Promises and Secrets

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A website for those not afraid to examine their beliefs, compare them to the real world, and make sure they fit.



False Gods - Idolatry

VIEWPOINT



Most people tend to think that false gods are pagan gods like Tammuz, Molech, Loki, Thor, and others. However, the same people would probably be surprised to learn that anything that gets between them and the only God is an idol or false god.

FACT



Most people do not understand the true nature of idolatry.


BLUE VIEWPOINT



Idolatry is misunderstood by nearly everyone who has not investigated the term, and by some who claim to have investigated.

For example, the website at Bible Study Tools defines idolatry as:

Idolatry

    image-worship or divine honour paid to any created object.

This is all well and good, and a true statement as far as it goes, but then they follow that definition with an "example" of idolatry from the Bible that says something a little different from the idea stated in their definition:

Idolatry

    image-worship or divine honour paid to any created object. Paul describes the origin of idolatry in Romans 1:21-25 : men forsook God, and sank into ignorance and moral corruption ( 1:28 ).

"That sounds about right - created objects are bad to worship."

Now, what was Paul talking about in this passage
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:21-28) (NIV)

? Well, he does speak of creating physical images, as described in the definition, but created things includes those created by God. However, it's the rest of his message that is completely missed in the definition. He speaks of ideas, desires, and lusts that defy the will of God and cause actions that take us away from God. These are not the "tangible", created things mentioned in the definition. Leaving these out of the definition leads people to believe that thoughts, ideas, and emotions are not idolatrous. But they can be.

It's not just the objects, it's the method and the idea

In a discussion with my son about Christmas and Easter this last November, I made the point about pagan symbols and idolatry. He strongly claimed, "But we aren't creating idols or worshiping other gods. We are worshiping the Lord." True. My response was that anything that gets between us and God and His word is an idol. He still claimed that neither his church nor his family allowed that to happen. I reminded him what the Bible says to do with all the symbols the Israelites found when they entered the new lands (Deut 12:3
2 Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree:

3 And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.

).

"But, we are doing it for good."

My son then admitted that they are using the symbols and the pagan day for the celebration, but they are using them to worship Jesus, not some other god or gods. Then I reminded him that God said not to worship Him that way (Deut 12:30-31
30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same." 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

). His response? "I don't see what harm there is in having a tree and decorations in the home for the holidays." I gave up. The discussion went from the Bible to opinions. My wife agrees with him. Most see no reason why doing exactly what God said not to do is wrong, as long as they do it with good intentions. Ignoring God's commands, for any reason, is wrong.

It doesn't seem like much, looking at this example, but this is typical of the definitions for the word. Webster defines the word idolatry as:

"the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing."

This definition is limiting the offense to persons or things. Maybe it is easier to describe the offense if you give people something "solid" to hold in their minds. But have you ever seen anyone give reverence, or even too high an importance, to something that is not a tangible object? How about an idea?

"But, ideas and emotions can't be idols..."

No? Take a look at Colossians 3:5:

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Now, without being too hasty here, can you reach out and take a sexual immorality into your hand? How about a lust? There may be some solid thing out there that causes the idolatry, but it's not the thing itself. It's what happens to us when we start wanting the thing enough to go outside the bounds set up by God. These are neither persons or things, but emotions and thoughts. However, Paul is very clear that they are idolatry. You can't try to put a statue to death, but you can try to kill those parts of your nature that cause idolatry.

"God can't expect us to control all our thoughts and emotions..."

Well, take a look at 2 Cor 10:5
5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

. Easy? Nope. Getting the world out of our minds and hearts is probably the hardest thing we have to do. It seems that the goal of the world is to draw us in and make us want something. Heck, that's what television commercials are designed to do. Do we really need that shiny new car when the 5-year-old one we have now works fine? Does our 300-pound body really need that deep-dish pan pizza advertised at 7:30 at night? Also, she or he may be beautiful, but is that person worth losing your family and/or your salvation?

Practices show your beliefs

Everyone has some foundation for what they believe. They get this foundation from someone, and often just accept it at face value. Some few will investigate within the guidelines of the person from whom they learned it, but will not look at things from a neutral position. Let's look at this a little closer.

Brace yourself, you knew this was coming if you have read any of my other pages on this site. If you have a regular practice founded on an idea that is unsubstantiated or proven false, would that be considered a false practice, even if you did not know it? Let's take a simple example.

Incorrect advice

Let's say you have a lawn that is kind of green, but has a few yellow spots and weeds, but overall you are fairly satisfied. Say you have heard that in order to keep a lawn green and weed-free, you should never water it during the summer, only in the winter. You were told this bit of information by Bob, a good friend and neighbor across the street, who has a beautiful green lawn. Looking outside, you see that his lawn is indeed green and this impresses you. Then you went out and told other people what you have discovered.

So, you stop watering your lawn during the summer. What happened to your lawn? You go to Bob and ask him why his advice doesn't seem to be working. Well, Bob says you must be using the wrong fertilizer. So you use a different fertilizer, but still do not water. The lawn is still not turning green.

What you don't know...

