A false god is any person or thing that redirects our affections away from the one true God in terms of the devotion, worship, and adoration that is due only to Him. Most Christians would concur with that description of idolatry. The problem, however, is we Christians generally understand such misplaced adoration solely in terms of venerating statues and other physical images that represent other religions or deities.
We Christians have a proneness to want to “index” our sin.
To index our sin is to regard certain sins we commit against God, if we call them sins at all, as being worse than others. It’s like grading on a hamartiological curve. The rationale being that the consequences of certain sins and trespasses are inherently more (or less) severe depending on the nature of the offense.
So we view murder as more deplorable than lying. We treat stealing as more nefarious than not honoring our father and mother. We even go so far as changing the names of the offenses we commit in an effort to acquit ourselves of the guilt associated with them. For example, we refer to the sin of adultery as “having an affair” and to fornication as “sleeping with” someone.
There are any number of other examples, of course, but you get the point, I’m sure.
But regardless what label(s) we use choose to describe our innumerable failures to meet God’s standard of righteousness (Rom. 3:23), there is one sin that barely registers on our spiritual radar when it comes to this matter.
The sin I’m speaking of is the sin of idolatry.
This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what happened to him.’ – Acts 7:39-40
God’s Word has much to say about idolatry; and yet it is treated as nothing more than an afterthought in the daily lives of most Christians today, not to mention in the pulpits of our churches on any given Sunday.
Think about it.
When was the last time you heard a sermon preached or a Sunday School lesson taught on idolatry?
So, what exactly is idolatry anyway?
By definition, idolatry is the worship of a false god. But this begs the question: what is a “false god”?
Simply put, a false god is any person or thing that redirects our affections away from the one true God in terms of the devotion, worship, and adoration that is due only to Him. Most Christians would concur with that description of idolatry. The problem, however, is we Christians generally understand such misplaced adoration solely in terms of venerating statues and other physical images that represent other religions or deities.
Rarely do we view idolatry as an offense we often commit against God in ways that are less obvious and blasphemous.
“For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” – Ps. 96:4-5
The word idolatry first appears in Scripture in 1 Sam. 15:23a, which is the only occurrence of that Hebrew word in the Old Testament. Conversely, in the New Testament, the Greek noun appears only three times (1 Cor. 10:14; Gal. 5:20; Col. 3:5).
In many ways, idolatry is like a gateway drug. It is the one sin that leads to other sins that are even more destructive, spiritually and otherwise (Col. 3:5).
But contrary to popular thinking, idolatry is not limited to prostrating oneself or offering prayers before a physical image constructed of wood, stone, or metal. The truth is we need not mimic the Israelites in worship in constructing an actual golden calf in order to be guilty of such an egregious offense against a holy God (Ex. 32:1-4).
“Do you covet the esteem and crave the approval of those around you? Do you go to great lengths to avoid looking foolish or being rejected for your Christian faith? Do you consider present and material results more important than eternal reward? Have you departed from God and adopted idols instead? Are you at war with God?” – C.J. Mahaney, Worldliness, p. 28
As a heart attitude, the development of idolatry is normally not a sudden event. More often than not, it is a destination at which we arrive gradually over time.
With this in mind, the question becomes: how do we guard our heart against idolatry and what are some warning signs we should look for that we are headed in such an iniquitous and damnable direction?
I believe the above-referenced text in Acts 7:39-40 gives us three “signposts” on the road to an idolatrous heart.