Meet Harriet, a kind, gray-haired woman who embarks on a personal pilgrimage seeking solace and purpose at the corner church at least three times a week. She stands in awe of the church’s peacock-palette of stained glass windows portraying the false, long-haired, emaciated-looking “Christ”—actually, “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:4). And when Harriet sees the statue of “Mary” looming near the pulpit, tears well up in her eyes.
For her, these images have spiritual meaning.
But for true Christians—those led by God’s Spirit, allowing it to actively work within their minds (Rom. 8:9, 14)—revering false images would be ridiculous, even laughable, if it were not so tragic. Billions of human beings in all nations have been deceived into practicing customs, rituals and traditions that involve idolatry. They seek hope, purpose and direction from the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25), and end up living a way of life that is empty, vain—that offers no lasting value—that sheds no light onto the true purpose for humanity’s existence.
Consider idols that are prevalent today. Some religionists use prayer beads to aid them as they repeatedly chant dull, monotonous prayers to a deity that does not exist. Some people believe they see images of biblical figures virtually everywhere, in clouds and tornadoes—even the face of Mary in grilled-cheese sandwiches!
And what about sports fans, athletes and gamblers who insist they absolutely must wear that special jersey, hat, bracelet, gold chain or anything else they believe will bring them “good luck” so their team will win the thrill of victory instead of the agony of defeat?
How absurd. Such people are deceived into becoming slaves to what are essentially idols—false, non-existent gods.
In Isaiah 44:13-20, the Creator reveals how ridiculous it is for men to worship the creation:
“The carpenter stretches out his rule; he marks it out with a line; he fits it with planes, and he marks it out with the compass, and makes it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house. He hews him down cedars, and takes the cypress and the oak, which he strengthens for himself among the trees of the forest: he plants an ash, and the rain does nourish it.
“Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yes, he kindles it, and bakes bread; yes, he makes a god, and worships it; he makes it a graven image, and falls down thereto. He burns part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eats flesh; he roasts roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warms himself, and says, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof he makes a god, even his graven image: he falls down unto it, and worships it, and prays unto it, and says, Deliver me; for you are my god.
“They have not known nor understood: for He [God] has shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And none considers in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? Shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? He feeds on ashes: a deceived heart has turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
Yes, we have been called out of the world’s darkness, including idolatry, and into the light of God’s truth. Our minds have been enlightened. For us, idolatry is a thing of the past.
Or is it?
Two Kinds of Idolatry
Rachel had a problem. While her sister, Leah, had no problem bearing children for their husband, Jacob, Rachel had difficulty conceiving. Even the sisters’ handmaidens were able to give birth to Jacob’s children, but Rachel was barren. She prayed to God, asking Him to intervene…and Rachel soon gave birth to her firstborn son, Joseph.
Sometime later, she heard Jacob say startling words: “Pack up everything—we’re leaving!” After having spent 14 years laboring for Laban (his uncle and father-in-law), Jacob had had enough. The moment Laban was elsewhere conducting business, Jacob made up his mind: Now was the time to return to Canaan before his uncle could intervene.
As Jacob and his family and servants scrambled to gather everything they would need for the long journey, Rachel set her sights on something she highly treasured. Instead of considering God’s will, focusing on how she could serve Him, Rachel was most concerned with one thing: her father’s false images, or teraphim, i.e., “a kind of idol used in household shrine or worship.”
Rachel believed God existed. She had turned to Him in her hour of need, and prayerfully asked Him to intervene in her life. God answered. Yet, when faced with pressure and quick decision-making, Rachel revealed that the family idols were precious things she could not bear to live without. She even stole them, while her husband swore to Laban that the idols were not among the caravan.
Why would a woman who sought God also value idols?
Because idolatry is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-20); it is part of man’s nature. Physical minds worship physical things. Spiritual minds worship God, who is “Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24; Rom. 8:9, 14).
In the First Commandment, God declares, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). He also commands people not to make “graven images”: “You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (vs. 4-5). An idol can be anything in a person’s life that comes before the true God.
Despite being delivered by God time and again, ancient Israel had a long and tumultuous history of wavering “between two masters” (I Kings 18:21; Matt. 6:24). It is in man’s nature to try to get as close to sin as possible without actually sinning; for this reason, the “heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). A person living by human reasoning will convince himself that he can somehow “handle sin”—but a mind led by God’s Spirit will flee from all sin, all temptation, including idolatry.
Let’s look at the Israelites. The Bible records they indulged in two kinds of idolatry.
First, they made and served images of false gods, patterned after birds, bulls and other animals of creation. They worshipped Baal, Molech and other phony deities devised by the perverting thinking of men, and committed perverted acts in their service—even sacrificing the lives of their children!