Now, what you don't know is that Bob has a sprinkler system that comes on at midnight (when no one is looking) to water his lawn. His whole reason for getting you to stop watering is that he wants to have the greenest lawn on the block.

What has happened here? You took an idea given to you by someone who convinced you, by somewhat deceptive means and with an ulterior motive, that what he said was true. You started practicing what he said, regardless of the fact that the instructions for having a green lawn are written down on each bag of fertilizer. But, instead of reading the instructions that work, you listened to someone else's idea.

Worse than that, you went out and told others what you have "learned" from Bob, and they started putting the advice into practice. The brand of fertilizer you were using did not make your lawn as green as Bob's, so you changed fertilizer to the same as Bob said he was using, but followed the wrong instructions for proper lawn care, so the appearance of your lawn was not what you were expecting.

Let's analyze this...

Now, it would be difficult and pointless to call this idolatry. However, let's do some substitutions and see what we have. You probably see where I am going with this, but let's make a list of substitutions for the story:

For this                Substitue This

Water                   Worship
Fertilizer              Church
Lawn                    Life
Green                  Outward Appearance
Summer              Sabbath
Winter                  Sunday
Instructions         Bible

Now what do we have? Using the generic "you" here, just to set the mood. This is not an accusation.

You notice a difference between the life you live and that of your neighbor. You are happy, but notice that he has a new car, a fancy house, and a great job. Your life feels a little drab, so you ask him how he does it. He tells you that you should change the appearance of your life by having worship only on Sunday, never on the Sabbath like you have been doing. And don't bother reading the Bible, he has discovered what works so you don't have to go through the trouble. He tells you, "As long as you love Jesus, it doesn't matter if you change a few things."

You try this, but have some more problems with your life. Asking his advice again, he recommends that you join his church, because it works so well for his life. He also says that you should just do things his way, without reading any instructions, because he can tell you why it works so well for him. You try his way, but your life continues the same way and you don't feel fulfilled in your heart. You don't feel close to God at all.

What you don't know is that he spends so much time working that he never makes it to church, his marriage is ending, and his children don't obey him. That's why his life looks so good on the outside, but it is ready to fall apart.

Where's the idolatry?

Envy

First, you were envious of your neighbor's lifestyle. This is not idolatry unless you act on it instead of following God. You looked across the street and compared your life to that of another person. You are already following God's rules, but your neighbor's life seems so much better. So, you stop doing things God's way because the other way sounds like it will still fit God's instructions.

Not seeking God

You ask and get advice from your neighbor and, without investigation, start following it based on his "false" promises instead of staying with God's written word. This is trusting a person rather than following God.

Bad advice

Things still aren't working, so you go back and ask him what you are doing wrong, instead of seeking the advice of God. He recommends changing to his Sunday church, which you do, but your life is not getting any better.

Action without search for the truth

Remember, as in the first scenario, there is something about his life that has nothing to do with his advice that is really causing the pleasant-looking outward appearances - and it is this that he isn't telling you. If you don't investigate the situation thoroughly, you will be headed for a surprise later.

No wooden gods here...

It's not like you were creating some wooden god as a goal for worship, so it's hard to think of this type of activity as idolatry. Ignoring the advice of God to take care of your family and working for the "finer" things in life is putting other things above God. That is idolatry. Doing things that God said not to do, leaning on your own understanding, instead of following His instructions, is idolatry. Also, not doing what He said to do is putting your wishes above His, which is idolatry.

Even worse is the fact that many idolatrous activities and thoughts are suggested by and approved by the "church". Yes. Your church. Think about Sunday, Easter, Christmas, Halloween, and all the other things that people do with their lives that are not Biblical, but take such important places in our lives that they "replace" God in our hearts.

Well, if God said "Don't!", but we do it anyway, how would you explain that to an outsider? Your explanation would have to sound something like, "Well, God doesn't care as long we love Jesus and are sincere." Where do you find that in the Bible? These are only ideas inserted into the Christian culture, but change our actions into what we accept as "good causes". It's not as though we are looking to go against God. We just fall into it without thinking it through.

Not that hard, or that obvious, to fall

Most people don't seem to be aware that it is easy to fall into idolatry. It doesn't take some cult or Satanist priest to drag us into it. We are our own worst enemies; not satisfied with the life we have, we start looking for ways to get the things we want. While that is not a problem in itself, doing it rather than obeying God is a problem.

Mark said it best when he quoted Isaiah 29:13 in Mark 7:6-7
6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ' These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.' "

:

6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

    ' These people honor me with their lips,
        but their hearts are far from me.
    7 They worship me in vain;
        their teachings are merely human rules.' "

When you do find out that you have been inserting ideas or things into your life that are displacing God, you can stop and get back to basics. Those basics include finding out, again, who He is and what He says to do for a worthy life. While we can never be worthy in His eyes by our own efforts, we can show Him that we have faith in Him instead of ourselves. Where do we find that? In the Bible.

Think about it. Is your life so bad that you need to be disobedient to God in order to improve it to what you think it "should" be? That will lead to idolatry.



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