The Old Testament is full of stories of the frequent occasions when the Israelites fell into “idolatry”, and for a lot of Christians, those stories are what first come to mind when thinking about the concept of idolatry. But idolatry isn’t just something that belongs in chronicles of the ancient past. It’s something that play as much a part in the hearts and minds of contemporary Christians as it did for the ancients. So what does that mean in light of God’s declaration that He is the only one worthy of our worship – and what do we need to do about it?
Read: Isaiah 45:22 (NLT)
Let all the world look to me for salvation!
For I am God; there is no other.
John 8:31-38 (NLT)
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”
dictionary.com defines “Idolatry” as “the religious worship of idols; excessive or blind adoration, reverence, devotion, etc.” In the Bible, throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were frequently describes as falling into idolatry, worshipping gods and idols that were worshiped by the various peoples (such as the Hittites, Amorites – and all the other -Ites) in the Promised Lad. Many Christians, therefore, think of idolatry strictly in those Old Testament terms – but in actuality idolatry is much more encompassing, and refers to the worship of anything other than God.
Tim Chester comments that “idolatry is not a relic of the past. It’s alive and well in your heart and mine. It’s what drives the lusts of our heart and our destructive behaviour” (1)
Anything that we value highly, anything that we use as a ‘crutch’, anything that we fear losing, is an idol in our lives. Examples might be
- material possessions
- your home
- other people
You might look at this list and protest that whilst these things are important, you don’t worship them. But worship in itself is a subjective term. Worship is connected to the concepts of value and dependence, so it’s entirely possible to fall into the worship of something without ever consciously thinking of it as worship.
And we can easily fall into ‘self-idolatry’, too, when we want to be in control and in charge of every little detail in our lives. Pride keeps in and holds us captive, leaving no room for God.
In Isaiah 45:22, God points out that He alone is worthy of worship. He doesn’t want a percentage share in our worship – He wants it all. And rightly so. All those other things that lure us into idolatry cannot offer us even a small measure of what God lavishes upon us. In fact, the false idols in our lives are the things that cause us trouble in the long run. We become slaves to them, and they will fail us and/or lead us into destructive habits.
Jesus points this out in John 8:31-38. This passage highlights the way false idols enslave us without us even realising that we’ve lost our freedom.
Only when we reorientate ourselves to worship only the One who is worthy of our worship can we experience the true freedom that Jesus promises.
To do that, we need to take a cold, hard look at our lives and be honest about the idols that lurk, and we need to come into a fuller understanding of the immensity of the God we serve. When we are able to recognise the truth that He is able to supply all of our needs, then we can be set free from the destructive, idolatrous behaviours that enslave us.
In Exodus 3:14, when God reveals His name to Moses, He uses the construct “I AM WHO I AM” – but it’s often commented that what this phrase reflects is more like “I will be what you need me to be when you need me to be it”.
And that is what is worthy of our worship.
(1) Tim Chester (2005), Delighting in the Trinity: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Delighting-Trinity-Tim-Chester/dp/1907377336