We All Worship Something

Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out we all worship something. I believe he was right about that: Everyone worships something, some thing, someone, or Someone.

If you do not worship God (or seek to), this post is not addressed to you. This post is addressed to Christians and those who claim to be Christians.

Church, Whom Do We Worship?

You may read that question and respond, “Andy, that’s a dumb question.” You may equate church membership with worship. It may be. There are at least four possibilities to consider:

  1. You could be an authentic member of a congregation that worships God.
  2. You could be an inauthentic member of a congregation that worships God.
  3. You could be an authentic member of a congregation that does not worship God.
  4. You could be an inauthentic member of a congregation that does not worship God.

One thing is certain: Walking into a church building doesn’t make you a Christian any more than walking into McDonald’s makes you a cheeseburger.

If you seek to worship God, find a congregation that worships God. It’s possible to worship God in isolation. If you are a Christian worshiping in isolation, your heart will yearn to enjoy corporate worship and fellowship. Here, now – not just in eternity.

Church, Whom Should We Worship?

Have you ever wished God would just say something? or do something? He’s the God of all the universe, after all. Why not prove it for everyone and all time? This was the complaint of some who watched Jesus die on the cross:

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” – Mark 15:29-30

God has spoken. He revealed His will to dozens of people over centuries of time in an amazingly consistent manner. His words are found in the Bible. Do you long to hear from God? Read His Word. “Does reading the Bible really work, Andy?” Yes. In fact, God’s Word states:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6

We may diligently seek God in His Word. We should worship the God of the Bible.

Who Do You Worship?

If we don’t worship the God of the Bible, we worship some vision or version of God that we imagine. We may imagine an elderly grandfather who is kind and sits on the porch watching the universe unfold as it will. We may imagine a cruel, unfair, and dysfunctional father figure we experienced in our youth. These are extremes. They are also constructs of our own minds. They are examples of a God we make in our image or in the image of some father figure.

God’s Word speaks to this:

“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3

This is the first commandment God gave to Moses. When we imagine God and worship the creation of our imagination, we are committing the sin of idolatry. In The Church and Idolatry, Jared Wilson states, “All sin is idolatry…” I concur.

To be clear, it’s one thing to be mistaken. I’ve been mistaken and it’s likely I am mistaken now. How do I know the difference between being incorrect and being an idolater? Again, God’s Word:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

What happens when my belief is confronted with God’s Word? How I respond determines whether I am mistaken or practicing idolatry. If I humbly beg forgiveness and change my belief to align with God’s Word, I was mistaken. If I exalt my belief against the knowledge of God revealed in His Word, I am an idolater.

If an Idolater, Then What?

Idolatry is a sin. God’s Word informs us of Christ and His Remedy:

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:6-10

Some questions to ask ourselves from this portion of God’s Word:

  • Do I claim to have fellowship with Christ while walking in darkness?
  • Do I walk in the light?
  • Do I have fellowship with other followers?
  • Do I believe and say I have no sin?
  • Do I confess my sins?

If you find you are committing the sin of idolatry, confess and ask God to forgive you. I did.

Conclusion

Many idolaters name their idol “God” and “Jesus.” That does not mean they refer to the God and Jesus of God’s Word. Calling your idol “Jesus” is not the same thing as worshiping Jesus, our Resurrected Savior and Lord.

Don’t confuse Christianity with the religion that goes by the same name.

Peace.

Friends with the World?

James warns the young church in chapter 4: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” His characterization of such a relationship? “Adulterous!

Ellicott’s commentary renders the interpretation, “ye adulteresses!”

The phrase may seem to flow naturally after the former ones, but the Received text, from which our version was made, is wrong. It should be, ye adulteresses! as accusing those who have broken their marriage vow to God.

“What If I Agree With the World?”

It’s possible for a Christian to agree with worldly endeavors, at least on the surface. Efforts to alleviate poverty are a good example of overlap between Christian and secular goals. As Christians, we often speak of “human flourishing” and cite the words of our Lord in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

While we agree on the surface, motivations of the church and world are likely at odds just below the surface. The church is motivated to obey our Lord’s command to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. We love our neighbors. We seek to serve.

The world has different motives hence the warning found in 2 Corinthians 6:14:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Paul’s words echo the words of James: “friendship,” “partnership,” “fellowship.”

