The Many Forms of Idolatry

There are over 200 passages in Scripture concerning idols and/or idolatry, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is obviously a pretty important subject to consider. Since most of us aren't currently worshipping the Moabite god Molech, what then constitutes idolatry for us?

In the various dictionaries, an idol is described as a formed object that is worshipped, including man-made objects. Idolatry concerns anything receiving worship other than the one true God (Acts 7:41; 15:20; Romans 2:22; 1 Corinthians 8:4, 7; 10:19; 12:2; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 John 5:21; Revelation 9:20+).

In this sense, we must certainly consider the religious symbols such as the Cross, images of the Crucifixion, or images of Jesus Himself as potential objects of idolatry if they themselves become the object of worship (Exodus 20:4-5), for God is Spirit (John 4:24). Idol worship is also expressly denounced when it comes to other beings or their likenesses. In Revelation 22:9, John is rebuked for bowing down to worship an angel.

In this, we see clearly that any fellow servant of Christ, past, present, or future, no matter the level of their service, we are not to worship. Most assuredly, if we are not to worship angels, then we should never consider the worship of another human being, however devout their faith is or was. The Greek word used here, proskyneo, refers to bowing down in an act of worship. We are clearly commanded to kneel in worship only to the triune God.

Idolatry can also infiltrate our prayers or the nature of prayer itself. Prayer is our ultimate act of worship and yet we can see how it can be used for something other than communion with God. Consider the charismatic influences of the prosperity gospel from the likes of many TV evangelists who teach their adherents to use prayer as a personal force to bring you whatever you want: know what you want, believe you will receive it, visualize it coming, and speak it into existence. I have to ask, where is God in this? Do we know better than our Creator what we need? Prayer, in its ultimate act of worship, must glorify God, not man.

Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to pray to anyone but God alone (else this would be a form of idolatry) and nowhere is it found in Scripture that the prayer of one individual, whether in Heaven or on Earth, is more worthy than our own. Scripture tells us that there is only one mediator for prayer and that is Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Additionally, the work of the person of the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when words are difficult to express (Romans 8:26-27). Think about this: Praying to someone else is essentially saying Christ is not powerful enough to intercede on our behalf.

When we allow something or someone other than God to occupy predominance in our hearts, we are placing that item/individual above Him and thus committing spiritual idolatry. We look to the things this world has to offer and place them in reverence above our Creator. Thus, our hearts become catalysts for idolatrous behavior and include all of the fleshly lusts that come with being carnal (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34; 1 John 2:16; Colossians 3:5).

We can then find ourselves involved in a vicious cycle: When we stop seeing God as the source of our satisfaction and the solution to our problems, we then turn towards earthly solutions and in doing so, elevate the created over the Creator and further erode our relationship with Him. When the Righteousness Discipline comes (Psalm 94:12; Proverbs 3:11), if we do not repent, we spiral even further.

“All who have read the Scriptures must confess that idolatry is the crime against which God’s highest resentment is expressed, and his severest punishment denounced. But let us not deceive ourselves. It is not just in bowing the knee to idols that idolatry consists, so also in the internal homage of the heart; as in the feeling towards them of any of that supreme love, or reverence, or gratitude, which God reserves to himself as his own exclusive prerogative.

On the same principle, whatever else draws off the heart from him, engrosses our prime regard, and holds the chief place in our esteem and affections, that, in the estimation of reason, is no less an idol to us, than an image of wood or stone would be; before which we should fall down and worship."
~ William Wilberforce