The temptation to create a counterfeit god is older than time. In one of the great mysteries of eternity, Satan’s pride kindled his desire to be like the Most High. His judgment was dire—banished from heaven and destined for eternity in hell. The devil’s scheme ever since is to offer man an alternative to worshipping the true God.
The Old Testament shows mankind frequently falling into idolatry. This pattern continued with the children of Israel who were explicitly commanded to worship only God. When the people disregarded this command and refused to repent, their false worship was judged. They suffered pestilence, plagues, and defeat in battle. Still they sinned. Even King Solomon in all his wisdom could not resist worshipping the pagan gods of his many wives.
We may not bow our knees to an image of stone or sacrifice to a silver statue, but we are not immune to the sin of idolatry. Our age of information with its instant communication and extensive technology can never transform the fallen nature of man. Advanced science will find no cure for pride, and increased knowledge will never quiet man’s need for an object of worship. Idolatry today is placing our first affection on anyone or anything other than God.
What idols might we be tempted to worship? At first we may think of tangible things: electronic gadgets and cell phones, cars and clothing, houses and farms. In reality these are outward manifestations of the heart’s misplaced devotion. The real idolatry is serving the gods of this world—those that appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. We put the lust of the flesh before God when we choose to spend hours on the phone in place of prayer. When the fashion of our wardrobe, the shine of our automobile, or the status of our landscape and decor is not subject to the look of humility, we bow to the lust of the eye. The pride of life gives us an exalted opinion of ourselves and puts us in danger of worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator.
Sports, recreation, and the pursuit of pleasure clamor for us to kneel at their shrines. They appeal to our flesh. Knowledge, prestige, power, and wealth exude a more subtle appeal. These idols are deceptive because they masquerade as virtue. And finally, the greatest idol of all may be our own selves. When our thoughts, our self-image, our prejudices, our opinions, or our likes and dislikes supersede the will of the Almighty, we become our own god.
As Christians, we are called to examine our hearts. We must try the spirits and give heed to doctrine. Every effort should be taken to identify and judge false gods. The following questions may help us identify idols in our lives:
What am I really living for, and what are my hopes and dreams?
Where does my mind naturally go? What do I enjoy thinking about?
What do I usually talk about?
What takes most of my time and money?
What do I fear most or worry I may lose?
Once identified, God gives grace to destroy whatever may divert our affection from Him.
“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; . . . Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you” (2 Cor. 6:16-18). God provides abundant keeping power for His children.
As lights in the darkness and a city on a hill, His people cannot be hid. They refuse to serve pleasure but offer loving service to others. Rather than seeking power they seek purpose. Love of money is replaced by liberal giving. As followers of Christ, they live as pilgrims, shunning a luxurious lifestyle, and plainly declare the world is not their home. Heaven is their goal, and while traveling there they sing with deep conviction, “The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be, help me that idol to dethrone and worship only Thee” (William Cowper, 1731-1800, “Oh, for a Closer Walk with God”).
From Adult and Youth Sunday School Lessons, Vol. 53, No. 3, Lesson 12