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What does the Bible say about idolatry? Why is idolatry bad?

The Apostle Paul warned Christians, "Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10:12). I don't know about you, but when I hear to flee something, I think of fleeing from snakes, bears, and masked, chainsaw-wielding maniacs! So when the Bible tells me to flee something, I take notice. This must be a big deal.

But what is idolatry? What does it look like in our modern culture? How can we recognize (and break) a cycle of idolatry? Let's break it down a bit so that we know what idolatry is, how to recognize it, and how to rid our lives of it.

What is idolatry?

Idolatry comes from the Greek word eidōlolatria, and means "the worship of false gods." If you have read any of the Old Testament, you know that the Israelites were constantly worshipping false gods, making statues of them, and being warned to stop (they never did). Then God would rain punishment upon them, they would beg forgiveness, and God (because He loves us like that) always gave them another chance. That is, until the next generation started the cycle all over again. Before we judge them too harshly, however, let's keep in mind that we mess up all the time too, and thankfully God is patient with us—just as He was patient with Israel.

Maybe you're pretty certain you won't be making golden statues of gods and worshipping them like the Old Testament guys did. Maybe you're thinking, "I'd never do that, so I'm cool on this one. In the clear. Check. Mark. Right?" Not so fast.

Worshipping false gods is putting anything as more important than God, making it its own little god, and God the Father commands us not have any other gods except Him (Deuteronomy 5:7). The Bible compares idolatry to adultery (Hosea 2). In other words, He says idolatry is cheating on God! Search your life, actions, and thoughts. Is there anything you place as a higher priority than serving and loving God? That is idolatry.

Idolatry in Today's World

We may not literally bow down to statues, but we do obsess about things we want to own or accomplish to the point that we are worshipping them instead of God. Relationships, grades, jobs, possessions, fandoms, sports, etc...all of these things have the potential to take the #1 spot in our lives if we aren't careful.

Money is probably the number one idol of our culture today. An obsession with having money and material things can easily take the place of following God. And it is so sad when you think about it. People will worship their cell phones, the latest fashions, and designer handbags instead of the God, who gives us life and supplies all our needs. Gadgets and clothing styles are often obsolete within days or weeks of purchase, but God is eternal.

Likewise, we may idolize accomplishments or feats. God grants gifts and talents so we can do great things for His Kingdom. Yet how often do we use those gifts and talents to promote ourselves rather than God? That is idolatry.

Some of the most talented singers began in their church choir but then leave their faith to pursue fame and money. They start worshipping not only money, but also themselves with unhealthy pride. There's nothing wrong with pursuing a high-profile career, but when we pursue sporting, academic, or artistic achievements to bring ourselves glory rather than God, then that is idolatry.

How to recognize (and break) a cycle of idolatry

Everyone, and I mean everyone, is at risk of committing idolatry. One can be singing hymns at a church service but secretly hope that everyone catches that sweet high note they just hit, then BOOM. They are singing out of pride instead of for God's Kingdom.

Sometimes idolatry is really obvious, and sometimes it's more subtle. If we ask God to show us our own motives, we will discover where we have idols. Looking at our own hearts can be fairly painful. We want to believe our motives are pure, but just as Adam and Eve wanted more than the Paradise God had given them, we often want more, our own way, and our own glory. Ouch!

When we recognize that we have worshipped idols, we must repent. Ask the Father for forgiveness and guidance so we do not commit idolatry again. Praying for God's will to be done (Matthew 6:10) and for contentment in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12) will put us on the right track to eliminating idolatry from our lives. When we align our hearts to the will of God (wanting all to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ) then we will delight in using our talents for His purposes and be content with (and in awe of) all He provides for us.

It may take time and be a process, but that's OK. Like any growth with God, we are on a step-by-step journey and cannot change at the flick of a switch. We must be in constant communication with God through prayer to grow spiritually. Ask Him to help keep you on track and keep your focus on Him.

While no one sin is worse than another in the eyes of God, the sin of idolatry is particularly harmful to the one who commits it. Idolatry steals our joy because nothing can satisfy our needs like God. We are left in a constant state of wanting without satisfaction. We feel far from God during these times because we have walled ourselves in with our own selfish and prideful pursuits.

Recognizing our own idolatry and repenting puts us back in a proper and healthy perspective. We remember Who created all things, Whose plan it is that gives us life, and Whose purposes we were created for. Make it a practice to check the closets of your heart for idols that you may be worshipping in place of God so that you may have the life He intended for you, and have it abundantly (John 16:33).

TL;DR

Idolatry is worshipping a false god, which, in today's world, is putting anything as more important than God, making it its own little god. Yet God the Father commands us not have any other gods except Him (Deuteronomy 5:7). Idolatry steals our joy because nothing can satisfy our needs like God. We are left in a constant state of wanting without satisfaction. Check the closets of your heart for idols that you may be worshipping so that you may have the abundant life He intended for you (John 16:33).

By: Rhonda Maydwell

Rhonda is an author, wife, mother, and mentor. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in English and Religious studies. She loves studying God’s Word for truth and wisdom and uses it as a compass and roadmap for her own spiritual journey. Rhonda believes in sharing the Good News and the hope found in Biblical truths with others. She uses her writing and mentoring opportunities (often with a pinch of humor) to do just that.

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