Let’s begin with a definition:
Simply put, the sin of idolatry is in view whenever any t-h-i-n-g or any o-n-e is elevated to take the PLACE or the FUNCTION of God in the life of believer.
Idolatry certainly includes, but is not limited to, involvement with the "gods" referenced in Psalms 96: 5 NASB. Idolatry can involve personal relationships (Luke 14: 26) and other things (Rev. 2: 4) as well, if and when other relationships or things are given greater priority than God or the things of God.
For many, their idol is the one they face in the mirror everyday!
Note that in Revelation 2: 4 the issue that the Lord was that they had, “...left your first love.”
It’s not these believers did not have “a” love for the Lord, or that they were not were not excelling in other areas of discipleship (Rev. 2: 3). The problem was that they were no longer making God or the things of God their top priority. Other persons or things had taken on the place or the function of God.
The born again believers in the Church at Ephesus, at that time, were under great persecution. It is during the tough times that one's faith (trust and confidence) either greatly increases or begins to waiver. As the saying goes, whatever doesn't kill you will only make you stronger.
The devil, in the realm of spiritual combat (Eph. 6), knows the best time to introduce distractions, alternatives, and idols, offering more than, sooner than, or better than that what the plan of God is presently providing.
For some of us, the best time is during times of prosperity, as in the case of Adam and Eve. For others, it it is during times of great adversity and disappointment.
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The obvious interpretation and common application of this Biblical principle (idolatry) involves the worship of one or more of the many false “gods (Psalms 96: 5)” that existed, at least in the minds of those who worshiped them, in the ancient world. Some of these same “gods” and a few new ones are worshiped in the world today, with an accompanying code of religious activity and requirements.
The world at large does not all worship the same God/god, but under a different name, as human viewpoint would suggest.
For that matter, all so-called Christians do not engage in the type of worship (John 4: 23, 24) that God desires to receive here in the Church Age.
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
Worshiping the Father, “in spirit and in truth-John 4: 23 NASB),” requires that the worshipers be filled (Eph. 5: 18) with the SPIRIT and in accordance with the TRUTH (Church Age Bible Doctrine) revealed in Scripture.
Many so-called Christians have chosen one or more of the many alternative forms of worship and procedures that are the product of Man-made religion.
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The ancient (false) gods were believed to dwell and function in the first and second heavens of the physical universe. The first heaven is the atmosphere around our planet. The second heaven involves the stellar universe.
These gods were believed to dwell in different geographical territories and various types of land formations (1Kings 20: 28). They were believed to dwell within the depths of the oceans and the seas. They were believed to have influence and control over the political and natural activity within their domain on land, air, and sea.
Scripture teach that here in the Church Age, God is as far away as the 3rd Heaven (Psalms 33: 13, 14/2Cor. 12: 5), and as close as being within the body of a born again believer (1Cor. 3: 16) here on Earth.
The God of the Bible has sovereignty (the right and the function of ruling) over every thing and every place (Gen. 1: 1/John 1: 3) that He has created for His glory (Romans 11: 36).
In our day and age, there remains to be false Psalms 96: 5 “gods” (plural) OUTSIDE of the Christian Community.
There also are “idols” WITHIN the Christian Community that, in the name of religion, have been erroneously elevated to positions and functions that are the exclusive domain of God.
Having been elevated to take the place and/or the function of God, they and the activity they promote fall under one category of idolatry or another.
“For there is one God, and (as of the Church Age) one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ (1Timothy 2: 5 NASB italics mine).”
There are NO Levitical (sacrificing) priests, nor are there any TANGIBLE altars for the Church Age. The reason being is that there are no longer any “sacrifices” to made at the hands of officiating priests, as there were during the dispensation of the Old Testament (See Hebrews 12). Note that the sacrifices performed by the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament were foreshadowing the final sacrifice to be made by the Lord Jesus Christ on th cross.
It is religion, and not God, that has established its own hierarchy and assigned various functions to its priests around and on the altar of their own creation.
There is a “priesthood (1Pet. 2: 9 NASB)” of the Church Age that consists of every born again believer. Unlike the priesthood that is the product of Man-made religion, the Church Age priesthood does not serve or perform their functions on or around tangible altars or tangible confessionals.
The last tangible altar that God the Father acknowledged was the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ on which the final sacrifice was offered (Heb.10: 10).
The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is for the stated (1Cor. 11: 24, 25) purpose of bringing into r-e-m-e-m-b-r-a-n-c-e , and not to reproduce and/or to re-offer the one time sacrifice made by the Lord Jesus Christ while ON the cross.