Warning: When I Agree With the World

Church, I urge us to examine our own motives when we find ourselves in agreement with the world. Some questions to ask ourselves:

  • Are we loving the Lord with all our strength? (Mark 12:30)
  • Are we loving our neighbor? (Mark 12:31)
  • Are we loving our enemy? (Matthew 5:44)
  • Are we denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Christ? (Luke 9:23)

One ploy of the devil is to begin with God’s Word and then ask, “Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1). When we listen to Satan we may find ourselves in idolatrous sin. Some questions to ask ourselves:

  • What is more important to me, this cause / movement or Christ?
  • Do I feel led to participate in this cause / movement and follow Christ, or is my participation in this cause / movement simply me following Christ?
  • If I have to choose between this cause / movement and following Christ, do I want out of the church?

Final Thoughts

Satan has millennia of experience ensnaring humans. He is an expert at manipulation. He never approaches with his end goal, he often begins with God’s Word. Peter, who experienced this firsthand, describes him thus:

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Idolatry is an easy sin. “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” Peter’s words, again. Remember:

God is just, but justice is not God.
God is love, but love is not God.

Peace.

Separating Church and State: Confessions of an Idolater

In 2011 I was participating in an online Bible study group with some friends. We studied the Bible, prayed for each other, shared struggles and inspirations, and recommended extra-Bible reading.

It was during one of these sessions that one friend recommended the book Radical by David Platt. I downloaded the book to my Kindle and… let it sit there. For over six months. Why? I was put off by the subtitle: “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.”

Why did that put me off?

That turned out to be an excellent question to explore.

My faith was wrapped up in the American dream. The two were so coupled that, to me, they seemed one and the same. I was, as I now describe it, an “American Christian.”

Being an American Christian meant that I:

  • voted for one set of candidates, from one party
  • was a consumer of christian culture
  • was a fan of Jesus

I read the book very cautiously. I kept waiting to find the flaw in the logic, the exaggeration, the false positive correlation, the peg on which to hang my reservations and cling to my old rugged ‘Merican dream.

Instead, through much angst, conviction, and (finally) repentance, the Holy Spirit used brother Platt’s words to change my heart. It was perhaps the most powerful transformation since confessing Christ in February 1982.

Now I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I’ve overcome all that now, that I have (finally) arrived. Rather, I want you hear my confession:

I became aware of my sin of idolatry. I was mixing Christian faith with faith in my nation and its government.

The movie The Usual Suspects opens with the line, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” It’s an interesting quote that’s applicable to my condition prior to conviction of my idolatry in this manner: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was simply unaware I’d coupled being a conservative American with Christianity.

But I had. It was a kind of blindness, denial, and lack of self-awareness.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

In 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 Paul wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (emphasis mine).

I’m writing this confession because some of you are suffering as I was. I promise I’m not judging you, any more than a physician who tells you that you have the flu is judging you. Like the physician, I want to help.

If you, like me, find yourself believing that your support of our nation is equivalent to following Christ, I challenge you to prayerfully examine that belief. Perhaps read the book Radical. Especially if you are a conservative. I submit for your consideration that it’s possible for American conservatism to become an idol.

Also, if you are not a conservative and you believe that your resistance to the current administration is equivalent to following Christ, I challenge you to prayerfully consider that belief. I submit for your consideration that it’s possible for American liberalism to become an idol.

This is a test. If you agreed with one of the preceding two paragraphs and disagreed with the other, that’s a strong indication you are suffering idolatry.

Many progressive brothers and sisters rightfully champion God’s attributes of justice and love. So do I. More now than ever. God is love and God commands us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (emphasis mine). Although God is love and God is just, love is not God and justice is not God. I humbly submit that it’s possible to misunderstand God’s love (I am Exhibit A) and justice (ditto). It’s possible to put these awesomely good and cool attributes of God ahead of God.

It’s happened before.

In Numbers 21 we have an account of Israel in the wilderness becoming impatient. They complained about Moses and his leadership, and God punished them by sending “fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” At God’s command, Moses made an image of a fiery serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole. When people were bitten, they looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

Fast-forward 1,000 years to 2 Kings 18. Hezekiah, king of Israel, destroys the bronze serpent because “until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”

The point? God commanded Moses to make something that was perverted into an idol.

Was the bronze serpent evil? Nope.
Did the bronze serpent become an idol? Yep.

I struggle with idolatry daily. When I pray, “Lord, today help me deny myself, take up my cross, and follow You,” I’m asking Jesus to reveal idols in my life, help me put them away, and help me recognize Christ as King of my heart, mind, soul, life, money, work, and everything that I am. My experience in 2012 made it abundantly clear to me how blind I can be to idolatry, and to how insidious a sin idolatry is. Kyle Idelman’s book, Gods at War addresses idolatry. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more.

Something to consider: Idolatry might just be the root sin of every sin.