Idol worship is as much of a struggle today as it was for the Israelites two thousand years ago.
What graven images have you worshiped today?
It’s easy to give ourselves a pass on the commandments that forbid idol worship. In our culture, we don’t carve images to be served and most of us never physically bow to anything.
And yet, if we explore what idol worship means, we’d be surprised by its pervasiveness in our everyday lives.
- What’s at the core of a millionaire’s heart when he cheats on his taxes? He certainly doesn’t need the money. But he worships the idol of money, status, or power.
- When a follower of Christ grasps tightly the rules that define their faith, she is likely worshiping the god of religion or pride.
- Even as a pastor or person in ministry, it’s a fine line between doing good work for God and worshiping the work, productivity, or accolades.
If we attempt to address the sin in our lives but overlook its foundation — idolatry — then we never experience God’s healing or spiritual transformation.
In this article, based on a sermon by Kyle Idleman, we’ll explore the ways idol worship has seeped into our lives and then learn the pathway to freedom.
If you prefer to jump straight to the 3 key points, use the convenient links below.
- We are all worshipers.
- We have the choice of which gods to worship.
- We conduct our lives in service to our idols.
IDOL WORSHIP TODAY
English author Os Guinness wisely reflects on the common practice of ignoring idolatry:
“Idolatry is the most discussed problem in the Bible and it’s one of the most powerful, spiritual, and intellectual concepts in a believer’s arsenal. Yet, for Christians today, it’s one of the least meaningful notions.”
Did you know there are more than a thousand references to idolatry in the Bible? We tend to skip over it and assign that problem to people in the Old Testament.
This is exactly where we’ve gone wrong. Idol worship is just as much of a problem today as it was two thousand years ago. In fact, some would say it’s worse than ever, and its impacts are the deepest we’ve ever seen. It impacts our faith and relationships, not to mention our personalities and attitudes. But certainly, one of the areas it has the greatest impact on us is in our struggle with sin.
We allow a war to rage within us and often let false gods — idols — take the throne in our lives. We work hard to stop sinful behavior that we detest and yet oftentimes, we’re quickly back to our old ways.
Behind every sin in your life and my life is an idol that is winning the war to sit on the throne of our hearts.
Let’s explore a passage from Joshua that addresses that truth.
MESSAGE FROM JOSHUA
Before we explore Joshua 24:14-15, let’s reflect on what Joshua has experienced by this point in his life. He’s an elderly man who has lived a life full of adventure. Remember, he was with Moses when they freed the Israelites out of Egypt. Also, he went through the Red Sea, picked manna from heaven, watched the walls of Jericho fall, and led that nation into countless battles. At this moment, he stands in front of the nation of Israel and calls them together for what he assumes will be his final address to them. Here’s what he says:
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
This is a powerful Scripture that informs our understanding of idols and their presence in our lives. Thankfully, it also provides a clear path away from the heartache of our twenty-first-century idolatry and back to putting God on the throne of our lives. Let’s start by understanding the subtle ways idolatry is at the core of every sin.
3 Ways Idol Worship is at the Root of Every Sin
1. We are all worshipers.
God hardwired it into our DNA and it’s the one thing that’s true of every culture and every civilization throughout all of history. Everybody worships a god of some kind.
And if you attempt to choose to not worship the one true God, then you will worship what Tim Keller refers to as a “God substitute.” You will naturally place something into your life that fills that space — something that will control and rule over you.
I appreciate how the philosopher Peter Kreeft explains atheism. He states the opposite of theism is not atheism, rather idolatry. You and I have two choices: we worship the real God or we worship a false god. You can’t give both your whole heart.
2. We have the choice of which gods to worship.
In the passage, Joshua explains their worship options, which include gods of the culture or the gods of their family.
It’s very natural and instinctual to worship what our families worship. If you can put a finger on the gods that are battling for your heart, you very likely can see where that form of worship came from.
- Did your parents worship work? I bet you struggle with letting work commitments and achievement sit on the throne.
- Were your parents addicted to substances? You’ve likely struggled in this area, too.
- Did your mother worship people’s approval? I bet you are overly concerned with others’ thoughts about you.
The point is — we often worship idols that have been passed down to us from previous generations. They don’t “work” for us, and they are destroying our hearts, but they are what we know.
Likewise, it’s no secret that we fall into worshiping the idols our culture worships, like attention, beauty, and influence. The gods at war within us take something that can be good and purposeful like influence and turn it into a passion that becomes an idol. Got Questions answered the questions about modern idol worship and observed that what makes it even harder is that “our societies often admire those serving such idols.”
Those are just two of the gods we can worship, and in next week’s article, we’ll provide an exercise to help you determine which idol is battling for the throne of your heart.
3. We conduct our lives in service to our idols.
Recognizing the gods at war for your affection isn’t a sin. It’s when you hand over the win and allow that god to dominate.
“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15)
How can we get ahead of that sin and allow God to win the battle of our hearts? Recognize what you serve.
In the passage referenced from Joshua, the word “serve” is used seven times in two verses. And in Joshua’s day, the word “serve” carried with it the idea of sacrifice, of sacrificing time and sacrificing money.
What can your money habits and time investments say about you? Those two areas are very revealing and become an accurate indicator of your worship.
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CHOOSE THIS DAY
Joshua identifies the presence of gods at war within our hearts, and he references the fact that we all worship something. He also reminds us that our idols will get our time and money. Next, Joshua throws down a challenge and he says to the Israelites: You choose this day. You choose. You’ve got to choose.
Francis Schaeffer writes about how many believers think about their choice to follow God as a choice that was made in the past tense. But in this passage from Joshua, Schaeffer points out that “choose” is not this once-and-for-all choice. Rather, it is this continuous action and ongoing choosing.
It’s as if Joshua is saying to the people, “As for me and my family, we chose the Lord, we are choosing the Lord, we are going to keep choosing the Lord until the very end.”
And what we have to understand as followers of Christ is it’s not just this choice we made on the day of our salvation, but it is an ongoing choice where every day there is this battle being waged, there’s this war being fought, and we decide, we choose who will sit on the throne of our hearts.
To learn more about the idols that have slipped into our lives and have taken a seat on the throne, listen to a recent series on our YouTube channel entitled Gods at War.
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