The Subtlety of Idolatry

We are told in Deuteronomy that Moses died and He buried him.

Deuteronomy 34:5-12 (KJV)

5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.
6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.
7 And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.

It seem quite likely that it was the Archangel Michael that was the one that actually buried Moses body on behalf of God, as we read in the book of Jude:

Jude 9  (KJV)

9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke thee”.

Why would the devil want the body of Moses?
Well, we have to ask the question, what would the Israelites have done with it if they had the body of Moses?
No doubt they would have built a shrine.
The first commandment states that we are to have no other god before the true God (Exodus 20: 1-3).
Satan is always looking for ways to deceive humans, he very likely wanted to make the body of Moses, the revered leader of the nation, the only man to be allowed to see God, even in a limited way, an object of worship.

Exodus 33: 21,22
22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.


We also read in Exodus 34:29 That when Moses came down from the mountain, his face shone.
No doubt the Israelites would have turned Moses grave into an object of worship.

This is what man always seems to do, an invisible god is not good enough for men, they want to see the object of their worship. This does not require faith.
People have always done this, in Russia it was Lenin and Stalin. In Mexico Che Guevara.
In most countries statues are raised to dead hero’s, on pedestals for all to see.
Memorials, that force us to dwell in the past rather than living in the present and going on in our lives.
Some worship these memorials as icons and idols.
God want our worship to be only of Him instead of some shrine that reminds us of the past.
Satan will use anything to keep men from seeing the glory of God, and direct our minds away from God and onto something that is physical and temporary.


Exodus 20:4  (KJV)

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

If you asked most Christians today, if the consider themselves to be idolaters, they would be shocked, yet idolatry is very prevalent in our churches today.

AW Tozer wrote:
“the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that unworthy of Him”.
Tozer also said: “An idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand”.


Evangelist DL Moody said:
“You don’t have to go to heathen lands today to find false gods, America is full of them”.


So too is the UK.
This still goes on today. People want to see what they are worshipping, they need something tangable, something they can focus on.
The truth is, that whatever we love more than God is our idol.

When the Israelites thought that Moses was not coming back from the mountain, they made a golden calf.
Exodus 20 & 21.

No where more than in the Roman Catholic church do we see this kind of thing.
Statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.
Statues and relics of dead saints, supposed pieces of the cross of Christ, the shroud of Turin, crucifixes, rosary beads, holy water and much more.
There are shrines to the Madonna, to Bernadette and to Fatima.

In the Greek churches it is no different, with their icons and pictures and statues.

In other faiths, Hinduism, with all their god idols, Brahma, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga, gods representing man, animals , birds and fish.

Bhuddism with, Bhudda statues. Shakimuni, Maitreya, and so on.

Islam, who though they only have one god (Allah the moon god) have shrines like Mecca and Medina.

American Indians with a host of gods, which are depicted on the totem poles. Each tribe having their own gods.

Rom 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

There is a connection between idols (false gods) and demons.

The connection can be seen in
Deuteronomy 32:16,17:

Deu 32:16  They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. 

Deu 32:17  They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. 

Satan loves to steal the worship that belongs to God. He seeks to draw people into worship of anything and everything but the Lord.
God continually warns us in scripture to flee from idolatry.
This includes physical statues and objects of worship that many religions espouse but also idols of our hearts, things that we place in front of God.

It may be a sinful habit or it may be something that is good in itself but has become too important to us and is thus coming between us and God.
The phrase strange gods and demons that were no gods are synonymous here, and refer to demonic beings.

1Co 10:19  What say I then? that the idol is anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? 

1Co 10:20  But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 

It is no coincidence that many false religions began in caves and shrines.
Mohammed was in a cave when he presumably encountered an angel, who according to Islam tradition revealed to him the Koran.
The visitation was by one "Jabril", supposed to be Gabriel the messenger of God.
It is very unlikely that it was really Gabriel.

However, it was more likely that this was a demon manifestation.

Likewise, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons, claimed he also had a visit from an angel by the name of Moroni. This also happened in a cave and the supposed angel revealed to him the whereabouts of some golden plates and some glasses, enabling him to read and write the book of Mormon.

Another was Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Whilst again in a cave, whilst praying to the Madonna, he said he had a religious experience and later formed the movement.

Interestingly, all these have the same things in common. Caves or shrines, appearances of supposed angels and new revelations.

The Apostle Paul warned against such things in his epistle to the Galatians.

Gal 1:8  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 

These are doctrines of devils.

1Ti 4:1  Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 

The idols are nothing at all but the demon activity is real.

1Co 8:4  As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. 

Idolatry is participation with demons, not just the fabricated traditional gods of mans imagination.
Whilst there are those today who look to idols made with hands, there are many more idols that are worshipped, even by those in the true church.


Col 3:5  Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 

Anything that takes our mind and attention, anything that keeps us from worshipping God. Anything that stands in the place of God in our lives, as the scripture says, it is idolatry.

John Macarthur said:

“Idolatry is any false god, any object, idea, philosophy, habit, occupation, sport or whatever has ones primary concern and loyalty or that to any degree decreases one’s trust in and loyalty to the Lord”

1Jn 2:16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 

Covetousness is idolatry. This is not a deed of the body. It starts in the heart. Craving, wanting, enjoying, being satisfied by anything that you treasure more than God.

It could be money, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a wife, a husband. It could be children. We often hear it said “I worship the ground he walks on”. It could be good grades. It could be the approval of other people. It could be success in business. It could be sexual stimulation, a hobby, a musical group or pop idol or sporting hero.
Whilst we may not be bowing down to a physical idol made by hands, we may be harbouring in our heart those things that would keep us from God.


