In this study, we will talk about idolatry in the Bible. We tend to think of idolatry as a sin of the past or a thing of Eastern mysticism. We certainly don’t have idols in Western culture, do we? In fact, idolatry is surprisingly modern and very prevalent in our culture.
Part of the reason we don’t think about idol worship today is that our definition of idolatry is wrong. We believe that idolatry is limited to bowing before a golden statue or praying before a wooden trinket. Since we don’t do those things, we assume we don’t have idols.
But we have modern idols. Many of them look different than the idols of the past, but we still practice idolatry today. Continue your reading and you will know what worship is the types of idolatry and idols that currently exist, and much more.
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What is idolatry in the bible and what is an idol?
So what is an idol? An idol is when something or someone becomes more important to us than God. Even good things can become idols when we make them the most important things in our lives. Anything, or anyone, can become an idol if we put its value above our value to God.
In ancient times, idolatry was bowing down to worship a golden statue.
Today’s idols look different, sometimes our identity, our work, or technology can become an idol for us. Everything that becomes more important to us than God becomes an idol, and we all have them. Today’s idolatry may look different, but it is all around us.
Idolatry is alive and well today, and we are all prone to having idols in our lives.
So what is idolatry in the bible and what does the scriptures say about these modern-day idols?
What Does the Bible Say About Idolatry?
I want to see briefly what the Bible says about idolatry. To put it succinctly, it says nothing positive. Idol worship is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.
God tells his people from the beginning that they will have no gods except him.
The Ten Commandments begin with command against idolatry ( Exodus 20:3 ).
And in most of the later books of the Old Testament, this command is echoed.
The New Testament also talks about idolatry. Colossians 3:5 and Romans 1:22-23 remind us of the dangers of idolatry.
Many times the New Testament warns against being seduced by the things of this world to the point where they become the most important thing in our lives, which is, by definition, idolatry.
We see over and over again references to idolatry in the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of warnings against it because we are so prone to wandering.
We must be diligent in examining our lives for idols lest they surprise us.
3 types of idolatry
God created human beings as worshipers. There is something within the human heart that responds to a vision of glory with worship and praise.
This is true for both religious and non-religious people. Worship, although a religious term, is simply devoting oneself to someone or something.
It is to show reverence and honor towards something. It is making a sacrifice to protect or achieve something.
In other words, every person on the planet is a worshiper every moment of every day, because we are all dedicated to someone or something that captivates our hearts.
For us, this becomes a functional god. Worship is not simply an aspect of our being, but the essence of it as image-bearers of God.
As a result, all life is ceaseless worship. In practice, this means that while worship includes corporate church gatherings, singing of songs, and liturgical forms, it is not limited by these things, defined solely as these things, or expressed only in these things, because worship never stops.
Idolatry is sometimes difficult to detect because it comes in different forms.
Some idolatry is obvious and some idolatry is subtle. But we know from references to idolatry in the Bible that idolatry is universal among humans, so it would be wise to take a closer look. Next, we will show you three types of idolatry:
1. Pagan idolatry
When people think of idols, the first thing that comes to mind is an ancient or uncivilized tribe bowing down to an image carved from stone or wood.
This would certainly fit into the category of pagan idolatry. Pagan idolatry is the easiest to spot because it takes the most obvious forms: some sort of ceremony or ritual performed to a deity other than the God of the Bible.
Pagan idolatry is characterized by practices that are explicitly spiritual in nature but do not involve God the Father, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit.
Rather, it may be for some other named or unnamed god. Things like yoga in its truest form, attempts to connect with nature, bowing down to idols, transcendental meditation, and the like are examples of pagan idolatry.
This would also include Hinduism, Buddhism, and nature-driven forms of spirituality. Other types of pagan idolatry can include the use of ouija boards, crystal balls, tarot cards, star reading, reiki, and the like.
2. Secular idolatry
Unlike pagan idolatry, secular idolatry is more difficult to detect.
This is because it is generally free of religious language or typically spiritual practices. But don’t be fooled, it’s so real and so harmful!
