The Commandments Simplified

  Serve only the Lord. Keep God first, before every other thing. Revere God and represent him truthfully. Rest and celebrate God’s faithfulness to you. Honor the leadership of your parents. Respect life, bodily and emotionally. Enjoy sexual things only within the sacred bond of marriage. Cherish the things you own and work for new […]

Portals of Darkness

CC BY-NC, Matt X, Flickr
CC BY-NC, Matt X, Flickr

Question: What is anything that indulges our passions and leads us away from God? What is something that claims a greater priority than the holiness and love of God in our lives?Answer: an idol.

God hates idols and abhors them in the lives of his people. They are the start of all kinds of trouble. Morally, an idol represents perversion, and God often refers to it as an abomination, something vile and shameful. I think I know why.

God created humankind in his image (imago dei) and for himself. The problem with venerating a false god is not merely that we bow to it or laud it but that we give it our allegiance and service, which should be reserved for God alone. This is implicit in the first two commandments of the Decalogue.

So when we honor the idol, even if we don’t realize that we’ve provided it a ranking place in our hearts, we symbolically remove the stamp of our Creator (his entitlement of us) from our hearts, or a part of it, and spiritually choose a rival that, although not real by human standards, opens the door to darkness dedicated to our defeat in some way.

Looking even deeper is what we understand about spiritual worship: its nature to transform. I diverge for a moment. Here the worship controversy arises in which some argue that the word worship in the English Bible with today’s connotations incorrectly describes the practice and sentiment of Hebrew culture. In the original languages some of these instances might be more correctly termed ‘made obeisance’, ‘bowed down’, or simply ‘served’.

I hate taking up space about this because I feel that the issue is mostly a defense of the original languages. I think we all can agree that worship is not merely our present-day church experiences of singing songs and lifting hands. Nevertheless, I do believe that the intent of the scripture and ancient worshipers align with our contemporary understanding of what real worship of God is.

Real spiritual worship is done with the heart and should occur with every facet of one’s life, more outside of the church and synagogue than in it. Spiritual worship esteems God and responds to his holiness and love with personal godliness and conscientious righteousness. By it we are transformed into better people, a people of God.

But to open the heart this way to the idol is a grave mistake. It is to ascribe the true God’s spiritual honor to a false god. This is considerably more than merely praising and praying to it, something God mocks in the Prophets. What begins to occur in the heart is the transformation of the soul into the image of the idol. The longer this occurs, the more one will take on its character.

I met a man once with a bizarre attraction behavior that I came to understand only when I learned of the things in which he indulged. After mocking the deficiencies of human-made idols, the writer of Psalm 115 makes a sobering statement: “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (v. 8, ESV). Humankind was created to be mastered by one, God himself, and then only by our willing choice of him. To yield ourselves to any other thing means domination by evil influence and that signals torment.

Paul and Peter occasionally use the expression “slave of Christ.” The analogy is a good one. For if we are not the slaves of Christ, then in our hearts we serve our carnal nature and achieve Satan’s purposes. Simply put, we war with God.

Idols might have been wood and stone and gold once, but their true dark powers are still evident today when they are sex, money, and vanity. In Modern America we don’t erect sacred monuments in the traditional sense to personify the intents of our hearts. Instead, we simply yield to our impulses and impose upon ourselves willful blindness toward any dark motivating force. We indulge our lusts and vindicate our right to have them satisfied.

We possibly have more idolatrous dealings to contend with simply because of the age in which we live. Yet the fight for the human soul is as much the same as it was when Adam and Eve fell in the Garden. Jobs, television, ambition, power, drugs, people, fame, technology, carousing, fashion, time, even our own families—anything—can become one’s idol. We would do well to understand God’s testing Abraham with sacrificing Isaac.

God wants all of us. Yet we must solemnly acknowledge that at any moment we have as much of him as we desire.

One of the best ways to repent is to rely on those classic spiritual disciplines that lift us into God’s light, the light that exposes and restores. Then, and only then, can we be sure that we are centered in Christ and out of the shadows of sin.