Attractions of Idolatry

Attractions of Idolatry

by Jason DeRouchie, Tom Kelby, and Jack Yaeger


JY: Welcome to Gear Talk, a podcast on Biblical theology. Today, Tom and Jason focus on idolatry. What is it? How does it differ from worship of the one true God? How does it tempt people? The podcast begins with a look at idolatry in the Old Testament and in the history of Israel. It concludes with a look at seven features making this false and dangerous worldview enticing to so many.

TK: Good morning, Jason.

JD: Good morning, Tom. Good to be back on Gear Talk.

TK: It is. Today we have a really important topic. We’re going to be talking about idolatry and this might seem like that’s old news. That’s a very Old Testament sort of thing, although it shows up repeatedly in the New Testament, doesn’t it, Jason?

JD: It does. It’s a worldwide issue and the New Testament doesn’t hesitate to challenge believers: guard yourself from idols. And stress to believers that the idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God, so don’t go there. Paul is even going to say that covetousness is idolatry.

TK: He does this actually several times.

JD: So we want to—I think it’s important for us to pause and to consider what is this beast of idolatry and why was it, is it so attractive? And so, we want to meditate today on a number of attractions of idolatry, even as we consider its nature and its form not only in biblical days, but today.

Idolatry in the Old Testament: No Other Gods in Yahweh’s Presence

TK: So, we’re going to start in the Old Testament. We’re going to end up though—this is not an Old Testament thing, it’s something that we need to keep in mind for us as believers and also—in thinking about the world and people we love—that idols are very real in the sense of the real reason the warnings are out there is because people do fall prey to demonic idols. So, we want to start in the Old Testament, and Jason, if you were talking to somebody and you were kind of building your, well here’s how we understand this. Starting in the Old Testament, where would you start?

JD: I would want to go to a familiar passage like the Ten Commandments and give clarity to what God is actually saying. We could reach all the way back into the Garden of Eden, where we realized that in the very sacred space and temple of God—what is that garden. There was no idol, but there was an image, and that image was a human. Not an idol to be worshipped, to be fed, to be trusted in, to be manipulated, but rather a human that was supposed to ultimately revere, resemble, reflect, represent God on earth. God’s sovereignty, God’s character, God’s values—that’s what humans are supposed to be in God’s world.

TK: So we get a right picture of an image from the beginning.

JD: We do and yet what is so prone of humans is rather than honoring God, living for God in our lives, we end up replacing God with illegitimate objects of worship. That’s how I would define an idol. So, what that means is that idolatry—and I’m going to build off a definition that Daniel Block has given in his book For the Glory of God: Recovering A Biblical Theology of Worship. It’s very similar to a definition Greg. Beale gives in We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. Here’s the definition that I would start out with, and then we’ll consider a text. Idolatry: if an idol is an illegitimate object of worship, then idolatry is a false or improper form of worship involving reverential human acts of submission and homage before beings or objects in the place of the one true God.

Now the Lord had stressed, “There should never be to you other gods beside me. You should never make for yourself a graven image, any likeness that’s in the heavens above, or that’s on the earth beneath, or that’s in the waters under the earth. You should never serve them”—sorry—“worship them or serve them” (Deut 5:7–9). This statement. There shall never be to you other gods before me or beside me, that phrase, that prepositional phrase “before me,” whenever it has a personal object—so in this instance, it’s God himself—whenever it has a personal object, all throughout the Old Testament, it always expresses location rather than priority. So, when God says there should never be to you other gods before me, he’s not saying in that instance I need to have first place. What he’s actually saying is when you think about the throne room of the heavens, you should not picture any other gods there but me. I am the only one in the heavenly throne room. He gathers around himself a council, and that would include individuals like the Old Testament prophets who are part of his council, and it also includes all the heavenly beings that we think about, often referring to a number of them as angels because they’re messengers of God. And yet they’re part of the heavenly court. They’re created, not ultimately sovereign. There’s only one creator, one judge, one standard in the universe, and it’s God himself. And because he’s on the throne and the only one in the throne, he deserves our worship. And yet so often—and God warns of this—so often we are prone to gain other masters to let our let our hearts be given over to other things, to put our trust elsewhere rather than ultimately trusting in God. And when we do that, the Bible would call it idolatry.

TK: So, if I would say to you something like, Jason, I do consider God most important; however, in this area and, whatever the area might be, I you know, I do think this also is important. You would say based on the way the word is used, you have no other gods before me, I have actually put another god in that spot. In that location, correct?