Secular idolatry is practiced even by those who do not consider themselves religious in any way. It is the most common form of idolatry in our modern Western world.
The gods of our culture include sex, money, power, physical appearance, family, romance, fame, entertainment, celebrity, success, food, comfort, image, and the like.
People, religious or not, give themselves to achieve these things. They give themselves to get and keep them. They dominate their lives in a way that reflects a marked religious devotion.
3. Religious idolatry
The third form of idolatry is religious idolatry. Religious idolatry looks like worship on the outside, but it is not the real thing at all.
The churches are full of religious idolatry because there are always people who follow the movements of religious practices without even committing their hearts.
Imagine a person who faithfully attends church every week.
He sings the songs, listens courteously to the sermon, puts money into the offering, and performs the various rituals expected of it, such as taking the “Lord’s Supper” and being baptized. Because this individual is doing all the religious things that are expected of him, he assumes that he is right with God.
But, in fact, they are committing idolatry. Their false god is the religious practices themselves, not what the religious practices point to.
Jesus regularly clashed with the Pharisees of his day because they were devoted to their religious traditions without any real love for God.
They trusted their performance, not God, to save them. They believed that their external holiness meant that they were also internally holy; however, Jesus called them beautiful tombs with dead men’s bones inside ( Matthew 23:27 ).
There are millions of people who are guilty of religious idolatry. An example is the Holy Doors of Mercy located in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
The Catholic church declared the Year of Mercy in 2016 and said that the Holy Doors in Rome would be open for a limited time and that anyone who passed through the doors would have their sins absolved. This is classical religious idolatry.
It is trusting that somehow a door can do something that only God can do. Only God can forgive sins, and he does so simply through a repentant sinner who asks for forgiveness ( 1 John 1:9 ). We do not walk out of sin through a door or through any other activity, religious or otherwise.
Idol Worship Today
Before you read this list, pay attention to this: I’m not saying we should get rid of things. For many, that would be impossible.
Rather, we need to evaluate our lives to make sure they are in the right order and that none of these things have become more important to us than God.
When that happens, it is idolatry. With that in mind, here are 6 Modern-Day Idols We Still Adore.
6 Modern Day Idols
Below are types of modern-day
1. Our identity
It is easy to place our identity on something or someone other than God. Be it our social media following, our position at work, our skills/abilities, or the achievements we seek. Many have their identity wrapped up in something wrong.
It is not only an idol but also a difficult way to live. Whether your identity is in your job, your skills, your appearance, or anything else, you will constantly feel like you don’t measure up.
But when our identity is secured in God, we can live in freedom. While we will still fall short, God’s love will never fail us. For some, his identity has become an idol. They have placed more value on who they are than on God.
It doesn’t matter if you have money or are broke. The search for money and the acquisition of things is an idol for many in our culture. Many people trust their money more than God. Money is not bad, in fact, it is a tool. And like any tool, you must use it correctly; otherwise, it can cause a lot of damage. Money is not the problem, it is how we use it and see it that can become a problem.
Many have pinned their hopes and dreams on money. They trust that you will keep them, care for them and protect them.
The problem is that we cannot live up to what we are trying to achieve. Money has become the most important thing for many of us. If the motivating factor in your life is money and not God, then that is an idol.
We are obsessed with having fun. And it comes in many forms, from Netflix to vacations to video games to podcasts. We love entertainment in all its forms. Again, just like with the other idols today, it’s not that the entertainment is bad.
It can be a good thing. But when our lives become the search for entertainment and the best experiences we can find, then it becomes an idol.
It has become more important than God. I would say that entertainment is good and a gift from God, but we should worship the giver, not the gift.
We are obsessed with sex in our culture, it is everywhere. It may be the only thing we think about other than money. We have taken a gift from God and made it the god of our lives. And for many, their lives are controlled by sex.
Even questioning the sexual ethics in our society will bring a lot of accusations, showing how tied to the idol we really are. Sexual identity, sexual practices, and sexual life are sacred to us. The church is somewhat to blame for this.