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Bowing down to the tangible altars, graven images, and icons that are the products of Man-made religion amount to idolatry (Exodus 20: 4, 5).
There IS an intangible altar within the “temple” of the Church Age. The “temple” of the Church Age, here on Earth, consists of the collective physical bodies of the born again believers who have not yet departed (1Cor. 3: 16 NASB). Upon acknowledging this principle would cause many born again believers to re-think about what they do with the "temple" they have.
The majority of the Church, consisting of all of the souls that were born again (John 3: 5, 7) over the course of the Church Age, has gone on to Heaven. The Church in Heaven and the Church on Earth will be united into one body when the Rapture (1Thess. 5: 17) takes place.
The Church, as a unified body, will later return to Earth during the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20: 6).
The intangible altars of the Church Age, located within the temples (1Cor. 3: 16) consists of the soul structures of born again believers. It is upon these altars that the daily sacrifices (denying self) are made in order to execute the post salvation spiritual life. Such “sacrifices” have got nothing to do with retaining salvation.
Without a doubt, if all the “religious” personnel, furnishings, and procedures were to be removed from the current day houses of worship, what would remain would be a shock to many souls who think they are “going to Church” and/or worshiping God on a regular basis.
They may be going to “a” Church, but not one that is a part of the Church that God designed and established for the Church Age.
Religious activity that are the design and creation of Man are among the things that are "highly esteemed by men, but are detestable in the sight of God (Luke 16: 15). Many of these things involve what have become what Scripture Exodus 20: 4, 5)defines as the idols and graven images.
As “priest,” each believer has direct access to the throne of God and to the things of God. As Christ’s ambassador (1Cor. 5: 20) the advancing disciple represents God before Man.
In the various verses (e.g. Eph. 4: 11/Acts 6/Acts 20: 17/1Timothy 3/Titus1) that cite the various offices (positions) that are a part of the Church that God designed, the position of (sacrificing) "priest" is not found. Nor are there any of the many other positions that are the products of the Man made religion that they promote. For the offices that God did authorize, the qualifications and what the actual functions of each one are clearly outlined in Scripture. To add any offices or to assign any functions that God did not give to such positions, violates Scripture (Prov. 30: 6). In God's timing, such additions, be it in doctrine or practice, will be exposed for what they really are.
"Do not add to His words Lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar (Prov. 30: 6 NABS)."
The problem is that in the meantime, such traditions of men are promoted as having come from God. Once accepted and practiced long enough, it becomes harder and harder to rectify.
There are confessionals for the Church Age, but they, too, are intangible and do not involve the presence or the function of ANY third parties. Confession is a private matter between the born again believer and God. The confessional that God designed for the Church Age is located in the same temple (1Cor. 3: 16) of the Church Age as the one that houses the intangible altars. This confessional is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
Only God can forgive sin (grant absolution). He does so (1John 1: 9) on the basis of the atoning work of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on any deed, penance, or religious ritual of Man.
The concept of a priest taking the place and function of God in the granting of absolution is a product and practice of Man-made religion.
The alleged need to do penance, and the act of doing penance, is based on false doctrine and practice that was established by Man-made religion. It is a blasphemous insult to the integrity of the Person and the Work of the Lord Jesus Christ who claims to have paid the sin debt of born again believers in full.
With the exception of the sin of disbelief, the entire sin debt of the whole world (1John 2: 2) was paid in full ON the CROSS, by the atoning Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. By divine design, the sin of disbelief was NOT paid (atoned) for, and will forever remain to be the "*unpaid portion of the world's sin debt. Souls who leave this world in the capacity of an unbeliever will spend ALL of eternity in the lake of fire (Rev. 20: 15).
Born again believers are NOT guilty of the sin of disbelief, and therefore do not have an "outstanding balance" of the sin debt, as do the unbelievers who are guilty of the sin of disbelief.
This is why I said that it is the sin debt of born again believers that have been paid in full.
The “unpaid for” part of the world’s sin debt is the sin of disbelief (John 3: 18). For (and only for) the sin of disbelief will all unbelievers spend all of eternity in what the Bible calls the lake of fire (Rev. 20: 15). ALL other sins of the unbeliever were atoned for by the atoning Work of the Lord Jesus Christ while on the cross (1Jhn 2: 2).