JD: That’s right. The Bible would…

TK: Even though I’m saying no, I consider God the most high God, the true God—I’m still putting another God before him.

JD: If there’s spheres of our lives that haven’t been released to Yahweh’s supremacy, where we’re not giving him allegiance in all these areas, spheres that we still want to hold on to—the category would be called syncretism. An attempt to affirm that Yahweh is potentially the supreme God, and yet in my heart I still have other masters. In my mind that I just keep thinking of, it’s such an ironic title that’s so forthright, but over the last decade plus, one of the big shows on television has been American Idol. And even to use that language is truly a testimony to what happens in this world when we have superstar veneration and when identifying with a certain individual—be it a sports figure, be it a music star—that identification, the world knows it can sell, and that’s why it promotes it. So, people want to look like them, buy the bags that they carry, have their jerseys, and we just need to guard ourselves from such things that can fall in the realm of materialism. The realm of God is too far from me, a practical atheism where I’m acting as though, in my daily life—I might go to church on Sunday—but in my daily practice, I act as though he’s not truly God. I don’t prioritize his word. I don’t prioritize prayer. I don’t recognize the need for dependence on him, and so I minimize his place in the universe, and I elevate other things over and over again in that sphere, and the Bible would call that idolatry.

The Gospel: Power to Overcome Idolatry

And even talking about it just reminds me how much the gospel is precious because you and I and all those who are listening struggle with idolatry. We struggle to maintain a vision where God is indeed the only one on the throne of the universe, and the implication is then that he should have priority. That he should have first place, that all that we do should be for his glory, and that includes eating a bowl of oatmeal in the morning or drinking orange juice. “Whatever you do, whether you eat, whether you drink or anything else, do it for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). And the very reason we need Jesus is because we lack such glory. We have fallen short—as the ESV translates it, Romans 3:23—fallen short of giving God the glory that he deserves, displaying his greatness as we ought. All of that is a context of idolatry, and Israel struggled with it. Indeed, it was what brought Israel’s destruction. Moses foresaw it, that they would get bound up with various gods that have eyes that couldn’t see, ears that couldn’t hear, hands that couldn’t touch, noses that couldn’t smell, and in Psalm 115 the psalmist explicitly says, “Those who go after such things will become like them” (Ps 115:8), and this is why Greg Beale named his book, We Become What We Worship. That is what we revere, we will resemble whether for restoration or for ruin. If we go after empty cisterns that do not hold water, we’re going to become empty where our souls are not going to be satisfied, and we’re going to wither up and dry.

So many in this world are struggling, longing to be satisfied, and they’re not being satisfied because they are replacing the ultimate, life-giving bread and living water with things that ultimately can’t meet their souls’ deepest need. And it’s a good test if we find our souls withering, it’s likely an idolatry problem. It’s likely because we are supplementing spheres of our life that should be filled with the Lord, with treasuring his beauty, with hoping in him, and we’re putting our hope and our trust and seeking satisfaction in spheres that are replacing him rather than being used as means to bring him worship. We can enjoy a baseball game or delight in a hunting experience for the glory of God, but we can also do the same as a quest for joy that won’t satisfy. And I recall the words of Saint Augustine of Hippo, the—long ago—African Archbishop, who had such an impact on the early church. He said, we love our God too little if we love anything other than God, not for God’s sake. And when we love anything other than God, be it a wife, a husband, a hot fudge sundae, a school, music, sports involvement, whatever it may be, our vocation, if we are loving that, not ultimately for God’s sake, then we’ve made it an idol and may God help us and grant us eyes to see. But even as I’m talking, I’m just, I’m reveling and celebrating that the gospel is real. That right-standing with Jesus is true, and that those who are in Christ have God 100% for us. And that Jesus died not only to justify, just make us right with God, but to sanctify us, that is, to purify us increasingly so that idols that once bound our souls no longer bind us so that we might truly envision God for who he is, the ultimate King in his beauty. So, we thought it’d be good to take this time today to just meditate a little on seven attractions of idolatry, then and now.

TK: And I think Jason, just hearing this, we can have a thought that I’m losing something if I give in this little area, whatever it might be. Versus when you said I’m reveling in the gospel, no God has set us free. So what he originally created humans to do, we can actually walk free of the control of these other things that would keep us from flourishing as God intended, that this is actually—the commands to have no other gods before Yahweh is actually quite a beautiful and the most human thing we could have, because we can flourish as his people.

JD: That’s absolutely right, it is—for God to say there shouldn’t be to you any other gods before me is the right thing for God to say because he’s God. Indeed, it’s the necessary thing for God to say, because if he created a world where he allowed anything other than him. If he said, go ahead, it’s OK you can love something higher than me. Put something of greater priority than me.

