“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.” —Romans 1:22, 23
God is infinite and unchangeable and therefore His glory, itself, cannot be changed. The change came by way of the perspectives of foolish men, who were “vain in their imaginations” (Romans 1:21). Yet, because they were vain in their imaginations, as they became fools, they offered to idols the honor and homage due to God alone.
Yet, before we discuss idolatry, let’s look first at lust or covetousness as the root of all other sins. In his general epistle to the church, James writes, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14-15). We see this lust, this desire, this covetousness all the way back in the Garden of Eden when Satan tempted Eve (Genesis 3:6).
Now, why would we call covetousness idolatry? To paraphrase John Bunyan from his classic treatise, Christian Behavior, “…it engages the very heart of man in it, to mind earthly things; it gets our love, which should be set on God; and sets it upon poor empty creatures; it takes our affections out of heaven, where they should be, and sets them on earth, where they shouldn’t be.” It makes man forsake the God who created Him in order to worship a creature or element of creation.
Jehovah God laments the practice of idolatry in Judah through the prophet:
“Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.” —Jeremiah 10:2-5
Someone might say, “Well, that was then but you wouldn’t find anyone worshiping carved statues in America today.” That doesn’t mean that idolatry isn’t running as rampant here as it did in ancient Athens. There are men who are revered with greater honor than our God. Michael Jackson is like an idol to people. And we are so numb to idolatry, that we even worship television programs that set up idols, such as the hit TV program, “American Idol.” Remember, idolatry is covetousness and the heart of idolatry is to set our affections on anything other than God, or having greater affection for something over God, or even having affection for something that is equally passionate to that of our affections toward God. God commands complete and utter love for Himself:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. —Deuteronomy 6:4-5
We worship all kinds of things in America today. Many Americans worship the right of women to murder unborn children; we worship the right to change marriage partners like a fashion statement; we worship the right to have partners of the same sex; we worship television, entertainment, our jobs, our cars, the almighty dollar. Pagans and wiccans are growing in popularity in America, worshiping the sun, moon, stars, sky, and mother earth. There are children all around the world that are worshiping Harry Potter. And one quick look on the Internet will reveal the latest idol produced by Hollywood in either the film or music industry— but don’t call them idolaters; call them “fans.”
Idolatry is just as prevalent in what is called Evangelical Christianity today. Oh yes! This is much, much worse than those things just mentioned because all this is done in the name of Jesus Christ. In the name of Christ, men are worshiping the huge crowds they can draw into their services, worshiping the number of baptisms they can record on their registers, and worshiping what they can do for God rather than what God’s grace has done at Calvary through the crucified Savior, Jesus Christ.
And we mustn’t think that just because we are in a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching, doctrines of grace church that we are immune from idolatry. There are men that worship their knowledge of the doctrines of grace or worship their wives and their children. And get this: there are those that even worship their own image of God, because although they read the Scripture, they don’t care to feed upon the Scriptures to actually know God as long as they know about Him.
True worship of God is an intelligent worship, rooted and grounded upon truth; yet, true worship of God is also an intimate relationship, likewise based upon the truth. If someone who professes the name of Christ knows nothing of whom the Triune God is according to Scripture, and what He has done to secure salvation for the lost sinner according to Scripture, then it is as pagan as the Athenians of Paul’s day worshiping at a temple to the UNKNOWN GOD (Acts 17:23).
LISTEN TO THE SERMON preached on this text on August 2, 2009 at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church.
CLICK HERE to read the previous article from Romans 1:21, “They Became Fools.”