Why Idolatry Is Infused With Irony

July 25, 2011
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This week I want to discuss the irony of idolatry and why it inevitably fails to satisfy us.

The most basic and succinct definition of idolatry is this:

Idolatry is when we take a good thing and make it into an ultimate thing.

In every single idolatrous case that we come across in our own lives, the idol that we worship inevitably and ironically fails to deliver that which it supposedly promised.

Contrary to cultural opinion, possessions or positions or people cannot and will not bring us any closer to a sense of peace, prosperity or security.

Martin Luther’s insights on idolatry are some of the most potent and penetrating. Consider the following quote:

“To have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts. … Thus it is with all idolatry; for it consists not merely in erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather in the heart. … Ask and examine your heart diligently, and you will find whether it cleaves to God alone or not. If you have a heart that can expect of Him nothing but what is good, especially in want and distress, and that, moreover, renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the only true God. If, on the contrary, it cleaves to anything else, of which it expects more good and help than of God, and does not take refuge in Him, but in adversity flees from Him, then you have an idol, another god.”

Here are two reasons why Idolatry is Ironic:

  • It is deceiving. Idols are replete with fraudulent superlatives, desolate guarantees, frustrating failure and inadequate agreements that are barren in nature. The irony of idolatry is then that it proposes superficial realities that are attractive externally but repulsive internally.
  • It is destructive. Idolatry is not one sin among many; it is the reason because of which we commit any sin at all. Idolatry is the reason we ever do anything wrong. All our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are at root idolatry—something that we make more important than God. There is always a reason for a sin we commit. And the reason for why we commit sin is idolatry.

The biblical narrative is replete with a relentless plea to flee from idolatry and to shatter the idols in our lives.

Here are nine reasons why we should consider the irony of idolatry and flee from it:

1. The first commandment in Exodus chapter 20 admonishes the Israelite nation by saying “You shall have no other gods before me.”

2. God tells Israel that they must not only reject the other nations’ gods, but “you shall not follow their practices” (Ex. 23:24).

3. Jesus, in his high priestly prayer, prays to God the Father and says the following, warning us against idolatry: “and this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

4. Paul understands humanity’s original sin as an act of idolatry: He writes about it in his epistle to the Romans: “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God…and worshipped and served created things rather than the creator”(Rom 1:21–25).

5. Paul challenged the gods of the city of Ephesus in Acts chapter 19 which led to such an alteration in the spending patterns of new converts that it changed the local economy.

6. Paul states it simply to the Corinthians: “Do not be idolaters” and to “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:7;14).

7. Paul exhorts the Colossians to “put to death” the evil desires of the heart, including “greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).

8. Paul purposely praises the Thessalonians because they “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).

9. John summarizes his entire five chapter epistle with the following closing line, “little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

Idolatry is ultimately the reason for why we commit any type of sin in our life.

In the next post, I would like to explore a methodology by which we can practically peneterate the idolatry in our life and up-root the idols that are hindering us from worshiping our true Lord, Jesus the Christ.

Question: How can good things in our life become ultimate things and in turn end up being god things?

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Bogdan Kipko

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Founder & Pastor of Forward Church In Irvine, CA & host of the Fuel For Life Podcast which is listened to in 50 states & 118 countries. Join the FFL nation!