Keeping away from modern idols

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. 1 John 5:21

There are many ways by which we are susceptible to the spirit of worldliness, but in our day the attempt to retain Christian orthodoxy while embracing the attitudes of secularism is perhaps the most common way we can be trapped in the sin of worldliness, even if we don’t overtly embrace its assumptions. The idolatry of the first century expressed itself in pagan temples and polytheism. That is still the problem in some parts of the world. But the problem in our part of the word is not polytheism but secularism. That is the idolatry of the modern West. It expresses itself primarily in an attitude of godlessness, in a life that is void of God. It seeks to banish God from life and from public spaces. And my point is that the Christian can fall into step with that, sometimes without even realizing it. You can tell it when you become embarrassed by the claims of Scripture, either in terms of its supernaturalism or in terms of its ethical requirements. It happens when we try to make our Christianity a private thing, and to hide it away as much as possible.

I think David Well’s definition of worldliness is apropos here. He writes that "worldliness is that system of values and beliefs, behaviors and expectations, in any culture that have at their center the fallen human being and that relegate to their periphery any thought about God. Worldliness is what makes sin look normal in any age and righteousness seem odd.”[1] Secularism is the form of worldliness in our day that makes sin look normal and righteousness seem odd. And I think we are very much in danger of that.

What this means, at the bottom, is that worldliness is fundamentally defined by patterns of thought and emotion before it is defined by patters of behavior. This is a matter of the heart. We always set up the idol first in the mind before we begin building temples in the world. It is a matter, in other words, of worship. What do you worship? What has your heart? What captivates your thought life? It is godless or godly? Is God at the center or is something else? In Rev. 2:23, our Lord says that when he judges the sin of worldly compromise in the church, “all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts.” “Reins” is the old word for “kidneys.” In the ancient world, the kidneys were viewed as the source of one’s emotions. The “heart” on the other hand, was the center of the mind and of the inner man. Our Lord doesn’t just look at our behavior. He looks at our minds and our affections. Our Lord knows that long before idolatrous and immoral behavior happens, the heart has already been captivated by sinful and worldly attractions.

This is why the apostle John says that the battle against worldliness is primarily about what you love: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

The fight against worldly compromise, then, is the fight against the love of this present world and its values that are contrary to the love of God and the values of his word. The question before us then is this: what banquet do we desire? What victory will we settle for? Will we prioritize the bread that perishes over the bread of life? Will we settle for earthly security that only lasts until we die at best over eternal security in Jesus?

Brothers and sisters, let us not compromise with the world. Let us steadfastly resist the love of the world, the standards of the world and the philosophies of the world. Let us stay faithful to Jesus.

[1] David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1994), p. 29.

By: Jeremiah Bass