1Co 10:14  Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry

Col 3:5  Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 

Jonah 2:8 Those who cling to worthless idols forsake His loving devotion.

In fact in the New Testament 1 John5:21 says Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Notice who John is speaking to here. The previous verse tells us.

1Jn 5:20  And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. 

1Jn 5:21  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. 

Little children, it is the believing church, it me and you.

So idolatry is still trying to work its way into our lives and distract us from worshipping God.

John Calvin said:
“Our heart is an idol factory. In a fallen world, people constantly seek things they can worship, even thogh the Creator is in plain view”.

There are many Christians, myself included, who want to totally commit to Jesus. The problem is, that our lives are aligned around something or someone else. The best word for this is idolatry. We are replacing God, even while we are “totally” committing to discipleship.
The challenge to follow Jesus is the challenge to find our identity in Christ. Idolatry sabotages that by replacing with something or someone else.


It even infiltrates into our church life.

What happens when our churches become our idol?

When our church becomes our idol, we have a hard time  giving ourselves to people who can’t advance our cause.
We begin to schedule conversations only with people who we feel advance our cause of growing in the church.
Our questions of church members centre on what they can give to the church. We begin to forget “the least of these”.
Eventually we begin to get frustrated with people in the church; they seem like obstacles to our goals, rather than the people we are called to love and serve and pour our lives into. We start to act as if they are in our way.


The building can become an object of worship.
When attendance is up, we are up, when it is down, we are down.
Church idolatry brings out obsession with numbers. We become consumed with our statistics at the cost of people.
We forget that the people are the church.

We can pressure people into taking responsibilities, by putting them on a guilt trip. If we can’t fill the positions, if we get desperate, we tend to accept anyone who is willing, even if they are not born again.
Consequently we wonder why our churches are sickly.

There are many churches that are still open and limping along, when in fact they should have closed long ago.

This happens when the building or denomination is more important than God Himself.

What about change?

Change is a two sided idol. On one side is the group who responds to the change in the same way they respond to a curse word, mouth covered in disbelief. For this group, change is wrong. It is accommodating to culture and to this group, culture is an enemy of God. These churches would rather die in their bubble than change a program, ministry, or philosophy.
The next generation is a threat to this group because they are different and different leads to change. So, every year, the average age of these churches increases.
For this group, change is an idol.
It is not a bad thing to treat change with caution but to refuse to change, violates the greatest commandment, specifically the one about loving your neighbour.


Then there is the other side to this coin. It is the group that believes change is essential. This group changes for the sake of change, not for the sake of reaching their neighbour.
A church decides to become progressive for the sake of being progressive. Or conservative, for the sake of being conservative. Every action becomes a response to what is happening in another church, not a response to their neighbour who does not know Jesus.

Change is important. Nothing created by God stays the same. At the same time, change, whether a new ministry, or a new building, must be filtered through the greatest commands, loving God and loving your neighbour.

Even the Bible can become an idol.
How dare I say that?

The Bible can become an object of worship, rather than a book that will bring us closer to Christ.

We can love the Word of God so much that we forget to love the God of the Word.
The Bible contains a lot of guidance for the Christian life but it is more than that, it is the Word of God, it does not contain the word of God. It is the Word of God.
One can be a deist who follows the precepts of the Bible and may believe that it is a great book for life, full of good examples and moral teaching but for a true Christian, the Bible is what teaches about our Saviour and through the study of it, we ought to be brought into a closer relationship with God through Christ.
The Bible is not just a text book that we can use to argue our point, it is God’s word to us. It is what reveals Christ to us.
We can be puffed up with knowledge, without having the wisdom to apply that knowledge in our lives.


1Co 8:1  Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. 

1Co 8:2  And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. 

1Co 8:3  But if any man love God, the same is known of him. 

The object of studying scripture is not just to gain knowledge but to gain wisdom for the application of that knowledge.

The Bible is the Word of God and I love the Bible. I should read and study the Bible because I love God.
However, we should not let the Bible become our god.

Some of the danger signs of this:

You feel guilty if you don’t read your Bible every day.
You seek out scriptures just to prove others wrong.You believe the Bible is black and white on every issue.
If you discover what seem to be inconsistencies in the Bible, you question God.
You don’t know the difference between a relationship with God and reading the Bible.

CS Lewis wrote:
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him... We must not use the Bible (our ancestors too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and read without attention to the whole nature and purports of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.

Doctrines are another thing that can become idols.

Doctrines are truths about God and indeed are important. They are unchanging, yes. However, the men who interpret them aren’t. So what happens, is different perspectives on truths about God.


What is false doctrine?

Maybe you are one of those people that thinks that false doctrine is any belief that differs from yours. Though, in fact in the light of the greatest commands, false doctrine is any belief or conviction that doesn’t drive you to love God and your neighbour.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbour as yourself.

Idolatry is anything that takes our love and attention away from our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Can we be guilty of this?

1Jn 5:21  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. 

Who is John speaking to here?

1Jn 2:1  My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 

1Jn 2:7  Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. 

1Jn 2:28  And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. 

1Jn 3:2  Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 

John is speaking to believers in Christ, those who abide in Christ, the children of God.

Can we be guilty of idolatry? Yes we can.

The verse before
1 John 5:21. V20 says:
1Jn 5:20  And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. 

Then he says:

1Jn 5:21  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. 

We must keep our eyes on God, the only true God and not let ourselves be drawn away to other gods, who are not gods.

Anything, whether it be an idol made by hands, or a person, or a possession, or anything else, it must never take the place of our relationship with God.

Exo 34:14  For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: 


Col 3:5  Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 


Gen 3:1  Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.

This is why we should guard ourselves against Subtle Idolatry.

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