God would not be true to His own Word if He required any form of penance, or time in Purgatory on the part of a born again believer in order to satisfy a sin debt that has already been stamped PAID IN FULL by the very blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Post (after) salvation confession (1John 1: 9) is for the purpose of ongoing forgiveness of sin during the course of one's post (after) salvation spiritual life in order to restore fellowship with God. Born again believers who live in ANY (James 2: 10) sin that is not confessed (1John 1: 9) and/or forsaken (John 8: 11) are out of fellowship with God. They remain saved, but are subject to divine discipline (Heb. 12: 6) here on Earth and forfeiture of many rewards (1Cor. 3: 14) and privileges (Rev. Chapters 2, 3) that would otherwise be awaiting them in Heaven. For an advancing disciple, just being out of fellowship with God is enough to motivate him/her to return to fellowship with God.
During the Church Age, one is born again by making a choice to believe (place his/her FULL confidence) in a presentation of the Gospel Message.
Although religion (usually for a price) and religious practices would encourage us believe otherwise, there is NO prayer or religious activity on Earth that can alter either the location or the experience of a departed soul.
There is NOTHING that God will do, and there is NOTHING that an idol or that those left behind can do that changes either the location of where the departed soul finds him/self when he/she she departs this world.
The one funeral that one will not be there for is one’s own. You will have already departed and arrived at your location before that takes place. The soul That location was determined by the decisions that each soul made during his time here on Earth.
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Fellowship is necessary in order for the born again (saved) believer to move forward in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship. When out of fellowship, the soul will have little or no interest in God or the things of God. Making matters worse, the believer out of fellowship will have an ever-increasing level of hostility (Romans 8: 7) towards God and/or the things of God. When out of fellowship with God, one will also find himself out of fellowship with other believers. When Adam and Eve knew they sinned, they attempted to hide themselves (Gen. 3: 8).
When we sin, we too will attempt to "hide" ourselves or our sinful activity from the view of the one's who will likely confront us if our sin becomes known.
It is during such times that the believer (in fellowship with God) will be put to the Luke 14: 26 test.
When we are living in a sin of ANY kind (James 2: 10) that we have not acknowledged, confessed, or forsaken, we are living under the influence and control of the fallen nature that is within us (Romans 7).
When confronted with the TRUTH, we have a choice to make; no matter by whom or by what means God chooses to confront us. We either choose to confess and forsake it, or we continue to live in it.
If we choose to confess it, fellowship with God, the things of God, and fellowship with godly people is restored. If we choose not to acknowledge, confess, or forsake it, we remain out of fellowship with God, with the things of God, and with godly people.
The inevitable hostility of our fallen nature often becomes overt when the one out of fellowship is confronted with the truth concerning his/her sin and choose not to acknowledge, confess, and forsake it.
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before the swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn an tear you to pieces (Matt. 7: 6 NASB).”
Focusing on our idols is one of the ways that we can choose to escape the inevitable pressure that accompanies conflicts within the soul. As long as we can remain busy, we can try to keep the pressure at bay. This pressure is not always the result of what we may have done, or failed to do. This pressure can be the result of OUR sin of refusing to forgive others for what they have done to us.
As long as a born again believer has an active conscience, there will be conflict in his/her soul until his/her sin is acknowledged, confessed,and forsaken. God have mercy on the one whose spiritual hearing is so diminished that that he/she can no longer hear the voice of God.
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Scripture makes it clear that in His omniscience, God is fully aware of even the smallest detail of our individual lives (Luke 12: 7). These details include all of our needs.
Phil. 4: 19 teach that it is God who will supply all our needs, and teach that God is aware of needs BEFORE we ask Him. Phil. 4: 6 teach that it is to God through prayer that we are to express our prayer requests.
God the Son (The Lord Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit share the divine attribute of omniscience (all knowledge) with God the Father. With this knowledge in mind, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit continually make intercessory prayer in our behalf.
According to His will and His timing, God does hear and respond to the prayer requests made to Him (not third parties) by believers HERE on earth (Acts 12: 5).
According to Scripture (Phil. 4: 6), born again believers ARE to present their prayer r-e-q-u-e-s-t-s to God (Matt. 6: 9). .
According to Scripture, ALL prayers are to be addressed to God the Father (Matt. 6: 9), in the name (authority) of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14: 13), and in the power of God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6: 18).
NO ONE but God is to be recipient of ANY prayer (Matt. 6: 9).
God will not share His place or the glory due Him with ANYONE or ANY THING else (Isaiah 43: 8).
“I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor my praise to graven images (Isa. 43: 8 NASB).”
