September 7, 2011

Modern-day Idolatry

Even though salvation is by grace through faith, and even though no one can be saved through keeping the law of God (unless they keep all of it, and no one can), the law remains instructive. As Paul wrote in the New Testament, God’s commandments show us where we fall short.
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:1–6).
This are the first two commandments. They are closely related. Simply put: no idols created and no idols worshiped. If idolatry is practiced there will be consequences.

As a Christian experiencing the grace of God and a changed heart, I tend to think that since there are no statues of Buddha or any other religious icons or artifacts in my house, that I have no idols. However, the definition of an idol is more than a mere carved image. By reading both verses together, an idol is anything that I bow down to (own, crouch, humbly beseech, make obeisance, do reverence, worship) or serve besides the Lord.

The falling on my face part is rather obvious, but serving is a more telling word. In the original Hebrew, this word is about slavery and bondage. That definition brings to mind all the things that threaten to control me. Some of them are tangible, but most are not like a carving up on a shelf. I’m thinking of other “idols” that threaten the place of God in controlling our lives, things like appetite, desire for comfort, the clock, my to-do list, a need for praise or popularity, the quest to know the answers, workaholic motivations, or even more mundane things like noise, music, television or texting.

Compulsions to do good and be helpful are not in the same category, but the motivation to be appreciated and have others look up to me or think well of me could hold a greater priority than wanting others look to Christ. If that happens, such motivations could fall into the idolatry category.

Someone once said that an idol is whatever you rely on or even think about all the time. The inference is that this thing, whatever it is, becomes a total preoccupation, taking the place of the One who told us to pray to Him without ceasing. Even if my thoughts are concentrated on my own ideas of how to solve problems and overcome obstacles, then my own abilities could be an idol of sorts.

What shakes me the most about these two commands are the consequences for obedience and disobedience. While I cannot be saved or lost by my choices, God does describe His response to those who ignore what He says and to those who obey Him. From this, I’m thinking how my children are affected by the example I set. I also know that grace can override my bad examples. However, idolatry is bad enough without also risking the spiritual lives of my family and their children and their children’s children.

I am far wiser to put God first, to forsake any other object of attention and trust. When it comes down to it, how feeble are any of my other resources. Not only that . . .

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Revelation 4:11).... Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! (Revelation 5:12)
Lord, I may not have any carved images, but the gospel writers also warned Christians to keep ourselves from idolatry. They knew that idols can take other forms, or even just be lurking in our motivations and desires. You are my salvation; keep me aware of any temptation to trust anything other than You for any part of my life. Keep me from idols.

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