What is the greatest sin in the entire Bible? Is it murder? Adultery? Homosexuality? Theft? Lying? Disobeying parents? Which is most condemned throughout both the Old and New Testament? The amazing answer is that none of these are the greatest and most heinous sin in the entire Bible. The answer: IDOLATRY.
From Genesis to Revelation, idolatry is the one overarching sin that is condemned more than any other. We see it most fully expressed in the first of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:3 God emphatically says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” In the very last verse of John’s First Epistle we find these words: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
Now most of us will not bow down to a carved statue in our house or dance around a pagan altar in our backyards, but we do indeed have our own idols. The prophet Ezekiel tells us in Ezekiel 14:3: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces.” What does it mean to take or set up an idol in our hearts? What exactly is idolatry?
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY, has given what I believe to be one of the best definitions of idolatry. He says, “An idol is something within creation that is INFLATED to function as a substitute for God…the most basic question which God poses to each human heart is this: ‘has something or someone besides Jesus taken title to your heart’s functional preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight?’”
In other words, is there something in this world that you have inflated or made ultimate that has taken the rightful place of Jesus in your heart? Romans chapter one tells us that we have made an insidious and devastating exchange.
Romans 1:21-25 states: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
Instead of worshipping Christ as supremely valuable and bowing to His glorious beauty and majesty, we have exchanged Him for created things. And these things may not be evil in and of themselves. Spouses, relationships, children, careers, health, and even money are to be enjoyed as blessings from the Lord, but when we inflate or elevate these things above Christ, we have become idolaters. Notice that Paul tells us in this passage that we end up “serving” these idols. We in fact can become slaves to what we idolize. And if that object of our worship is not the Lord Christ, then we are in bondage to what we serve as an idol and it will always disappoint. As Christians the question we must always be asking is this: “What instead of Christ has become my functional ‘savior’? In other words, I may give lip service to the fact that Christ is my Savior and I find ultimate satisfaction in Him, but what on a daily basis actually serves as my functional savior to give me ultimate meaning, purpose, satisfaction and happiness. Whatever those things are become functional saviors to try to meet all of our needs instead of Christ and in the end that become idolatry. We trade in the glory of Christ for cheap substitutes. We are amused and satisfied with created things that may give temporary pleasure but where never designed to fulfill our ultimate longings in the way that Christ alone is able.
C.S. Lewis has said it aptly in his sermon the “Weight of Glory” when he said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Let us keep ourselves from idols and so find ultimate joy in Christ alone.