What is Idolatry?

What is idolatry and why is it so corrupting? In Deuteronomy 4:16 and 4:25 Moses warns the nation of Israel to beware lest they “act corruptly” by making a carved image doing evil in the sight of the Lord. The First and Second Commandments prohibit worshipping any other “god” than the living God and elevating created things to the level of idolatry.

In Romans 1:18-25 Paul clearly defines the root issue of idolatry. God has made Himself known through creation, but yet in our sin, we as humans suppress that truth. When you look up at the stars in the sky, you intuitively know there is a Creator. When you look at the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, or look at pictures of the Hubble Telescope, or you’re sitting on the beach watching the waves crash into the shore, or you’re driving through the prairie of Northeastern Colorado, you know deep in your heart that there is a Creator. God has made Himself plain to us in creation.

Yet instead of worshipping and thanking God and believing in Him as the supreme Creator, what do we do instead? We suppress that truth. To suppress means to hold down or push down or hold it back. We don’t acknowledge it but hold it down deep.

And so how does Paul define idolatry? He defines it as the tragic “exchange”. Humans in their sinful states have exchanged the GLORY of God for idols. In Romans 1:25 Paul says that they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped the creature rather than the Creator.

So at its core idolatry is when you hold down truth and suppress it and instead you exchange the glory of God and the truth of God for a lie by worshipping an idol. It’s a tragic exchange. You’re trading in the majesty, holiness, glory, and power of God for cheap imitations that you think are going to satisfy.

In America, we don’t fashion or carve idols out of wood or stone like the Israelites did or how other cultures around the world do, but we create idols in our minds. We think that a person or a job or a career or a child or a parent or a lover or money or success or sex or sports or entertainment or a boat or hunting or a farm or a vacation or “you fill in the blank” will give you the satisfaction and wholeness and completeness that your heart aches and longs for. Then you come to realize that all of those things disappoint and fall miserably short because they are idols and the only thing that can satisfy is Christ.

So not only is idolatry sinful, but it is corrupting. When Moses warned the Israelites not to act “corruptly” the word used here in the original Hebrew means that an object like a pot or vase had become ruined. It had become so beyond repair and marred that it was basically useless. 2 Peter 1:3–8 reads, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peter says that in our salvation God has given us everything we need to live for Him and through the gospel we have escaped the corruption of this world. As a result, we are to pursue holiness. We are to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. We are to be growing in Christ and not giving in to the corruption of idolatry. If you continue in the corruption of idolatry instead of pursuing growth and holiness in Christ, Peter says that you will be ineffective and unfruitful.

So the corruption of idolatry really makes you an unfruitful, ineffective Christian. You’re not growing in Christ. You’re not growing in the fruit of the Spirit. You’re not making an impact on others. You’re basically ruined, stained, and corrupt and useless.

As a true Christian it doesn’t mean that you somehow lose your salvation, but it does mean that when we give into the corruption of idolatry, it renders us ineffective, fruitless, and useless in service to Christ and His kingdom.

Let Moses’ words ring in your ears today: Don’t give in to the corruption of idolatry! Don’t trade in the glory of God for cheap imitations that don’t satisfy. Don’t let your idols control you! Don’t become so consumed by created things instead of the Creator that you become ineffective, unfruitful, and corrupt. Instead, seek Jesus today. Find Him as the only satisfaction for your aching heart. Find Him as the only One who can truly forgive your sins and grant you eternal life. Find in Him your all in all!


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