Human beings are social creatures. We like to be part of the elite, to know things others don’t, to be perceived as better, stronger, smarter, wealthier, and more beautiful. Unfortunately, this can translate into our spiritual lives as well.

Sometimes we, as Christians, get a little too comfortable with being perceived as “holy”, and forget what holiness actually is. As long as we think we’re “holier” than the next person, we might not actually care about how we stack up to God’s standard.

We might cast scornful glances at other Christians whose beliefs don’t completely align with ours. We might call them “Christian”, air quotes and all. We might disparage one group for not doing enough outreach, another for not believing in the rapture, and another for not prioritizing the eradication of the same sins we do.

We, of course, choose to focus on those sins we aren’t tempted by. Who would choose to focus on purifying her heart from greed or gossip when abortion is right there? It’s so much easier to not kill a baby than it is to keep control of our tongues. So, gossip’s out. Abortion’s the mortal sin. Of course, we conveniently ignore Jesus’ assertion that anyone who calls someone else worthless is also guilty of murder.

Idolatry is another sin we like to harp on. We ourselves don’t pray to images or statues, so we feel pretty safe. But today I would like to bring to your attention a few areas where many of us still fall into idolatry, because we’re not as “safe” as we might think. Our idolatry just takes different forms.

By now, you might be thinking that I’m about to address issues of greed, materialism, self-sufficiency, and so on. Yes, these are absolutely forms of idolatry in our Western culture. But, I would like to travel in a slightly different direction today.

To start, perhaps it would be useful to define what “idolatry“ even means. My dictionary puts forward “excessive or blind adoration or reverence” [1] as one possible definition. I would posit that idolatry is elevating anything to be more important than God in our lives.

Mainstream Christians tend to commit idolatry in four different ways:



1. Trusting our own proclamations



There are no magic words or incantations that can get us into heaven. Saying, “I believe in God“ doesn’t make us Christian. The Bible tells us that even the demons believe in God, and tremble! [2] When the proclamation becomes more important than Jesus’ sacrifice and the obedience He requests of us, we’re in trouble.

In reading a historical fiction the other day, I was reminded that even the Nazi armed forces had “God with us” engraved on every single belt buckle. Proclaiming “in God we trust” or “God with us” does not make us Christian.



2. The way we treat God and the Bible



The Bible is the word of God. It is one of the major tools that He uses to teach, reprove, correct, and train us to live in ways that please Him. [3] It is living and active, sharper than a sword, and able to penetrate to the very core of who we are. [4]

But it is not God.

It is possible to faithfully read our Bibles every day, to engage in small groups, to attend church every Sunday, to memorize scripture, and still miss out on a relationship with God.

When we allow ourselves to be distracted from God as a person by the activities of reading the Bible and memorizing scripture, we are idolizing the Bible. When we allow ritual to overshadow a person, when we equate learning about someone to having a relationship with that person, this demeans the personhood of the one we’re ignoring. If Peter reads my memoir and never talks or listens to me, claiming he’s putting work into our relationship by reading and re-reading my book, this does not honour me as a person. Giving the Bible the same place in our hearts and lives as God is idolatry. And it is sin.



3. Extolling our history



It’s so important to look back and remember how God has worked in our lives in the past. This remembrance gives us stamina to persevere in the present. However, God does not only call us to a life of perseverance. He calls us to a life of victory, of vitality, of passion.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in different churches that love to extol their amazing histories. They focus, whether in sermons or in special celebrations, on the history of the church, on how God has used the church in the past, and fail to realize that they have grown stagnant. Their love has grown cold. And they are no longer being used by God.

When we rely on our history to distract from the deficiencies of our present, there is something seriously wrong.



4. Revering things God has used in the past



Sometimes our idolatry does not settle on our history as much as on a historical object. Perhaps a table was facing in a certain direction when a miracle happened, or a Bible was used during a revival in the past. That does not mean that the Bible is God’s special tool of anointing on the person who now carries it. Nor must the table always now face in that one direction.

The Old Testament records an example of similar idolatrous superstition. During the period when the Israelites were wandering around in the desert for 40 years, before they settled in the land of Canaan, they did a lot of complaining. It didn’t matter that God had parted the Red Sea, that He had provided manna and quail and water from rocks. Complaining seemed to be the Israelites’ favourite pastime.

God got so fed up with the complaining that He sent serpents into their midst. Many died after being bitten. When the people repented, God had compassion on them. He told Moses to fashion a bronze statue of a serpent and place it on a pole. When the statue was lifted up above the people, if they looked it, they would be healed. [5] This, of course, foreshadowed the spiritual healing that can be ours if we look to Jesus, who took on our sin so that we can have a restored relationship with our Heavenly Father. [6]

The Bible tells us that several hundred years after the time of Moses, during the reign of King Hezekiah, the people had turned to worshipping the bronze snake. They changed an object that God had used in the past into an idol.

There was only one possible godly response. Hezekiah destroyed the bronze snake entirely.



Let us, too, respond in godly repentance, discard our idolatry, and embrace our Heavenly Father as the only One worthy of our adoration and reverence.



“Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus”
(Hebrews 12:1-2, NASB)






NOTES

[1] “Idolatry,” dictionary.com, accessed 2020 June 27, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/idolatry?s=t.

[2] James 2:19.

[3] 2 Timothy 2:16-17.

[4] Hebrews 4:12.

[5] Numbers 21:6-9.

[6] John 3:14.

[7] 2 Kings 18:4.


(Picture source)