According to the Scriptures, unbelief and the spirit of idolatry lie at the heart of every sin. God’s first of the Ten Commandments dealt with the iniquity of idolatry. As I mentioned in the last chapter, if someone doesn’t believe in the living God, he or she is going to have other gods. The prophet Samuel informed King Saul that insubordination is as idolatry.1 The apostle Paul encouraged the Colossians to consider themselves dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amount to idolatry2. We could say that idolatry embodies everything that is anti-Christ. So if we are to live to love with Jesus, we must beware of the presence and influence of the spirit of idolatry.
We find ourselves in idolatry when people, things, and ideas take precedence over our relationship with God and we look to them instead of or more than to God. This may sound strange, but it’s true. Maybe you'll find this definition of idolatry to be helpful. Idolatry is looking to any person, object, or idea as the source of supply instead of or more than to God. For instance, when a husband looks to his wife to make him happy instead of to God and what He is doing in and through her, he idolizes her. If a child looks to himself for the ability to please his parents, he idolizes himself. A wife might idolize her children by expecting them to make her feel or appear significant. A teen that seeks the approval of a father more than the approval of God has made his dad into a god.
These examples may be contrasted with the idea of “looking to” God as the source of supply for all aspects of our lives. It might be helpful to realize that when we look to God for all things, we are worshiping God. We need to be on our guard for who and what has priority in our thoughts and hearts. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37).
One important aspect of our growing in Christlikeness is learning to trust God at ever-deepening levels with the things that naturally cause us to feel anxious, fearful, and doubtful. We naturally turn to others for comfort, friendship, and a sense of well-being, but God has designed troubles for us precisely to turn our hearts to Him. Others can supply a measure of what we long for, but only God can provide the measure that we most deeply need. And while we may receive some benefits from others, we risk falling into gossip, complaining, being anxious, and other sins when we try to work through difficult issues with them and they fail to cooperate in the ways we want them to.
Furthermore, if we don’t go to God to supply grace, wisdom, comfort, etc. at our deepest level of need, we miss the very relationship He saved us for, and we grieve Him by failing to come to Him to learn the joys and delights of that relationship. While we may enjoy things like significance and acceptance, safety and security, rest and relaxation, and good health, we need to recognize these things as having become idols if we pursue them to the point of neglecting God. We also need to reduce their importance in our lives until they occupy their rightful place in our hearts and minds. That challenge requires openness to these concepts, prayerfulness, humility, and focus—all provided by the Holy Spirit.
We can easily see how the sins mentioned in Colossians 3 constitute idolatry (see endnote2), but when the spirit of idolatry instead masquerades as light or kindness, it displays its most devilish characteristic. How can an idolatrous spirit do this? Just as Satan often portrays himself as an angel or messenger of light, this diabolical spirit often impersonates love, in its worldly sense. So if someone doesn’t distinguish between an earthly kind of love and God’s kind of love, he can be duped into the belief that he is loving others, when in fact he is using them for his own selfish interests.
That’s why it’s so important to learn to recognize the spirit of idolatry. It slithers its way into relationships from the very seed of our fallen human nature. At the heart of Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve lies idolatry and self-will. He tempts us to ignore God’s Word and will, to listen to him instead, and to act on the doubts he sows by enthroning our own wills. With such bait, he lured the parents of the human race away from always looking to God alone as the source of power, wisdom, and happiness. From the time Satan’s seed was planted and bore its first fruit in Adam and Eve, idolatry has hindered relationships.
Typically when we hear the word “idolatry,” our minds conjure up a man from ancient history chiseling a block of stone, or we visualize a statue in an Asian temple. Many think of idol-worship as an Old Testament sin that modern man has outgrown. But have we really outgrown it, or have we merely sophisticated it?
While meditating on Galatians 5:14, I was struck with the fact that the whole Law is fulfilled in one word: love. It reads, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” That prompted me to meditate on the Ten Commandments to see how each one relates to love. What I discovered in the first commandment is vital to living to love with Jesus. I call it a love principle.
Learn the Love Principle—You can’t love anyone you idolize
Love can only take place where a relationship is free from idolatry and a person recognizes God as the source of everything. The moment we look to someone else to be the source of supplying our happiness or comfort, or blame them for our misery, we have given them power over us to either make us happy or deny us happiness. This attitude places them in the position of God in our hearts, whether we recognize it or not. At that point, loving that person with the love of God becomes an impossibility. If they are “making us happy,” we become more interested in pleasing them than God, in order to continue our self-gratification. If they are denying us what we want, our hearts can slide from feeling offended and angry into resentment and bitterness. In both cases, we have stopped worshiping God in our relationship with them and have made our own desires our primary concern. We’ve idolized ourselves and them. This is why learning to recognize and confront idolatry at work in us is vital.
Next month, we'll look more closely at the spirit of idolatry and how our basic beliefs about God are crucial to living to love with Jesus. Praying the i-live2love prayer helps keep our focus on God as the source of our lives and protects us from falling into the lies of the spirit of idolatry. I hope you’ll join me now in praying this prayer.
Father in heaven, thank you for another day of life to live to know and to love You and to live to love with Jesus. Anoint and fill me with the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of Christ, so that I can love and trust You and love those You put in my path today, for Your glory. Amen