Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Jeannette Haley

“For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens.”
Psalms 96:4, 5

There isn’t much talk or concern these days among Christians on the subject of idolatry, or “other gods.” After all, why worry about something that, to most peoples’ way of thinking, is either far removed from our civilized world, or is a practice that should be relegated to the distant past? Most believers take pride in their enlightened religious knowledge of such mundane subjects, and they are defiantly confident that they would never stoop to such a sin as idolatry. To even suggest such a thing is an insult to their intelligence.

The truth is, however, that idolatry is very much alive and well among professing Christians today. It may not be manifested by the outward bowing down to idols fashioned by men’s hands. Nevertheless, its unseen and insidious operation can be discovered within hearts and minds. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written for us as well: “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” Galatians 5:24.

Idolatry, according to Galatians 5:20, is a work of the flesh, and the work of the flesh is “affections and lusts” verse 24. According to Strong’s Concordance, affections are an emotion or influence, and lusts are a longing, especially for that which is forbidden, such as concupiscence or desire. When our innermost affections and longings are centered on anything other than God, it is then that we are guilty of idolatry. Before idolatry can be evident through attitudes and actions, which includes one’s conversation and lifestyle, it must first begin in the heart and mind.

This is not to say that whenever we desire a particular item that is needful, that we are committing idolatry. Rather, an idolatrous person is one whose entire lifestyle is fashioned according to the longings and desires of his or her heart. His or her whole existence revolves around whatever it is that he or she feels or believes will give meaning, enjoyment, pleasure, purpose, security, and substance to his or her life. Obviously, the entire focus and goal is earthward, not heavenward.

Idolatry is a life and death matter. In Revelation 21:8 we read: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” [Emphasis mine.] Idolatry can be a very subtle trap, especially for new believers and those who have never been properly discipled. But, idolatry can also ensnare well-meaning, yet unbelieving, zealots—or those who have “zeal without knowledge.” Such people are “unbelieving” because they couldn’t care less about rightly dividing the Word of God through diligent study, meditation and prayer. Zealots have no inclination toward sitting under experienced, qualified, godly teachers, so that they can be grounded and established in truth, and prepared and equipped for the ministry.

These are those whose enthusiasm for anything “new,” regardless of how unscriptural it may be, continually stokes the fires of heretical teachings, false prophecies and downright ridiculous so-called “Christian” movements and fads sweeping through the organized churches today. Tossing aside the “faith once delivered to the saints” (and practiced by the saints through the ages) this new breed of so-called Christians participate in the most insidious form of idolatry—insidious because of the sweeping influence their brand of counterfeit Christianity has upon countless numbers of unsuspecting, gullible, spiritually starved people.

One example of this type of heresy is the “word of faith” or “positive confession” movement that is derived from the mind-science cults, all of which originate from Hinduism. Any religious leader or movement that repeatedly tells people, who do not love the truth, what they want to hear will surely succeed. People want to feel good about themselves. They want leaders who will support their Pollyanna view of life. People want someone they admire to reassure them that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says concerning sin and eternal punishment in hell. They want to feel good about their idolatrous greed, lust, covetousness, and worldliness. Such people adore leaders who stuff their minds full of nonsensical religious platitudes that insulate them from the true nature and character of a holy God. They want be thought of as “Christian,” but only according to their definition of the word.

How fitting for those who believe that their positive confession will net them great wealth are these words written by the Apostle Paul: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” 1 Timothy 6:6-11.

Today, we have the phenomenon of mega-churches where people get caught up in the idolatry of taking great pride in their church, the coffee bar, the kids’ extravagant play, the entertainment center, the casual atmosphere, and the fact that they can dress any way they like, however immodest. Here you can find people who worship the church, their pastor and his meaningless sermonettes that challenge nobody, and the fleshly hip hop or rock n’ roll “worship.” Their theme is fun and exciting entertainment, all with some Jesus tacked on who bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the real Jesus of the Bible. Truly, we are living in the times foretold by the Apostle Paul when he wrote to Timothy, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy . . . lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” 2 Timothy 3:1, 2 4, 5.

On the other end of the spectrum, are the denominational, traditional churches that fall into the dangerous trap of idolizing their particular denomination, traditions and doctrines. The bottom line is, a denomination cannot save you, traditions cannot save you, and faith in your doctrines certainly cannot save you! We are not saved by what we believe, but rather, in whom we believe—that is, the Lord Jesus Christ. People who are steeped in church tradition and doctrines are in danger of blindly following the blind into a dead-end religion that is devoid of life and Spirit. Thus, instead of being set free in Christ to worship Him unhindered by the limitations of man, one is brought down into a form of idolatry that strips a person of the true joy of knowing and worshipping Christ.

Exalting and idolizing doctrines will always result in putting God in a neat little box where He can be “controlled.” Thus, church members, instead of growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and love for Him, remain bound by the religious beliefs they practice and idolize. Sadly, unbelief prohibits spirit and truth from breaching the doctrinal box.

Idolatry can take root and surface from any affection that becomes inordinate. One example is exaltation of the family. Jesus’ words concerning love for family are sobering. He said: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” Matthew 10:37, 38.

Proverbs 14:12 give us this solemn warning: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Psalm 119:104 says: “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” We may sincerely believe that our way is right. It may look right. It may feel right. Others may reinforce our belief that it is right. Our way may satisfy our deepest longings and desires where this world is concerned. The question is how do we know our longings and desires are lining up with God’s will?

The answer can be found in Scripture. Colossians 3:1-6 tells us: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.”

Where are your affections? Are they set upon “things above,” upon the risen Christ, and the hope to come, or upon the things of this world (Egypt)? If your affections and longing are upon anyone or anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, then your god is in a coffin in Egypt. You need to come to the Lord God in true repentance, for He has promised: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9.