TK: Even if it’s in one tiny category.

JD: Even if it’s in one tiny category, right. But if he said that was OK, then what he would be declaring is that he’s not God over that sphere. It’s necessary that he call us to live for him this way. But what you’re getting at is it’s not only right and necessary, it’s the most loving thing God can do, because in his presence is fullness of joy at his right hand are pleasures forevermore. He is the deepest satisfaction and the only well from which we can thrive. He is the only savior in this world who can free us from the bondage to sin and from the destructive future of hell and separation from his presence. He is the only one who can save. And so when he says, envision me as the only God. And then he says, love me with all—with all your heart, with all your being, with all your substance—he is commanding the most loving thing that he could command, because he has our souls in mind. He has our deepest longings in mind, and he is there. So often it’s that we don’t desire gain enough. It’s not that we shouldn’t want gain, it’s that we settle for too little when God wants to give us himself.

TK: A shriveled, controlling sort of desire versus the full pleasure that God will give us. We’re taking something, but it’s a shriveled up, inhuman way of receiving it.

JD: And I’ll just say, Jesus brought into the middle of history what will be realized for all in the future. That is, someday you and I are going to have transformed senses. Our eyes are going to be able to see like they were intended to see our noses be able to smell, our ears hear, our hands touch, our tongues taste such that in that future day, every delight, every encounter will be for the purpose of God’s glory. We will enjoy sunrises and sunsets. We will enjoy a camping experience, a hiking excursion looking out over the powerful waves of Lake Superior or a mountain scape in Colorado and it will be for God’s glory. Every creature that we see, everything that we taste, our senses will have been awakened to actually function without the curse, function without the problem, and already Jesus has purchased that the new creation has dawned in our souls so that we can live day in and day out, delighting in grandchildren, delighting in pizza, delighting in a Chipotle burrito for the glory of God. And now there’s something that won’t be experienced in the future, though we will be able to reflect on, that we can endure suffering in a way that brings God glory. Endure the challenge of the curse in a way wherein we’re not pulled away to doubt or to fear, or to anxiety, or to worry, but rather our hope can stay true. Jesus purchased that we might live in such a context rather than giving in to the idols of the fear of man or the fear of loss or the fear of sickness. That’s what we’re talking about. That’s the practicality of this issue. Paul charged those in Corinth professing allegiance to Christ, 1 Corinthians 10:7, “Do not be idolaters.” And then he warned them, “Idolaters will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But such were some of you. But you have been washed, you have been sanctified, you have been justified in the name of Jesus” (1 Cor 6:9, 11). So we want to meditate on this very significant issue in Paul’s mind, in Peter’s mind, and consider what made and makes idolatry so attractive. Clarify why it’s false, why it’s a dangerous worldview that entices so many. And then with that speak into it, true hope, true life, and a portrait of, as I already said, the King in his beauty.

Idolatry in the People of Israel

TK: So Jason, before we get there and you mentioned you would start and obviously we started in Genesis 1, building a theology of the true God and his true image. But the Ten Commandments—I’m looking at Exodus 20:3–4, “You shall have no other gods before me.” You already referred to that. “You shall not make for yourselves…” and then he goes on about carved images, things like that. Can you describe very briefly what worship looked like for the majority of Israelites in in terms of, I grew up—you and I were talking about this a while back—with some impressions of kind of a golden age of Israel when everyone worshipped God, Yahweh. But there were moments when Baal worship, maybe during the time of Ahab and Jezebel, came in. But that’s not the picture, is it?

JD: It’s not the picture. In fact, as early as Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy, he tells us what’s going to happen. And he says Israel is simply going to—well, these are his words in Deuteronomy 4:25, he says, “When you father children and children’s children and have grown old in the land and when you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish” (Deut 4:25–26).

TK: And these are not statements like if, like I could imagine it, but it’s not going to happen to you. Moses is saying this is going to happen.

JD: That’s right, the Hebrew is explicitly clear, and actually the ESV at this point adds a condition that’s not even present in the text. The Hebrew reads, as certain as they will father children and as certain as they will grow old in the land is as certain as they will act corruptly, going into idolatry. And it was extremely certain later in the book and Deuteronomy, the Lord says to Moses, “You’re about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering. They will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them” (Deut 31:16-17). It was exactly, then, what happened when they arrived in the land.

