The Malady of Spiritual Idolatry
Part 1: Filling the Divine Vacuum
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 25 December 2004
"You shall not make for yourself any carved image -- any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, Yahweh your Elohim (God), am a jealous Elohim (God), visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Deut.5:8-10, NKJV).
I welcome you in Yah'shua's Name and pray the peace of the Sabbath upon everyone as today we take up the interesting and important subject of idolatry. I hope to cover some new ground especially in the light of the New Covenant. In our passage today taken from the Ten Commandments we at once conjure up in our minds a picture of someone bowing before an image or a statue instead of to the living Elohim (God). It is not hard to understand it. Such idolatry continues in our own day with Catholics adoring statues of the Virgin Mary or the Host (the wafer supposedly transubstantiated into the literal body of Christ), or Hindus worshipping their numerous idols, or Buddhists prostrating themselves before images of the Buddha, and so on. These things are readily understood by us. What is more important, however, is understanding the spiritual roots of idolatry and how we all of us commit idolatry in one way or another without worshipping statues and the like. So let us go straight to the heart of the problem and see if we can find some clues. We will start by reading from the prophet Jeremiah:
"No amount of soap or lye can make you clean. You are stained with guilt that cannot ever be washed away. I see it always before me, Yahweh-Elohim says. You say it isn't so, that you haven't worshipped idols? How can you say a thing like that? Go and look in the valley of the land! Face the awful sins you have done, O restless female camel seeking for a male! You are a wild donkey, sniffing the wind at mating time. (Who can restrain your lust?) Any jack wanting you need not search, for you come running to him! Why don't you turn from all this weary running after other gods? But you say, 'Don't waste your breath. I've fallen in love with these strangers and I can't stop loving them now! (And) like a thief, the only shame that Israel knows is getting caught" (Jer.2:22-26, Living Bible).
When Israel apostatised, it didn't happen over night. Most apostasy is gradual, occurring in small increments. It has a point of origin that the honest person can find and deal with. Why did Israel turn away from Yahweh? What grounds did they have to do so? Why do Christians, who have met the living Saviour, often spectacularly, turn away from Him? Are we so vulnerable? What blinds us to the truth and leads us down a path which finally is little different from raw animal instinct? Why when we turn away from Yahweh do we seem to automatically home into poisoned waters for our nourishment? What is this spiritual death-wish that we so easily get and how can we stop ourselves from falling for the lies of the enemy time and time again?
We are, unfortunately, a sophisticated people who tend to prefer complex solutions instead of simple ones. We delight in complex machinery more than we do the simple principles of light. Moreover, we prefer a good yarn - a murder mystery, a scandal, or a story of misfortune over the simplicity of godly living. Go to a contemporary newspaper and you will read what people want to hear. Stories of simple godly living don't sell. People are like female camels in search of a mate, as Yahweh spoke through Jeremiah. People want carnal stimulation.
I think it is true to say not only that there is no sin which does not involve idolatry but that the root of every idolatry is human pride. The carnal person wants to be noticed and worshipped, but the spiritual wishes only to point to Yah'shua and to Truth. As such, then, the truth greatly agitates the carnal soul sometimes to the point of murder. The truth stirs up the Adamic man to anger and resentment and quickly shifts the mental gears into a process of massaging the facts to confirm with human pride and deception. And it's all idolatry. If we steal we value what we took more than we valued Yahweh. If we commit adultery, we have elevated that woman or man as more important to us than Yahweh. If we choose not to gather with other believers on the Sabbath, we make an idol of whatever we wanted more than obedience - pleasure, business, repairing the house, laziness, or simply believing the lie that we don't need to. If we do not tithe or consecrate our wealth, then mammon is our god, no matter what we say. We may protest with out lips that we love God, but if we have not put our money where our mouth is, all our belief and experiences testify only to Yahweh's grace and not our faith! Apart from works, our faith lies dead, does it not? (Jas.2:17). Proof is written unequivocally in the history of our giving.
Idolatry occurs in so many other subtle ways. For instance, when we attend a meeting and sense Yahweh's presence, and if this gives us an experience of power and the goose bumps, we may try to duplicate that next Sabbath and the one after that because we want the sense of power and the goose bumps more that we want to search for Yahweh. These things then become our god, and we have become idolatrous. They are the things we worship. The search for Yahweh is unconditional - it is independent of any expectations we may personally have. You know what I mean. You invite someone to a Sabbath meeting, they don't experience anything, and don't come back again. Why did you bring them in the first place? What did you promise? An experience of power? If people come looking for manifestations and not for Yahweh Himself, that is idolatry. That is a bit like a son coming home and expecting his father to give him some money, and when he don't, doesn't come back again for a long time. He hasn't come to see his father and have fellowship with him, but for his money.
What about the idolisation of pastors and evangelists? People do that. They put them up on pedestals and worship them. Then, when those same pastors get into difficulties or fall into transgression, they end up hating them instead of supporting them. That's idolatry. They worshipped the creature instead of the Creator. When the people we idolise fall, we hate them. Why? Because they shattered our god.