Instead of presenting sex as a good gift from God, in recent history, they have accumulated guilt and shame. It could be argued that this is one of the factors that caused the excessive exaggeration of sex. But regardless of how we got here, for many today, sex is an idol. We value it more than God.
There is an endless list of products that promise to simplify and add convenience to your life. We have made our lives much easier and more comfortable than at any other time in history.
Tasks that used to take all day can be done in minutes. Many household tasks are now automated. While that’s a good thing, our quest in life shouldn’t just be for consolation.
Jesus tells a very different narrative for his followers. He says that his followers will face trials, persecution, and difficulties.
Although comfort is not bad, it can be harmful when it becomes the main activity of life. When comfort is an idol, we will refuse when God calls us to something difficult.
6. Our phones
Smartphone addiction is becoming more and more of a worrying trend. This is especially true for Gen Z and Millennials, but it’s certainly not limited to them.
For many, they simply cannot live without their phones (or online presence).
This is quickly becoming an idol for many. The problem is not our phones or social media, or any form of technology. It is the value we place on it that makes it a problem.
When our lives revolve around how many likes we get, what our followers look like, or if we can’t sit quietly for 5 minutes without updating our newsfeed, we might have an idol. Everything that takes the place of God in our life, everything that becomes more important than him, is an idol.
How To Know If You Have A Modern Idol
Again, let me reiterate. This is not a list of things to avoid or a list to use as ammunition to shoot others. It is a list of things that can take God’s place in our lives.
When something good becomes something supreme, it eventually becomes something destructive in our lives. That is what idolatry in the Bible is all about. What we should do with this list is use it to evaluate our lives in prayer and make sure that nothing has become more important than God.
Everyone should ask themselves what is an idol in their life. So how do we know if something has become an idol? Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to identify idols in your life:
- Where do I spend my time?
- Where do I spend my money?
- Where do I get my joy?
- What do I always have in mind?
Really think about those questions. They will take you to what an idol is or what could become one. Spend some time in prayer asking and searching for what is an idol in your life. Today’s idol worship may look different, but it still exists. We must not allow anything, not even something good, to take the place of God in our lives.
God is Jealous; idolatry arouses his anger
The wrath of God is coming on idolatry. Nothing is more dangerous than the wrath of an omnipotent and all just God. And Paul says that the wrath of God comes upon idolatry. Now, why does that happen? Read Exodus 20:
“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness, or anything that is in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” ( Exodus 20:4-5 ).
The wrath of God comes upon the idolater because God is jealous. There is just and holy jealousy and unjust, weak, and insecure jealousy.
And God’s jealousy is not only just, that is, it deserves our deepest and strongest affection and admiration, but it is also loving. It is loving jealousy because we were made to find our greatest joy in him, our greatest treasure.
So he is jealous in a loving way and he is jealous in a righteous way. And if we find God so boring or so insignificant that we must put other things in his place, which actually satisfy us more than him, then we not only offend him but also destroy ourselves.
Those things make God angry. He doesn’t want to be offended and he doesn’t want us to destroy each other. Idolatry contradicts both things and that is why his wrath falls on the idolater.
The reality is this: God is real and we were made to worship him. However, there is only one way to truly worship the one true God: through faith in Jesus Christ.
Sin separates us from God, but through Christ we can remove the barrier of sin and be reconciled to Him, free from the idols that enslave us. Jesus said in John 5:23:
He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
This means that being a worshiper (which we all are) without honoring Jesus is, by definition, idolatry.
The first step in turning away from our idols and worshiping God is to honor the Son, Jesus Christ. When we submit to Christ and believe in him, in our Savior and Lord, we begin a life of worship to God.
And a life of worship through faith in Christ is the most liberating and life-giving thing a human being can experience.
We hope that after the examples of idolatry in the bible, you can understand what it means. In ancient times, to worship was only to bow before images; In the modern world, things have changed.
Currently, we can take our idols everywhere without realizing it and make them an important part of our lives. Never forget that everything that is more important than God becomes an idol.