolatry
The elderly and esteemed Apostle John used the final words of his first epistle to paint the contrast and present the choice that confronts our hearts still today in this modern age. He wrote, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” Every day, true believers must choose between the full experience of eternal life in the pursuit of an engaged and intimate knowledge of Christ versus giving ourselves to idols. The choice is paramount both now and in eternity. The temptations are relentless and seductive. Let us live with NO other gods through a passionate pursuit of a burning love for Christ that far surpasses all other attractions.
Copyright © 2012 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] John Piper, The First Dark Exchange: Idolatry, DesiringGod.org, October 4, 1998
[ii] John MacArthur, Commentary on First Corinthians, Chicago, Moody Press. P. 232-233