When we idolise someone, whether they are good or evil, the fault is entirely ours. It is we who have broken the commandment, not them. The commandment tells us to worship Yahweh and none else. If the men or women who are idolised seek to be idolised, then even then it is not their responsibility that we commit the sin of idolatry - yes, they have sinned, but they are not responsible for our sinning.
By nature we are idol-worshippers - all of us - and if we do nothing about it, we will continue being so. We were born with the dispensation to be idolatrous and pagan. That is the natural man. And you don't need carved figures to be idolatrous. If we check the many hundreds of little unconscious, unnoticed ways we break Yahweh's Torah, we will see that even if we have tried, attended church and prayer meetings, and paid our tithes, that we are still habitual idol-makers. How about when a wife is angry, so we don't tell her the whole truth, 'just to keep the peace'? Peace is now the idol we have served which justified lying. Yahweh said to Paul: "Do not provoke your children to anger" (Eph.6:4). When we keep pushing the children away because they interrupt the ball game, the TV program, or the PC game, we have worshipped these things more than Yahweh. When the boss not only fails to compliment, but criticises, and we blow up, it's a sure sign that we serve the idol of self. And so it goes, through every aspect of life. Idolatry is the first and greatest sin, behind all we do.
Idolatry is the easiest sin in the world to commit, and idolaters like to keep each other company. You know what I mean. Father scolds a child for doing something wrong so the child finds someone else who has been scolded for support. Adults do it just as easily. If a Pastor calls his congregation to repentance, you can be absolutely sure that those who do not want to repent will band together to criticise or attack the pastor. If you're a pastor hearing me say this, you'll know exactly what I mean. The truth is never popular and the idolatrous man or woman rises up to oppose it - always - because the truth threatens the idolatry in our hearts. Why do you think the Israelites stoned the prophets? Why do you think Yah'shua (Jesus) was accused of being demon-possessed by the Pharisees and Scribes when he delivered people from demons? Was it because they genuinely believed He was evil? No. It was because He shone a bright light on their idols and they resented it, so they rose up against Him and killed Him.
I can't honestly say I love telling the truth. Now don't misunderstand me. I love the truth with all my heart, but when you tell it to others, you soon lose friends! And fast! Idolaters don't want to hear the truth - they would rather protect their little self-serving and self-destructive gods.
As all pastors know, the greatest idolatry usually takes place in marriage. When Paul said: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ep.5:21, RSV), what did he mean? Did he mean we should obey one another? Do what other believers or spuses want unquestionably? Hearing some Christians defend their pet sins you would think so. How we sometimes twist the scriptures and take them out of context! If you read the next few verses you will know exactly what Paul means: "Wives, submit to your own husbands ... Husbands love your wives" (vv.22,25). What Paul is saying, quite simply, is that we idolise one another in proportion to our not reverencing Christ. How can we be subject to one another if we do not fully live in the truth? And how can we fully live in the truth if we do not obey the Word? And how can we fully live the Word if we are not first fully and completely surrendered to Yahweh? Mutual submission is not - I repeat - not an excuse for idolatry! If a brother teaches a lie I shall not submit to it because he is not reverencing Christ - he is worshipping his own god.
There is a God-sized hole in every one of us. When we do not fill it with Yah'shua (Jesus) and His Truth, we will fill it with something else. Nature abhors a vacuum. Most typically we ask more of our friends than Yahweh intended them to give, and when we refuse, it can often seem as though we are being unloving or selfish. That's a lie. It is absolutely not true. When we give somebody something that belongs to Yahweh, we are acknowledging their idolatry by worshipping their god. Worse, idolatrous requests wound the spirit because we feel the weight of the demand. We feel a millstone around our necks dragging us where we do not want to go when ungodly demands are made of us. We must not fall for that false-guilt trip. However, people simply do not know how to because they do not know Torah. What happens is that they become humanists all the while professing belief in God. We worship man instead of Yahweh and that is blasphemy even if we may say that we don't. The point is, unless, like David, you can say, "I hate the double-minded, but I love your Torah (Law)" (Ps.119:13, NKJV), you are open to deception. And if you hate double-mindedness then I guarantee that you will fast gain enemies, because almost everyone wants to be worshipped in one way or another.
When someone idolatrously asks us to give them something which belongs only to Yahweh, we not only feel the heavy weight of that demand but know that we cannot supply the perceived need. We do not need to be worshipped. That is Lie #1. No human being can fulfil our need for God because there are simply no substitutes. And once you try to do Yahweh's job you will not only fail but the one demanding that love will be frustrated, resentful and angry because you are not answering their call to idolise you or be idolised. Why do you think pop stars and actors and actresses are so miserable? They are seeking to be loved by being worshipped! They crave the adulation of the crowds, or the audiences they play to. This is what they want but the audiences - their fans - are humans like them and can never fulfil that deepest need to be loved by God. The stars fade away, often killed by unlawful sex, drugs, Satanism, and the like. They are hardly admirable, then they spin an illusion of deceit around themselves by covering themselves in glitter and promising the universe ... which they don't own, not even in part. Since both the asking and the attempt to love or be loved as God is unconscious, the result is that both the seekers and the ones having demands made on them are filled with anxiety and frustration. And in marriage, that puts terrible strains on the relationship.