And it happened early in the days of Joshua, they began to—and Joshua is the one who replaced Moses. Joshua leads them into the land, and they fail to get rid of all of these obstacles to God’s centeredness. They failed to bring the judgment that God had declared on all the enemies. And so God says all these nations that are going after other gods are going to become thorns in your sides (Josh 23:13). And it’s in this context, then, that we read, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord they served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods from among the gods of the peoples, who were around them. They bowed down to them, and they provoked the Lord to anger” (Judg 2:11–12). This was where Israel was at the beginning of their history, in the land. And it continued throughout their entire existence. There was never a time—there were two significant seasons of reformation following the days of David, David became king, and he led people to honor the Lord. And yet it was only in the days of Solomon that he married all these foreign wives, and they influenced his theology and he set up all these idols within Jerusalem and led people to follow them. He worshipped them right alongside Yahweh—it’s called syncretism. And from that point forward with the division of the kingdom, the twenty kings in the north and the twenty kings in the south, out of all those forty kings we’re told only two of them fully honored the Lord. It was king Hezekiah and then followed by him, king Josiah.

And that leads us to this declaration in 2 Kings at the end of Israel’s history—this gives clarity to why the northern kingdom was overcome by Assyria. It didn’t happen by chance. It happened as covenant curse, in punishment for their idolatry. This occurred, we’re told 2 Kings17:7, “This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced” (2 Kgs 17:7–8). So, the northern kingdom fell because they followed the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was the first king of the northern kingdom, and he set up golden calves in Dan and south in Bethel, and separated himself from the main worship center in Jerusalem. And all of a sudden, all the ten tribes in the north were just given over to idolatry and being sucked in by the lies of the world. And the lies might look different today, but they’re the at the core, the same lies. And the idolatry might not all look like the fashioned idols of Hinduism, but the idols are present, nonetheless. And so that this was not just a periodic challenge for Old Testament Israel—when you read the story of Israel’s existence and we read about it significantly in the entire Old Testament, all the books are unpacking the challenge with idolatry that was so pervasive. And the challenge continues today because it’s part of the world. It’s the lie of the serpent, the lie of Satan, who has been prone toward destruction from the very beginning. He wants people to turn from revering God alone. And serving God over all things and loving him with all. He, Satan, doesn’t want that. And so, he’s going to do whatever he can in every culture to twist what is true and raise up all kinds of attractions that lure people away.

Attractions of Idolatry: Idolatry is Guaranteed

TK: So, moving them from the Old Testament to lives now, so—and obviously the New Testament writings are saying that they were struggling with these same things. But you’ve listed seven things, I’m looking at an article that you wrote that you would say what makes idolatry, so attractive. And you don’t mean so good like it’s good for you, you mean there are things that truly do make idolatry attractive though, correct? That you’d say it’s in some ways it’s easier than following the Lord. So, you have a list and there could be more. But there’s seven things here. So, I want to ask you about these. The first thing you have down is idolatry is guaranteed. What do you what do you mean by that?

JD: What I mean is that an idol was visible. It was a physical representation that was considered to transmit the presence of the god, whereas Yahweh is spirit. God said upfront idols are controlled by demons. Such gods are worthless nothings, they shouldn’t be worshipped. You go after things made of hands mere wood, shapes, and idol. In our day fame, figure, material goods that moth and rust destroy—God says don’t go after those things. And yet here, here’s the practicality of it, why are we prone to go toward things that we can see and taste and touch, hold in our hand. Have we ever prayed and felt like God’s not there? Are we ever tempted to hope in more tangible things like people or like money?

TK: Sure, I can have a bank account that has, you know, whatever dollar amount in it. That’s a real thing, at least, you know, at the present moment, it might be a real thing and God—I can’t see him like I could go and I can see the numbers in the bank account.

JD: That’s right. And that’s the challenge. And so the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 6 are, tell the rich not to hope in their riches (1 Tim 6:17). It’s the guaranteed thing, guaranteed from the worldly perspective, and yet it can be gone in an instant. There could be war, there could be a bank crash. The point is, it’s not going to last. And yet God is, and God is more guaranteed. When all that trouble comes, God is still there. He is still constant. He is still unchanged. He alone can save and will work for those who wait for him. He is the one who created and creates all things, and therefore he knows all. He guides all and is present and active in all. That is the God we have, and we have to recognize that though he is spirit, he is more guaranteed and more sure and more worth our all than anything in this life.

TK: I think the guaranteed thought, you know, we could go lots of directions, but certainly some of us have felt this challenge even recently. But I have a job, let’s say it’s guaranteed it is guaranteed. It’s how I receive my income in, in my mind. Yet I’m told in some way I need to do something which the God of heaven has forbidden. But yet this job is my guarantee. And so am I going to turn and trust in the God I can’t see, who it doesn’t appear is giving me my money. Or am I going to trust in this job?

