You Might Be An Idolater!

Question Idol

“Are you an idolater?”

Well, are you? It’s a serious question that deserves some consideration because, as hard as it may be to believe, you could be an idolater and not even know it! James Stephenson wrote:

The religion of some is like the skin of the chameleon that changes its color according to the hues of circumstances.

Does that describe your religion? It certainly describes the way a lot of Israelites eventually came to relate to God. Their religion started out fine. But along the way, the people got distracted by the shiny temptation of idolatry. Christians are like that, too. We are so easily distracted in our walk with Christ by the things of the world.

In looking at 2 Kings 17, we can learn plenty about the danger of idolatry and what results when somebody, Israel in this case, gets too involved in it.

Hoshea became king of Israel in Samaria. It was in the 12th year that Ahaz was king of Judah. Hoshea ruled for nine years. He was the son of Elah.  Hoshea did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. But he wasn’t as evil as the kings of Israel who ruled before him. (2 Kings 17:1, 2 NIrV)

King Hoshea reigned for nine years before the Assyrian horde bulldozed the Northern Kingdom of Israel out of existence. His near-decade on the throne was characterized by evil. It’s true that he wasn’t as bad as most of the previous rulers of Israel, but that isn’t saying much. The best that could be said of him was that he actually allowed numerous citizens of the northern tribes to emigrate to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover.

Verse 23 sums up what happened to most of citizens of Israel:

So the Lord removed them from his land. That’s what he had warned them he would do. He had given that warning through all of his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken away from their country. They were forced to go to Assyria. And that’s where they still are. (NIrV)

These Israelites paid a very high price for their idolatry. God hasn’t changed since He judged Israel for its centuries of idolatry, and He still doesn’t like it when His people get involved idolatrous practices.

So, are you an idolater? You might be an idolater if you…

Think about Him one day a week

There are lots of Christians like this: they faithfully attend Sunday services and have no problem slipping into their “God talk” when they are in church, but you’d be hard-pressed to see much evidence of their so-called Christian faith during the other six days!

This is what happened to the people of Israel. They were more concerned with outward observances of the their faith than with the condition of their hearts. But then that’s essence of religion in general. Truth is, God didn’t invent religion, man did. God has always been interested in having a relationship with His people, not in their “religious” observances. That always surprises people when they read that. Most people think God gave the Jews their “religion,” but that’s not true. What He gave them were ways to relate to Him. They turned His simple ways into complicated works. That’s what all religions are based on: works. God hates a “works-based” faith because people focus on the “works” at the expense of the faith God wants.

Because, let’s face it, it’s a whole lot easier to mindlessly do “things” than it is to work hard at developing and maintaining a “relationship.” It’s easier to memorize and recite the Apostle’s Creed than it is to understand it and appreciate what it says Jesus did for you! It’s easier to slip into a booth and rattle off a few sins and have your priest offer absolution and a few acts of penance than it is to actually grapple with sin and resist sin so that your relationship with God stays healthy. It’s easier to relieve your guilty conscience by spending an hour in church once a week than it is taking time to know, personally and intimately, the One whom claim to love so much; the One who saved your soul. And that is idolatry: imagining you can placate God by doing “something.”

Here’s how much God hates that kind of idolatry:

Stop bringing offerings that do not mean anything to me! I hate your incense. I can’t stand your evil gatherings. I can’t stand the way you celebrate your New Moon Feasts, Sabbath days and special services. I hate your New Moon Feasts and your other appointed feasts. They have become a heavy load to me. I am tired of carrying it. (Isaiah 1:13, 14 NIrV)

The Lord says, “I hate your holy feasts. I can’t stand them. I hate it when you gather together.” (Amos 5:21 NIrV)

It’s never a good thing when God uses the word “hate” with you in view! But God hates it when we behave like idolaters. He hates it when we read our Bibles on Sunday and deny its every claim the other six days of the week. And we’re not doing ourselves any good by acting like idolaters. We’re missing out on the best God has for us.

So, are you an idolater?  You might be an idolater if you…

Give Him what costs you nothing.

We are acting like idolaters when we give God something that costs us nothing. I know you’re thinking about money, but we give God lots of things that either don’t cost anything or that we don’t need. Things like money, time, our attention, and even love. When it comes to giving to the Lord, the question should never be, “Can I afford to give it?”, but rather, “Does the Lord need it?”

Paul wrote a lot about giving to the Lord. Giving was a big part of Paul’s life and ministry; here was one man who truly gave all he had to give in service to Christ! And he expected his friends to be living exactly the same way:

God supplies seed to the planter. He supplies bread for food. God will also supply and increase the amount of your seed. He will increase the results of your good works. You will be made rich in every way. Then you can always give freely. We will take your many gifts to the people who need them. And they will give thanks to God.

