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idolatry

Put away the foreign gods!

John Calvin famously said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual forge of idols”. Or as Tim Keller has phrased it, an idol factory.

We are prone to worship and give our allegiance to idols (things that are not God), thus sinning by breaking the first two commandments.

In Old Testament times, Samuel said to the people of Israel:

“If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 7:3)

The Israelites had succumbed to the false idols of that day and age.

They worshipped and gave their allegiance to Baal and Ashtoreth, tribal deities of the surrounding nations.

Samuel said that if the Israelites wanted to repent and turn to God their repentance must be tangible and will be difficult.

Repentance = tangible + difficult

Tangible means their repentance must be seen by their actions i.e. their turning away from idols.  

The same is of course true today.

If you want to follow Jesus it necessarily means turning away from following idols and false gods that clamour for our allegiance.

1 Samuel 7:4 says, “So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreth, and they served the Lord only.”

Genuine repentance is not only tangible, but also difficult.  

The Canaanite religion was very popular and influential. Everyone was doing it.

To put away false idols was therefore challenging and difficult.

People would call you intolerant, old-fashioned, bigoted, fundamental and a killjoy.

How dare you say that Baal is not God? How arrogant of you to say that sex with a temple prostitute is not a legitimate form of sexual expression and worship?

However, ridicule would be OK because you valued God’s opinion more than your Facebook Friends’ opinion.  

Idolatry

The Bible has a word for trying to find the stuff that God gives in something that’s not God. The Bible calls it idolatry.

Idolatry is giving our allegiance to something that isn’t God.

Here’s the scary truth: idols promise much, but they deliver little.  They always take more than you bargained for.

People today may not venerate Baal or Ashtoreth, but there are plenty of other false gods vying for our allegiance.

Porno

The Pornography idol promises so much: sexual pleasure, happiness and no rejection.

But in the end it takes your intimacy, your friendships, your respect for women (or men), your free-time, your marriage or your future marriage, and your joy.

It promises so much, but delivers so little.

Extra-marital sex

The Sex-Outside-Marriage idol promises acceptance, love, adventure and pleasure.

But it takes your self-control, your marriage, your children, and your spouses’ trust.

It promises so much, but delivers so little.

Money

The Money idol also promises so much: happiness, security, friends, hassle-free living, influence and power.

But in reality the love of money takes your friends, your contentment, and even your faith.

You think you own your possessions, but your possessions own you.

It promises so much, but delivers so little.

Idols always take and never deliver what they promise.

Turning to Jesus

Turning to Jesus must be tangible. We must turn away from our allegiance to idols. Whatever they may be.

Turning to Jesus will probably also be difficult. False idols want to be worshipped. And everybody’s doing it.

Justin Bieber gave a remarkable interview recently. He said that for the first time he realized that turning to Jesus must mean turning away from sin. 

That is, you can’t turn to Jesus without turning away from the false gods of our day and age that seek our devotion.

Even as God’s people, we constantly have to re-examine our hearts.

Are we finding our identity and security in Jesus, or are we tempted to look for these things, that only God can give, in the wrong places?  

I suspect John Calvin was right.