JD: That’s right. And so the challenge is there and the call is clear. May we look to the God who never changes the very one who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth is mine. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18). He is guaranteed.

Attractions of Idolatry: Idols are Works-Centered and Covetous

TK: Amen. Amen. Second one—you have done is idols are works oriented and covetous. What do you mean by that?

JD: Well, the question on the table is this, are we ever prone toward self-righteousness? Easy answer, yes. Are we ever tempted toward materialism? And easy answer yes. And that was at the core of ancient idolatry by offering food sacrificed to an idol, there was always a sense that you somehow obligated the god to multiply your crops or make your wife fertile or your cattle fertile. Paul says at the core, covetousness is idolatry, Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5, and the reason idolatry is—sorry, covetousness is idolatry is because idolatrous worship was at the core of pursuit of prosperity or health as an earned wage for works done.

TK: God owes me this.

JD: I’m just going to read. I’m going to read Hosea 2:12. This is what God says to Israel regarding all the false gods that they adulterated themselves with, “I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees.” So these are—the her is Israel. And God saying, I’m going to judge Israel, who was my bride and yet has acted in fornication, spiritual adultery, going after, trusting in all kinds of gods that ultimately couldn’t save and satisfy. And yet this is what it says, “I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees of which she said, ‘These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.’” When she looked at her prosperity and blessing, she thought, I deserve it, these are my wages that I earned from giving myself over to these various idols. And there is an innate sense of prosperity gospel, I think, in the souls of most of us, wherein we have an entitlement, a sense of entitlement. I work hard. I expect that I should have payment for it. And if suffering comes or if something is taken away or if unexpected loss happens, our natural inclination is to say God, this isn’t fair. And ultimately, it’s because we were putting some kind of trust or some kind of hope or unhealthy delight in something that we shouldn’t have been putting our trust and our hope in. And it’s not that grief over loss is bad, no grief is right. But when our worlds get rocked, when our foundation seems to crumble, in seasons of loss, what we recognize is this reality: idolatry doesn’t profit. False gods, earthly goods all pass away, and so our hope needs to be not in seeking a gain that won’t last, but a lasting gain found only in God seeking, not storing up treasure, as Jesus says, on earth, where moth and rust destroy, but storing up treasure in heaven. That should be our goal.

Attractions of Idolatry: Idol Worship is Easy

TK: So we’ve talked about that at least there’s a perception of guarantee; idols are works oriented and in that way I control what happens. I bring the offering to the idol; I get whatever I’m supposed to get. Third thing you list is idol worship is easy. What do you mean by that?

JD: In the ancient world, idolatry—it did call for frequent and generous outward sacrifices, but it didn’t demand a true love for God or neighbor. There was—idolatry was not tied to covenantal obligation. And so it was very natural for Israel, living in the culture they were in, to live their lives prayerless to oppress the weak, to fail to heed God’s word, to live in self-reliant ways. This was the easy way, but as Jesus said, there’s only two paths and one of them, the easy path, leads to destruction.

TK: So, I can go and I can make my sacrifice. And I’ve fulfilled my obligations without ever needing to engage my heart. Sure.

JD: I mean, it could be those who are CEO’s—Christmas and Easter only attenders—or it could be something more specific where you’re even involved in small group you’re attending church on Sundays. And yet, those who know you best know where your priorities lie, and they don’t lie with God. Your time, your treasures, your commitments, your surrender, your values are not aligning with God. How you treat your spouse, how you respond to your kids is not filled with the fruit of the Spirit. It’s filled with ugliness and you choose, rather than battling—which is hard—battling for holiness, fighting for joy in God, you choose to go the easy way, the lazy way, the normal way. I mean the question is, do you ever find it easier to please men rather than God or love ourselves rather than others? And that ease with which we go our own way or with which we seek to tickle the ears of other people rather than live in a way that honors God—that talks about the ease of idolatry.

And the challenge is to recognize that discipleship is hard and discipleship is costly and it requires self-denial. It requires surrender. And these are not easy things when our soul longs to be king of our own lives, rather than to be surrendered to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So, may God help us desire to follow him and to be willing to discipline our body to beat it into subjection. That is, to live recognizing that the flesh is not in charge even though it’s a natural way to live in light of our own sinfulness, it’s the ungodly way to live. And so we go the hard way of surrender the hard way of sacrifice the hard way of prayer and disciplined time in the word, so that we might live lives that honor God, even if it’s not easy.

