Christian Idolatry

Pastor Daryl Hilbert



    1. Definitions of Idolatry
      1. Idolatry is the sin of paying homage (worship, service, or guidance) to any god or image other than the true Creator God.
      2. Idolatry is the sin of worshipping a false god, a misrepresentation of the true God, or any person or thing that takes pre-eminence over the Lord Jesus Christ.
      3. Some of the more descriptive Hebrew words for “idol” were: gillul– rolled down or away (Eze 20:31), aven – trouble, sorrow, wickedness (Is 66:3), emim­ – dread or horror (Je 50:38), elil – feeble or worthless (Le 19:4), mipletset – horrible thing, cause of trembling (1Ki 15:13), atsab ­ – shaped and grief (1Sa 31:9).
    2. In Reference to God
      1. Because God alone is the Creator God (Ex 20:11Ac 14:1517:24) and will not share His glory with anyone or anything else (Is 42:848:11), idolatry evokes His righteous jealousy (Ex 20:534:14Ezk 8:3).
      2. Idolatry is unfaithfulness toward God. It is depicted as spiritual adultery, and often involved the pagan lifestyle of sexual immorality (Ex 34:12-16Ho 4:12-14).
      3. Because idolatry evokes God’s jealousy and is spiritual unfaithfulness toward God, it becomes an occasion for severe discipline (Ex 22:20Dt 6:13–15).
    1. Israel’s History with Idolatry
      1. Abraham was called out of polytheism (Jos 24:2 cf. Ge 31:30).
      2. Israel’s monotheism was distinguished from polytheism, characterized as the worship of the “God” (singular) of Abraham (Ge 31:42Ex 3:6).
      3. God commanded the worship of Himself alone and not false gods (Ex 20:3-6).
      4. Idolatry always plagued Israel and the prophets spoke against it (Is 42:17Je 2:28Eze 6:4-6Mic 1:7;Ho 3:5-6Zp 1:29).
      5. In both his first and second admonition, Joshua challenged Israel to put away idols (Jos 23: 716Jos 24: 1415162023).
    2. Joshua’s Famous Challenge (Jos 24:15)
      1. The challenge was given in the form of two choices. The first one was implied from vs. 14 in the form of a command. They were to “serve God…and put away [false] gods.” So the implication was that if they were going to serve God, they had to also put way the false gods. But, if they were not going to put away the false gods, then neither would they be serving God.
      2. The second choice in vs. 15 was explicit and startling. If they were not going to serve God, then the only choice left was to choose between which of the false gods they desired to serve (“whether the gods of…or… the gods of…”). It would be like a parent stating, “If you will not listen to me, then you will pay the consequences. You will not listen to me, so which of the consequences would you prefer?”
      3. The meaning of Joshua’s words add even more to the emphasis. He begins with, “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD.” The word “disagreeable” is the Hebrew word raa and means “bad or evil.” It would be similar to Joshua saying, “if you think this is a bad choice,” or “if in your own judgment (“sight” ayin) you think this is a bad choice.” It is the same phrase repeated seven times in the book of Judges, “Israel ‘did evil in the sight’ of the LORD” (Jdg 2:113:7124:16:110:613:1).
      4. If Israel thought it was a bad choice to serve the Lord, then they were to choose between the old gods “beyond the River” (Euphrates) and the new gods in the “land you are living.” It was between the Egyptian gods of their fathers (Moon god – Sin, Sun god -Re, Enki, Shamash, Ishtar, etc.) or the Canaanite gods of their new neighbors (Baal, Asherah, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Molech, etc.).
      5. Since Israel had a propensity for idolatry, Joshua poignantly challenged them to serve God and put away their false gods. However, there was never a period in Hebrew history when the people were free from the attraction of idols. Unfortunately, the recurrent phrase, “Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord,” was most often associated with idolatry. But in stark contrast, Joshua confirmed his decision, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
    1. Idolatry has been the main stream concept among the pagan world. But before blaming the pagan world totally for Israel’s problem with idolatry, a few things need to be understood. First, it must be understood that even the pagan world turned away from a knowledge of the existence of God. Secondly, idolatry is the sinful propensity of all of mankind.
    2. In Ro 1:20 we learn that God has revealed His existence clearly through creation. But even though the pagan world knew of God, they did not acknowledge Him as the true God (Ro 1:21). This denial of God led the pagan world into darkened hearts and minds, whereby they began to worship the creation rather than the Creator (Ro 1:22-23).
    3. Calvin claimed from these verses that all men have a sensus divinitatis (“sense of divinity”), an inherent awareness of God (Ro 1:19). But because of man’s sinful nature, he suppresses the truth about God (Ro 1:18) and exchanges that truth for the lie of idolatry in manifold forms (Ro 1:25). In fact Paul reveals that idolatry is an aspect of man’s sinful nature (Ga 5:20).
    4. So idolatry is not just a problem for the pagan world or Israel, but innate in all of sinful mankind. Therefore, it should not surprise us that idolatry can make its way into Christianity.
    1. Christian Idolatry in Worship
      1. Christian idolatry could be defined as worshipping the true God (Christ), but worshipping Him from a skewed perception or misrepresentation.
      2. Man cannot fully know the infinite God (Job 11:7-9Ro 11:33-36).
      3. But God has revealed Himself to finite man, though not all-inclusively (Dt 29:29Ep 3:1018).
      4. God must be worshipped for Who He is, and not what man wants Him to be (Ex 3:14).
      5. God must be worshipped “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). In contrast to mere external form or place (Jn 4:20-21), worship must be heartfelt and spiritual (pneuma, prob. not Holy Spirit). It especially must be done with the “truth” (alātheia – real state of affairs) of the knowledge of God (Jn 4:22).
      6. God must be worshipped through His own revelation from His Word, for knowledge of God (Is 66:2;Ho 6:6), knowledge of truth (Ps 119:142151160), knowledge of worship (1Co 14:23-25), and knowledge of sanctification (Jn 17:172Pe 3:18).
      7. When the Word is not the emphasis in worship, then self-styled, feel-good, preference-oriented, entertainment-driven worship take its place and becomes Christian Idolatry.
    2. Christian Idolatry in Practice
      1. Christian Idolatry could be defined as allowing a person or a thing to take first place over the Lord Jesus Christ.
      2. God’s great and foremost command was that man would wholly love Him above everything else (Dt 6:5Mt 22:37Mk 12:30Lk 10:27).
      3. When a believer does not love God above everything else, it is Christian idolatry, akin to the idolatry to which Joshua referred (Jos 23:11-16).
      4. Christ deserves the pre-eminent place in the believer’s life (Col 1:18). As the image of the invisible God (Col 1:1519), Creator (Col 1:16), Sustainer (Col 1:17), and Savior (Col 1:1420), Christ is head of the body of Christ, the church. Therefore, He Himself is to become in all things, “first” (prōteuō – first place, highest rank, first priority).
      5. Anything short of this is an offense against Christ’s position, disobedience to the Creator/God, and a form of Christian idolatry.
      6. Joshua may have said to believers today, “If it is disagreeable to place Christ first in your life, then choose which idol you wish to have in first place.” Oh that we would affirm with Joshua, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
    3. Conclusion
      1. While the believer is not likely to commit idolatry of the pagan kind, he must guard himself from Christian idolatry. That is, the believer must continue to grow in the true knowledge of God and worship Him accordingly. But also, the believer must not allow anything to take the rightful place of Christ, first in his life.
      2. The first part in choosing to serve God rather than idols is to understand what idolatry is, and heed the words of the apostle John, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1Jn 5:21).

Used with permission.