The Anatomy of Contemporary Idolatry

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser


In an age of education, empirical research and intelligent investigation, why would we need to consider the subject of contemporary idolatry? Some might be tempted to ask, “Haven’t we evolved beyond that?” In this “age of enlightenment” it wouldn’t be an overstatement to assert that: Idolatry is the greatest sin that plagues the heart of man. Calvin expressed it well when he said that “the human heart is an idol factory.”

The sin of idolatry is near to us, dear to us, and in the very midst of us, so much so that we may hardly even be aware of its existence. One of the reasons that so many of us are not aware of this serious and pervasive problem is that we lack a clear understanding of 1) the nature of and 2) the need for idolatry.

I would like for us to consider the following question related to idolatry:

What is the true nature of idolatry?

What is idolatry? Idolatry is wanting something else more than we desire God.

It is valuing something/someone in a way that hinders the love and trust that we owe to God. It is anything that conflicts with putting God first. When the Apostle Paul was exhorting the Corinthian Church in the first century, he was equally speaking to all of us in the 21st century when he said, “My dear friends, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). Idolatry is so serious and so deadly that it needs to be avoided like the plague! Many of us are in serious spiritual danger and we don’t even realize it. How sad is that?

In an age of tolerance, the Christian church has had relatively little to say about this serious sin. Perhaps more than any other sin, the truth about idolatry is one that needs to be told in our time. What is the truth about idolatry?

Idolatry is a worship in which the honor and glory due to God alone is given to someone or something other than the One true God. If we fail to give God His rightful place in our lives, we will have no alternative except to give that place to someone or something else, and that is idolatry. Idolatry may assume different forms in different centuries and different cultures but the true nature of idolatry remains the same. Whether we worship a wooden caving or whether we deify ourselves, the principle of idolatry is in reality the same. The honor that is due God is turned aside and given to someone/something which is not God. Whenever and wherever this is done, whether in heathen temples or Christian churches, there is an act of idolatry!

It’s not necessary to formally deny the one true God is order to be an idolater. All that is necessary is that we desire something else more than we desire God. All that is necessary is that we relinquish the throne of our hearts to someone or thing other than God. We may not even be aware of it and in many cases we’re not aware of it. Nonetheless, idolatry is a deadly sin that God has strongly denounced in His Word.

What did Jesus say? If we love anything/anyone more than Him, we are not worthy of Him. If we love anyone more than we love Christ we can’t be His disciple. Idolatry isn’t something confined to other times or other cultures, rather it is the most pervasive and deadly sin imaginable and it is here in our midst!

What does the “man of sin” do in 2 Thessalonians 2:4? He “sets himself up in God’s temple and proclaims himself to be God.” If the truth be told, he isn’t the only one who has committed the sin of self-deification. It’s a sin that we all need to watch and continually pray against. This sin is so serious that two of the Ten Commandments are devoted to the prohibition of it (Ex. 20:3, 4). The besetting sin for all of us is, in one word, “idolatry”.

It is not for nothing that Paul sternly commands the Corinthians to flee from idolatry. In Isaiah 42:8, the Lord says, “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”


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