Attractions of Idolatry: Idols are Convenient

TK: This fits so easy, goes right into the fourth thing: convenient. It is convenient to worship idols.

JD: Yeah, there’s times where we can feel like following God gets in the way of our own agenda. And when we feel that way, we’re battling idolatry. Ancient idolatry, we’re told, was able to happen under every hill or sorry, on every hill and under every green tree. It’s several times throughout the Old Testament. And it was a caution to those following the Lord to recognize that the way that the world does things is not the way we should be doing things. I mean, God set it up for Israel, that they had three annual feasts where they were to all gather—regardless of how far away you lived, you were to seek to gather to the central sanctuary in Jerusalem to offer God your worship. That type of intentionality was not the most convenient. It might be hard to get up early in the morning, not only to do exercises, but to exercise your spiritual soul and spend time in the word. And though it’s not convenient, it’s right. It’s good.

The Old Testament, Israel, they were—it was filled with a sacred calendar, all kinds of detailed covenant instructions. Calls to not ignore a neighbor who suffered loss or an accident, but to actually help them to go out of your way. These covenantal obligations that were part of the old covenant extend into the new. And yet now we have a new power because we’ve received pardon, and we have the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we have promises motivating us, and we have a new pattern in the life of Christ who modeled for us what it means to be a living sacrifice, to proclaim the excellencies of God, to abstain from fleshly passions, and to live honorably, doing what God would have us do. At times, this is, as Jesus said, an experience of carrying your own cross, which is by no means convenient or easy. The walk with Christ can be a walk into hardship, but it is a God-dependent and God-exalting lifestyle that is right and good and necessary. And very clearly it’s the only path to life because the way of the world leads to destruction. And so may God help us have hearts that are looking out for the needs of others, who are willing to put on the brakes and pause to help someone in their time of need. Willing to redirect finances that we had planned to go in one way all of a sudden to go serve this greater cause. This is all part of the life with Christ that isn’t always convenient, but it’s right, not always convenient, but it’s honoring to him and it displays the love that he has for the world. Christ, by his mercy, did not remain in the convenient place of seated at the right hand of his Father, he entered into our world humbling himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And our call is to follow him as his body in this same journey of non-convenient, loving sacrifice.

TK: It reminds me—when Jesus says foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). And he’s not complaining when he says that he’s saying it’s just a reality of his life on earth. But he also said those who follow, who claim to follow me will follow me—this will be a mark of their life. Convenience won’t be the mark of life.

JD: That’s good

Attractions of Idolatry: Idolatry is Normal

TK: You say it’s normal, number five—it’s normal. What do you mean idolatry is normal?

JD: This relates to what you were getting at earlier in the podcast. This was the normal pattern of Israel’s world, and it’s the normal pattern of our day. Our world is filled with people who are suppressing the truth that God is creator, that God deserves our lives, that we need to value those made in his image. We live in a world where it is most normal to run against God, and therefore the biblical worldview is a countercultural worldview. The world may call it extreme, and yet it is pure and right and good. In the ancient world, three normal things about idolatry were 1) polytheism—the idea that there were many gods. There were no atheists in the biblical world, even those who didn’t have Yahweh on their radar believed in many gods. 2) Syncretism was a natural part of the culture. This is the idea that you blend different worldviews and worship multiple beings at one time, and 3) pantheism—the idea that God and the universe are in some way one or that created elements in the world somehow manifest the presence of the divine. So, the culture declared this was normal. Yet it wasn’t right, as Paul says, in Philippians 3, many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Most people in our world around us are spiritually dead. They’re following the devil, following the course of this world they’re unable, because of this, to walk in God’s ways.

Yet contrary to polytheism, what Christians need to affirm both in our words and in our deeds, is that “an idol is nothing in the world and that there is no God but one.” Indeed, “we declare one God, the father, and one Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 8:4, 6. Against syncretism we need to be those who say no one can serve two masters. If you say you’re serving God, the true king of the universe, and yet let your heart be controlled by other things, Jesus says no, you’re not serving God and whatever it is, whatever other thing in this world you’re ultimately not serving God period, because you can’t serve two masters. One is either free from condemnation and empowered by a God’s Spirit to obey as a child of God, or he’s condemned and living according to the flesh as a child of the devil. There’s only two ways. There’s not a middle way. And we need to recognize that and recognize that the old man in Adam is dead, and therefore we shouldn’t look like who he was. We are now a new man in Jesus and live as men and women who delight in Christ and want to follow his ways and hang on to the gospel. And when we stumble, we stumble toward the cross and embrace the good news that this reigning God not only saves, but satisfies every sinner who believes through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We embrace that and not live a life of syncretism. We delight in God’s good gifts for the glory of God, and we endure the curse and suffering for the glory of God. We don’t give in to syncretism. And finally, in contrast to pantheism, true believers affirm that Yahweh God is eternally and wholly distinct from his creation, and yet he is sovereign over it. We also affirm that…

TK: That trees aren’t God.