Many husbands come for counselling and speak of their woundedness and confusion. They say they love their wives. They always desired to be wanted. They can't understand why they cannot simply rejoice and give the love they want to. 'I just feel checked,' they say, 'like something's wrong, and I don't know what'. Well I know exactly what is happening. They are being wounded because of idolatrous expectations. The confusion they feel and their ability to express their love for their wives undermines their confidence and their ability to identify as husbands. Their spirits sense and properly refuse idolatry, but their minds have not understood.
When either spouse in childhood has been neglected, rejected or abused so as to evidence insecurity, ministers should immediately look for signs of wounding from idolatry from their mate. Frequently, husbands whose mothers failed to affirm and give affection not only idolise their relationship with their wives, but they relate to them as mothers, which wounds even more. Rejected and neglected girls also tend to relate to husbands as fathers. In these instances, teaching alone is healing, which is why we speak so much of these things. It is through understanding that we gain the keys to wisdom and healing, because it is the truth that sets you free ... so long as you are willing to embrace it.
Because there is so little godly parenting these days in our demonised and paganised world, teaching these truths is critical for the survival not only of marriage but also of the Body of Christ. Otherwise cycles of woundedness will just spiral out of control and all the wrong people will be blamed. Married people need to be shown how and when they are being projected wrongly into a parental position or being asked to fill God's shoes. Wives need to say to their husbands: "I am not your mother," and husbands need to say to their wives, "I am not your father," because they aren't. And they must also say: "I am not your God". They must be bold enough to say - because it's the truth, and only the truth can set you free: "You're asking me to give you what only Yahweh can give." The couples must learn to listen and not explode. They need to discuss these things. And the husband, as head, must take the initiative. And if he cannot do it in his own strength, then he must seek pastoral guidance and support. And that, of course, means that the pastors need to understand these things and be delivered themselves.
Until that interior vacuum is filled by completely trusting in Yahweh and giving everything to Yah'shua (Jesus) damaged relationships cannot be repaired and idolatry removed. It is easy to compromise (relatively speaking) and find a 'middle ground' but this does not solve the problem of idolatry. What often happens is 'scratch-your-back idolatry'. I so well remember a couple who were totally in love but so much so that they filled the hole with each other and stopped seeing others around them. The spiritually blind kept saying "Awww ... how much they love each other!" and not a few women shed tears. But it was pure idolatry. I don't know what happened to that couple but I can pretty well predict that their mutual idolatry collapsed at some point and they were forced one way or another to confront reality. Neither had the capacity or ability to be god and goddess to one another. No human being does.
The only solution to idolatry is evangelising the heart. And if the heart refuses to be converted to Christ there is nothing more you can do. Only Yahweh can fill that gap. The substitutes always fail. I guarantee it. Even knowledge cannot fill the vacuum - the psychology of what I am saying will be meaningless until the Eternal Life of Christ is firmly planted in place. Thus idolatry is not solved by counselling alone let alone by counsellors who are themselves idolatrous for all they will do is evangelise in another god - another idol. It has to be the living Elohim who is evangelised in. Not even commandment- keeping will do the trick. There has to be a new birth.
No matter what our mind knows, our spirit searches for fulfilment. In my sermons I fill your heads with doctrine but it is all useless unless the living Ruach (Spirit) is there working in you. And the soul, which has not been converted, will resent more and more, the more truth it has been told until it either repents, flees, or becomes an adversary. And believe me, it is no pleasure to see those you love run away or turn against you. I have seen it far too many times in my ministry. It breaks your heart but the truth cannot be compromised. And the moment you compromise it, you surround yourself with idolaters who idolise or loathe you. Then you are living in hell.
When the raw truth is presented, unhealed roots send repeated shoots of trouble to the surface. It will not be enough to forgive resentments and bring self-defensive and aggressive practices to death on the cross. Only a full infilling of the love of the Father, Yahweh, can take care of that vacuum and heal a wounded child's spirit. Human love is never enough. Thus David could say: "When my father and my mother forsake me, then Yahweh will take care of me" (Ps.27:10, NKJV). And I don't mean that intellectually or propositionally - faith that He will is not enough - there has to be a living encounter with that promise. You can't just 'name it and claim it' or you will just find yourself seeking nourishment from an image of yourself. Yahweh has to be invited to fill our hearts, and if there are impediments and obstacles, these have to be worked on through deliverance ministry until the pathway is open. The stones have to be cleared on the Highway for the King. Yes, for a while, the counsellors have to be channels of that love as the spiritual child grows, but finally they must stand independently in it. They must feel Yahweh in their own hearts apart from us.
Next week we will look at the kind of idolatry connected to authority figures. In the meantime, I hope you will think over these principles prayerfully, examine your interpersonal relationships - especially in marriage - and when you find an idol, crush it by giving it to Yah'shua (Jesus) at the foot of the cross and asking Him to stand in the gap. Great changes will take place if you do that - wonderful changes you will never want to let go of. Amen.
Click here for Part 2
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Last updated on 7 January 2005
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