To go to or through ANY other source (e.g. departed souls) to secure our spiritual needs is an indication of the lack of faith in God to provide ALL that we need and/or when we need it.
In an act of faith, advancing disciples are called to accept ALL the answers He gives us (Job 2: 10). We are not to try to do an "end run" around the plan of God by appealing to a third party.
Our faith will be sorely tested as a result of some of the answers we receive, manifested in ALL that God sends or allows to place in our lives, and in the lives of those for who we pray.
I can relate to the fear, frustration, and the desperation that we, in our humanity, can experience when we do not get the response we want or when we want it. Fear is the inevitable experience where and when and to the degree that our faith is lacking. Frustration is the inevitable result of trying to accomplish divine objectives through human means and refusing to accept God's timing.
Desperation is what opens the door to seeking alternative means in an attempt to secure what we want, but have not received it.
Such testing of our faith is seldom easy. But the post salvation life of discipleship is NOT about doing what comes easy or by what comes natural to us.
The post salvation spiritual life is about what can only be accomplished with the enabling power of God (John 15: 5).
One of the reasons that God allows such frustration is to teach us that as far as spiritual things are concerned, “...apart from Me, you can do N-O-T-H-I-N-G (John 15: 5).”
There are times when the permissive will of God may allows us to get what we want through alternative means, but we may not want what we get.
Anything that the devil can use to deny God His glory, and lead us away from focusing on God, is evil. Planting the seeds of evil and encouraging its growth will result in a harvest of evil.
Phil. 4:6 teach that making prayer requests is one of the divine solutions for anxiety. The anxious soul is treading on thin ice.
The devil and/or his spokespersons will be right there to whisper words of doubt when we receive just the opposite of what we expected, especially as a result of having made the issue the subject of our prayer request.
The devil is a master in the art of spiritual warfare. His method of operation is deception, and his primary weapon is religion.
He knows just what buttons to press and when to press them for maximum effect.
Closing our prayers with such phrases as, “We ask these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” is NOT to be seen as the means to manipulate the hands of God. Nor is it the means to take out “prayer insurance.” Praying in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is acknowledging that it is through the authority that He has given us that we can approach the throne of God.
Everything, including our prayer requests, is subject to the plans of God, manifested in all that He does, doesn’t do, or allows to take place.
If what we pray for is not a part of the plan of God for ourselves or a part of God's plan for others we are praying for, the answer is No!
The Lord Jesus Christ prayed to God the Father for the cup to be taken from Him (Luke 22: 42), but the answer was No!
Paul (2Cor.12: 8) prayed to the Lord for relief from a, “thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan (2Cor. 12: 7 NASB),” but the answer was NO!
Addressing prayer to anyone (alive or departed) other than to God is to put that person in the place of God. Putting any one or any thing in the place of God amounts to idolatry.
All prayers addressed to God the Father receive a yes, no, not right now responses in the timing of God.
When God’s response to our prayer requests is “NO” or “NOT RIGHT NOW”, there may be a great temptation, but not a justification, to go to a “third party” in an attempt to get what we want, or to get it any sooner.
Timing is everything (Eccl. Chapter 3).
Receiving the right thing, but at the wrong time, can be disastrous. Receiving the wrong is a-l-w-a-y-s disastrous.
It is natural to want and to try to achieve relief as soon as possible when trying to get out from under adversity.
Adversity goes away when it has accomplished the divine purpose for which it was sent or allowed to take place. Sometimes this purpose or objective will not be achieved or completed this side of Heaven (2Cor. 12: 8), and will be with us until the day we depart this Earth.
Unexpected disappointments can destroy the intimacy of our fellowship with God. During such times there is a need to keep in mind that
the human race was created to glorify God in the midst of an ongoing spiritual warfare between the forces of good and evil. Don't expect a "rose garden" experience in the midst of a war zone.
Here in the Church Age, the advancing disciple is called to, “Suffer with me (the Apostle Paul speaking to Timothy) as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2Tim. 12: 3 NASB italics mine).”
There are many blessings from God that a born again believer can experience in the midst of spiritual combat (Eph. 6). One of the greatest of these blessings is the type of peace that surpasses all human understanding (Phil. 4) when the devil throws his best punch.
If you are looking for a life in which there is no adversity, you do not want the life of discipleship.
Without a doubt, the ones who bring the greatest glory to God are the ones who undeservedly suffer the most, but remain faithful.
Guarding oneself from idols (1John 5: 21 NASB) is a part of remaining faithful to God.