JD: Trees are not God’s and that—even saying it that way, we may not be following some religion that actually worships a tree, but when we prioritize a woman’s “health” over the life—health in quotations—over the life of a baby, all of a sudden, we are engaging in idolatry. When we stress environmental concerns over the welfare of human beings and mix up—have these twisted world views with respect to priorities, we are buying into the ancient ideas of pantheism and failing to recognize who God is, that he is sovereign over it, that creation is a means for seeing those made in his image with this unique capacity to display God’s glory in the world. That’s why creation exists. It’s not to be worshipped, but it’s a context in which to steward those made in God’s image and to see God worshipped. But it was normal, idolatry was the normal pattern and, I think, that normality continues today and we need to be countercultural.

TK: I think—looking at this list you have polytheism, we have syncretism and we have pantheism. We can, as believers, kind of think the syncretism—give it somewhat of a free pass of, that’s the best of the three options because at least the true God is part of it. But he’ll have none of that, correct? He won’t buy into that thought of, wow, that’s the best of the three.

JD: That’s right, God says none of them are legitimate. He alone is God, and he is distinct from his world, and he alone must be worshipped over all, every gift seen as coming from his hand and moving us back to God. Everything from him, everything through him, everything to him. That is a proper worldview.

Attractions of Idolatry: Idolatry Makes Sense

TK: All right, so we’re at number six, and you—what you say here is idolatry makes sense at times. So you say it’s logical. What do you mean by that?

JD: What I mean is in the ancient world the gods were viewed as specialists. The gods of the nation specialized in various aspects of the world and nature. So Baal, the god of Canaan, was a weather god and also a god of fertility. Ashtoreth his consort, the mother goddess of love and fertility. Chemosh of Moab was the god of war, Dagon of Philistia, the god of grain. Other gods controlled life and death, light, evil, water. They were all specialists, and so it made it very logical for people to seek the expert. Think about when you’re sick, would you rather see a specialist or a general practitioner? Very, very naturally, we’d want to see the specialist, and yet Yahweh was viewed as the general practitioner. He had to control everything from wombs to fields, to battles to stars.

TK: But maybe in your mind he’s not very good at any of them on their own. You need a specialist.

JD: Sure, the idea would naturally be, I’m the Jack of all trades, but the master of none. And I want to go to the master. And so Yahweh was diminished in the eyes of the people, and therefore much more easily forgotten. And yet what does Scripture say? That Yahweh alone sits in the throne of the universe, that he called his people to let this truth inform all of their lives. He is the one from whom, through whom, to whom are all things. So, while knowing God’s eternal power and divine nature, what Romans 1 tells us is that humans are those who suppress this truth, they dishonor God. They don’t give thanks to God. And in fact, they even approve others who turn away from him—Romans 1:23. They exchange the glory of God for idols, and they become darkened. They become stupid, becoming worthless like what they worship. Paul says the cross is foolishness to the world. The world’s wisdom, though, is foolishness to God. And we need to those who embrace God’s definition of what is wisdom that’s pure and then peaceable, that’s gentle, open to reason, full of mercy, good fruits, impartial, sincere—James 3:16, 17. The logic of the world—because so many of their premises are wrong, the conclusions are also wrong. And though it may be logical, if the premises are wrong, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

TK: So Jason would it be fair to say something like this, like somebody dating somebody and say I know what the God of heaven has said about sexual relations outside of marriage. However, that doesn’t work in this day and age, and I will lose my boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever, unless I give myself this way. God doesn’t know about what it is to be a sexual creature. Is that fair to say, kind of that God’s not a specialist in that area?