Your gifts meet the needs of God’s people. And that’s not all. Your gifts also cause many people to thank God.

You have shown yourselves to be worthy by what you have given. So people will praise God because you obey him. (2 Corinthians 9:10 – 13 NIrV)

Paul used the word “gifts” because his Corinthian friends gave all kinds of things to other churches that had needs. Their generosity caused other people to praise God. Can you imagine? Does that happen much today? People more often than not criticize the church for the dopey things it does, but if it did what it was supposed to be doing, and more to the point, if Christians lived the way God intends for them to live, those looking on would praise God. That’s what Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so it must be true. When you give your life to serve God instead of giving Him the scraps your life, not only will you always come out ahead, but others will be pointed to God.

So, are you an idolater?  You might be an idolater if you…

Are more interested in your daily life than in the cause of Christ.

God knows we’ve got jobs to go to; families to raise; other important things to tend to during the week, but when those things begin to mean more to us than Christ, we are behaving like idolaters. And it’s so insidious, isn’t it? For the moms and dads, how easy is it to elevate your kids or the needs of your family above Christ? For the pastor, how easy it is to knock Christ off the throne of your heart and replace Him with the needs of the church. All believers need to take care that Christ and the cause of Christ remain the most important pursuits of our lives. Is that an extreme position to take? Not according to Jesus:

But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all of those things will also be given to you. (Matthew 6:33 NIrV)

Perhaps the reason you find life so hard or why you’re always coming up short on paying your bills or why you don’t get along with your spouse is because you’re subjugating God to second or third or fourth place in your life. We become idolaters when we do that.

You might be an idolater if you…

Are more anxious for happiness than for usefulness.

As a pastor and counselor, I cannot count the number of times I have heard people say things like this:

I just want to be happy.

God wants me to be happy.

When do I get to be happy?

Usually people say those things after they’re adultery has been found out. Or as a way to justify their sinful behavior or lifestyle. Probably the most deluded people on the face of the earth are Christians because we can find a way to justify any sin! But when we do that, we become idolaters. We’re more interested in pleasing ourselves than God. We work harder and put more thought into doing things for ourselves than for God. What would the church look like if its members thought about it as much as they do about their own homes?

Here’s the point: Either pleasing God is what’s important to you or it isn’t. If you aren’t pleasing God, you’re pleasing yourself.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy some good food and sweet drinks. Send some of it to those who don’t have any. This day is set apart to honor our Lord. So don’t be sad. The joy of the Lord makes you strong.” (Nehemiah 8:10 NIrV)

Indeed. It is the joy of the Lord that makes a believer strong, it is not the joy of your job, or of your family, or of your bank account.

Are you an idolater?  You might be if…

Prefer to hear only happy sermons, not faithful sermons.

It’s not that you should want to be told how bad you are from the pulpit every week or even that you like other people to be told how bad they are! It’s about your willingness to listen to the Word of God being preached or taught in its fullness. Sometimes, the Word can be very encouraging and uplifting. As a preacher I can say it’s a joy to preach those kinds of sermons. There’s no easier sermon to preach than one on the love of God or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. After all, who would be offended by sermons like those? But what about sermons that rebuke, reprove, and exhort? After all, in God we see both goodness and severity.

Think about how kind God is! Also think about how firm he is! He was hard on those who stopped following him. But he is kind to you. So you must continue to live in his kindness. If you don’t, you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 NIrV)

That’s right. While “God is love,” He is also a “consuming fire.” In today’s touchy-feely, politically-correct obsessed society, we are told people need to feel good about themselves; that they need to be accepted and tolerated. Sounds good, but it’s not what the Bible teaches. We may sing the hymn that says:

Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

And while those wonderful lyrics by Charlotte Elliot aren’t wrong, you can’t stay just as you are after you come to Jesus! The Bible says this:

What should we say then? Should we keep on sinning so that God’s grace can increase? Not at all! As far as sin is concerned, we are dead. So how can we keep on sinning? (Romans 6:1, 2 NIrV)

What if we keep sinning on purpose? What if we do it even after we know the truth? Then there is no offering for our sins. All we can do is to wait in fear for God to judge. His blazing fire will burn up his enemies. (Hebrews 10:26, 27 NIrV)

If you’re somebody who doesn’t like to read or hear the truth of God’s Word, then you might be an idolater! If you don’t see the absolute necessity of being rebuked or reproved or chastised through the Word of God or even the Sunday sermon, you might be an idolater.

So, how did you fair?  Are you an idolater?  If you’re like me, your answer probably looks like this:

Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not.

Being faithful to Jesus and to the call to righteous living involves a spiritual battle we fight ever day.  Let’s try to keep our guards up.  Let’s stop taking the grace of our Lord for granted.

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