An idol or god is anything we give greater attention to, or make more important than God. Humanity desires to worship or give allegiance to something outside ourselves and if other gods or idols compete for that position, they have the potential to draw us away from Him. What began as a God-directed cure for lethal snake bites when the Israelites sinned became an object of worship rather than a reminder of whom to worship (Num 21:6-9; 2 Kgs 18:4).
The first two commandments God gave were: “You shall have no gods but Me”, and “You shall not make any idol in the form of anything [else]” to meet the desire to have a visible object to worship. The punishment for such idolatry passed on down through the family line (Ex 20:3-5). God is not just to be the top god (one among many) but the ‘only God’ whom we love with every part of our being (Mk 12:30). God will not share His glory or rightful place with another (Ex 34:14; Isa 42:8).
Through idolatry, people give to an inferior, imaginary being or physical object the worship and honour due to God alone. The false gods or manmade idols revered by some Eastern religions can’t respond let alone help – these detestable things profit man nothing (1 Sam 12:21; Ps 135:15-18; Isa 44:9-20; Hab 2:18,19). Western cultures also have idols that are given an inappropriate devotion including, pop stars, sex, self, money, looks, fame, possessions, pleasure, relationships, sport, jobs, religious rituals, even worshipping creation rather than the Creator, God (Rom 1:21-25).
Is God ‘number 1’ in my life?
projects, church affairs, and ministry taking priority over Him; His plea to us is echoed by Solomon, “Son, give me your heart” (Prov 23:26). Besides our actions, idolatry can also result from an attitude of our heart where outwardly we can appear to be godly yet the inner thoughts are far from Him (Deut 11:16; Isa 29:13; Ezek 14:3,4,7; Mt 15:8). Through association, together with a continual focusing of the thoughts, the power of influence and the ‘spirit’ of the idol is transferred – for the Bible states, we become like the one we follow and worship (2 Kgs 17:15; Ps 38:14, 115:8; Prov 13:20, Jer 2:5; Jn 8:41,44). Those that cling to false gods forfeit the grace that could be theirs (Jnh 2:8). Worshipping an image brings a snare to all involved, making them subject to demonic influence and sickness (Ex 15:26; Jdg 8:27; 1 Cor 10:20).
The Bible says the desires of the old nature, in which ‘me’ is the focus, are forms of idolatry (Col 3:5). Anyone or anything we put in God’s place will ultimately let us down. “Who can approach God? Those who don’t lift up their soul to an idol” (Ps 24:3,4). Idol worship is self-centered, while worship of God is surrendering our lives to be used by Him for His glory besides giving Him praise for who He is rather than focusing on what He blesses us with. Complete devotion to God and removing idols from our lives is the call to Christians (1 Cor 10:14; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Col 3:5; 1 Jn 5:21).
God views idolatry as serious; the strong message to the Israelites was to destroy the heathen altars or else they will become a snare (Deut 12:2,3). “The curse of God is on anyone who makes and worships an idol” (Deut 27:15). Idolatry is spiritual adultery, breaking our commitment to God in order to love something else; God likened it to being unfaithful to a spouse (Jer 3:20). Let God control the central place in your life so any other thing, including embracing other beliefs and philosophies incompatible with Biblical teachings won’t become a god, for friendship with the world by being captivated by its pleasures, comforts and financial security is in direct opposition to God (Jas 4:4). The Bible states "No one can serve two masters" with anyone loving the world does not love God (Mt 6:24; 1 Jn 2:15,16). To avoid spiritual adultery, "Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (Col 3:2).
See also: association, gods (idols), worship.