JD: It is so natural to say, well, God said that. But in my situation, it’s definitely not the best choice, so I’m going to go a different way. In fact, I was just engaging with a pastor who was telling me about a couple, a young couple in college. This boy and this girl whose parents said, well, you’re dating, it’ll be cheaper, why don’t you guys just live together? They were encouraged by their parents to do it. Their parents were churchgoers. And both of the kids, when they talked to this pastor and later—a year later—said would you marry us, and the pastor said, not while you’re living together. And they said—they told the pastor when we started living together, both of us felt like it was wrong. And yet, everyone around us was telling us it makes sense. You’ll save money. And there—and so what did they do? They suppress the truth. And then finally they met this pastor, and the pastor was willing to say this is wrong. This is not honoring to God. What he would desire is that you would, from this point forward, repent, ask forgiveness, see yourselves purified, and then remain pure until your wedding day. That you as a man and a woman coming together might display the beauty and the richness of Christ’s love with his church. That’s what the pastor shared, and this couple embraced it. But what was the world saying? That’s not logical. That is so normal in this world, and yet it’s not right.

TK: And so even in that, you might say I’m a—that’s that syncretism idea—I’m a follower of Yahweh except this area, I need a specialist who is better at relations than God is. That could happen in…

JD: Right, this advice from this person is better. They’re the expert, and so all of a sudden, the worldly pattern of logic—we just naturally give in to it. All of a sudden, you’re watching—you’re at a football game and they choose not only to have the national anthem, but a black national anthem. And they say please rise and stand. Well, everybody’s doing it. It seems normal and can I think of any reason not to do it? And all of a sudden it’s logical, it’s the pattern that everybody’s following and yet you say, wait is this where my allegiance is? Do I really affirm this? Am I willing to go against the flow and all of a sudden you’re faced with the challenge. What are my priorities? What do I value? And what is right?

TK: And all of us at different times have felt that thought of this makes sense. This makes sense monetarily. Why wouldn’t I do this? God doesn’t know, he clearly, or he clearly would make an exception for my circumstances.

Attractions of Idolatry: Idols are Sensuous

Last one, Jason—sensuous.

JD: Sensuous is a word about pleasure, and often associated with sexual pleasure. So, what’s at stake here is how often are we tempted to turn away from God to satisfy ungodly desires, often sexually immoral or impure desires. And idolatry, in the ancient world, was loaded with pornographic images. It included bowing down and kissing idols, various smells, the cutting of the body, loud cries, weeping, heavy feasting, drunkenness and often immoral sex. We see throughout the Old Testament words against temple prostitution. There were, as is clear from outside the Bible, both male and female prostitutes, both heterosexual and homosexual. And the idea often was if you engage in some form of cult prostitution that is on the temple precinct, you engage in sacred sex, then the gods are going to be obligated to bless you in fertile ways, whether it’s your pocketbook, your crops, your own family. And it was absolutely ungodly. Paul, entering into that same world, just charges the church to not live in the passions of the flesh, to follow those who are by nature, children of wrath. God’s saving grace that we have enjoyed, we’re told in Titus 2:12—I just love this verse—has trained us so that having denied ungodliness and worldly passions, we may live sensibly and righteously and godly in the present age.

So we need to be those who make no provision for the flesh while celebrating, still, that God gives all these good gifts. He gives sexuality for a right context. He gives food for a right context that we are supposed to enjoy with thanksgiving as a gift of God when enjoyed in the right context. It’s the right object at the right time. And then I would just challenge here at the end of this podcast, very practically, Paul’s warning, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men practicing homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor abusers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” So feel the weightiness of that. The gravity of the seriousness of sin, and then revel, gladly revel in the fact that, though “such were some of you. You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. Idolatry is the world of sensuality. It’s luring us in to give our time, our treasure, our taste to things that are not honorable to God. He’s given a context for holy and upright and beautiful sexuality, holy and upright delight in passion. And it’s better and more lasting to do it God’s way. So, the final charge, I would just say, is flee idolatry. John’s words to his fellow believers, last words in John 5:21, “Little children keep yourselves from idols.” Or, as he warned in Revelation 21:8, “Idolaters will end up in the lake burning with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Idolatry results in ruin. And yet the call of the text is to find our hearts satisfied in Yahweh, to seek him, to inquire of him, to be a people that wants to please him and worship him when we’re eating and when we’re drinking, or when we’re doing anything else. Fleeing idolatry.

TK: And that’s what it means, as we said earlier, to be most fully human, the way God created us is to live free of idols and to walk as God created us, to image him. Well, Jason, thanks for walking us through these seven things. I pray that all of us would consider areas where maybe we’ve given in, in some of these areas and if we need to repent, but to flee idolatry. All right. See you next time.

JY: Thank you for joining us for Gear Talk. You can find a link to an article by Jason DeRouchie titled “Confronting the Attractions of Idolatry Then and Now” in the show notes. You’ll also find a link to sign up for Hands to the Plow’s newsletter.