“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 Jn 5:21) And, with that clear command the Apostle John ends his inspired first letter. At first glance, this seems a very strange way to say “good-bye.” But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.
John wrote to encourage the believers to abide in Christ and to grow in holiness; all the while, acknowledging many threats to this desired goal.
The darkness from which the believers had been delivered, seemed to call out to them. The world with all its riches, pleasures, and enticements beckoned them to come and enjoy. Sin and unrighteousness relentlessly pursued opportunities for the flesh to indulge. Selfishness, anger, and hatred threatened to wrap their icy cold fingers around hearts that had been set ablaze by the love of God. And, the spirit of Antichrist through false teachers sought to negotiate the truth claims of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God manifest in the flesh.
Indeed, the sage and experienced apostle recognized the very real dangers and hostilities facing the beloved people of God. He also knew that at the heart of these threatening temptations was idolatry.
Consider: Why would we choose darkness over the light? Because, in that moment we love it more. Why would we choose sin over righteousness? Because, in that moment we desire it more. Why would we choose worldliness over godliness? Because, in that moment we value it more. Why would we choose hate over love? Because, we love ourselves more. Why would we compromise the truth claims of Christ? Because in that moment we love the praises of men more than the glory of God.
You see, idolatry is at the very heart, because idolatry lies in the heart. Calvin said that “man’s nature….is a perpetual factory of idols.” Thankfully, in Christ and by the Spirit, our natures are being renewed into the image of our Savior. But, the work of renewal is a lifelong process and the sin of idolatry must be guarded against and confessed when committed.
We commit idolatry when we reject God’s commands for our sins. We commit idolatry when we refuse God’s self-revelation in the Bible opting to fashion Him into our own likeness and preferences. And, we commit idolatry when we cherish His good gifts more than we cherish Him.
Let us learn to continually confess and forsake idolatry for, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)
May we gratefully remember that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Tm 6:17)
Lord Jesus, forgive us for our wandering hearts and misplaced affections. Please make us strong in your grace so that we will keep ourselves from idols. Amen.
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.