Why Avoid Idolatry?

The Danger of Idolatry - Why Avoid It?

John ends his first epistle like this: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 Jn. 5:19-21)

In essence, John is saying, “The true God is Jesus Christ. So don’t be deceived into accepting a false view of Christ. Don’t love the world, which lies in the power of the evil one. Keep yourselves from idols. Cling to the true God.” But it is helpful to think about the question, Why? Why should we keep ourselves from idols when they have such a tug on our hearts?

We need to remember that by definition, idols are false gods, which means they are not real gods. There are several implications from this:

Idols are deceptive

We think they can provide what we are looking for: happiness, security, and meaning. But they cannot deliver because they are not God. Our idols will always let us down; they will always disappoint. We think following them will lead to more freedom, but in truth, they enslave to greater bondage.

Richard Keyes writes, “The message of the Bible is that just as idols deceive us, so also they eventually disappoint and disillusion us. They are silent when we turn to them for insight and impotent when we go to them for help.”

Idols are destructive (Hosea 8:4)

The history of Israel illustrates the devastating results of idolatry. Idolatry led to exile and captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Think of Tiger Woods, and countless others, who have destroyed their marriages and families through the idolatry of extramarital sex.

Idols will never satisfty

In idolatry, we say to God, “You’re not enough!” But that is a great lie. We were not made for idols, we were made for God. We were not made to be self-centered, we were made to be God-centered. As long as we go on chasing our idols, our hearts will be restless. Augustine rightly said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

Idols are broken cisterns that can hold no water. But Jesus Christ is the fountain of living waters! He said to the woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14). So don’t drink from broken cisterns; the little water they do have is full of salt. Drink deeply from the fountain of living water and you will never thirst again.

Scott Hafemann says this: “Those who seek their happiness and security in other gods are condemned to a life of fleeting fulfillment and to an eternity of lasting regret. The reason is clear. Nothing and no one can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart except the One who made us for himself.”

We become what we worship

A fourth reason to keep ourselves from idols is the fact that we become what we worship. Psalm 135:18 says of idols: “Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.”
You love the world and you become conformed to the world. We become what we worship. We will come back to this in the next issue because it is a central concept in the quest for holiness.

Mark Stevenson

Mark Stevenson (PhD, University of Wales) has been teaching in the Bible and Theology Department at Emmaus since 1999. He is the author of the book "The Doctrines of Grace in an Unexpected Place." He and his wife Tonya have 4 children and live in Dubuque, IA.