Second, the Israelites committed idolatry through vain worship. For example, when the house of Israel split from the house of Judah, Israel abandoned God’s Holy Days and His Temple in Jerusalem. Instead, the northern tribes established their own centers of religious worship, without God’s consent, and created their own “Holy Days,” under the reasoning of making it “easier” and “more convenient” to worship God. Israel even installed its own priesthood! From its rulers to its citizens, the kingdom of Israel no longer sought the ways of God. And neither do the nations descended from Israel.
God says of their religious observances, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? says the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this at your hand, to tread My courts? Bring no more vain
oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates: they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide My eyes from you: yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (Isa. 1:11-15).
The latter-day physical Israelites often promote an outer façade of appearing godly, while actually serving the wrong god. Can this be said about some of us—those in the Church of God? Are faithful Sabbath-service attendance, serving the brethren and other noticeable things enough evidence, in God’s eyes, that He is the foremost focus of our lives?
Uncovering Hidden Idols
While true Christians today do not bow down to statues of “Mary” or rely on “lucky” rings or other items, there is a form of idolatry of which we all must be on guard:
“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them? Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus says the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that sets up his idols in his heart, and puts the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and comes to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that comes according to the multitude of his idols; that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from Me through their idols” (Ezek. 14:3-5).
They appeared to be righteous. They seemed to be godly. Some might even have had noble intentions. But in the end, they worshipped God their way, when it was “convenient” to their timetable and thinking. They kept the seventh-day Sabbath—their way. They fasted—their way.
“Idols of the heart.” This was the state of ancient Israel then, and prophetically describes the birthright nations today. If we are not careful, it could describe members of spiritual
But how can one know if he has an “idol of the heart?”
It all depends on time…
A Self-examination of Time
You have most likely heard the expression, “We’re all millionaires in time.” While this article is not about time management, how you use your time can help identify what is first and foremost in your life.
Your life is comprised of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds—time. And like a river, time always moves forward, never backward.
Time is a necessary and crucial component to the greatest building project God is supervising: the development of His holy, righteous, godly character in you! God’s perfect and divine nature cannot be built in a human being instantaneously. It requires tests, trials, pressure, exercising the Holy Spirit—and time. God wants us to put our time to good use, while Satan wants us to waste it.
Life, especially in this gadget-filled age of instant gratification, offers countless distractions: Hollywood blockbusters, hundreds of television channels, millions of webpages, and an endless variety of recreational pursuits, hobbies, etc. It is so easy to get caught up in the latest “buzz” about who-is-doing-what-and-where. Those who have God’s Spirit are at risk of being distracted from what should be the primary focus of why God called us now, in this lifetime—to do the Work of God, and to prepare ourselves to become teachers, judges and rulers upon Jesus Christ’s Return.
We must never forget that God had to admonish His people for being more concerned with physical pursuits than with doing His Work:
“Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built. Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O you, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but you have not enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earns wages earns wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus says the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when you brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? says the Lord of hosts. Because of My house that is waste, and you run every man unto his own house” (Haggai 1:2-9).
Understand. Human beings, from time to time, need to unwind. Having a hobby or rooting for your favorite football team every Sunday is not, of itself, idolatry. Neither is buying a brand new car and keeping it in top condition each weekend, or purchasing new clothes. But ask yourself, if you (like Rachel) were suddenly under intense pressure to make quick and serious decisions, what would you treasure most? Is there anything you would not be willing to give up to serve God?
How is your time being spent on personal pursuits in comparison to studying the Bible, prayer, meditating upon God’s Word, regularly fasting, and exercising the Holy Spirit? When making purchases and paying off bills, does paying God His tithes and offerings always come first?
During prayer, to what degree is your mind focused on asking God to fulfill the needs of the Work, the ministry and the brethren, in comparison to your own requests?
Ask yourself: “When I fast, what is my motive—to get God’s attention on me, or to get my attention on God? When the Sabbath arrives, do I wholeheartedly embrace it and look forward to attending God’s commanded assemblies—or do I simply ‘endure’ the Sabbath and Church services until sunset comes?”
Honestly assess yourself in these areas—prosecute your thinking!
Again, idolatry is in man’s nature. Christians might not be tempted to literally bow in reverence to idolatrous statues masquerading as being of God, but idols can be hidden in one’s heart—for “covetousness…is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
History and the present state of this evil world—filled to the brim with war, strife, crime, adultery and fornication, bribery, falsehood—stand as testimony to humanity’s insatiable appetite to get at any cost! “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts… Do you think that the scripture says in vain, The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy?” (Jms. 4:1-3, 5).
But God has called us to “come out of her, My people” (Rev. 18:4). To no longer be “conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). To “seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God,” and to “set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2). To receive the shortcomings of ancient Israel as “examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted,” and to “neither be you idolaters, as were some of them” (I Cor. 10:6-7).
Our special calling demands that we “flee from idolatry” (vs. 14)—in every form.