Robert D. Pace

Exodus 20:1-6

It seems almost foreign to Americans that idolatry needs addressing from the pulpit. When we think of idolatry, our mind leaps thousands of miles away and conjures impressions of people worshiping pagan gods. As we read the Scriptures, we equate Israel’s idolatry with worshipping the golden calf or the gods of Baal. But that definition needs refining. Although idolatry takes many forms, it’s ultimately man worshipping anything but the God of the Bible.

We commit idolatry when we allow anything other than God to capture our heart and control our behavior. God demands men to worship and esteem Him as the only true God. And He’s jealous for that! While no mortal is ever justified for being jealous, it is not peculiar that jealousy is in perfect harmony with the nature of God. For example:

(Explanation) A doctor, a scientist, an athlete are never justified for exhibiting jealousy about their abilities. That’s because no doctor has a monopoly on treating the infirmed and no scientist has a monopoly on research and no athlete has a monopoly on sports. But God is altogether different. That’s because God has a monopoly on being God. He’s the only true, sovereign God of the universe and that justifies His jealousy. That means when we worship our possessions, or we place recreation and pleasure ahead of God, it is idolatry. Nothing in life should preempt the place that is owed to God alone.

Do you realize the first two of the Ten Commandments deal with idolatry? In Exodus 20 God condemned with a double-prohibition because He knew the propensity of man’s straying heart. When you study the Old Testament, you find that idolatry so plagued Israel that there was never a time when they weren’t to idols. That’s why God had to employ full-time prophets—the prophets had to constantly denounce Israel’s idolatry. And in the New Testament Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. It’s no wonder that Proverbs 4:23 says: “Above all else, guard your heart.”

(Transition) I want to discuss the ways we’re guilty of committing idolatry. First, idolatry is committed when we accept a “different Gospel.”

I. We’re Guilty of Idolatry When We Accept a “Different Gospel”

If Satan can’t hinder people from believing the Gospel, he will seek to pervert their view of it. And he is a master at distorting truth. When Jesus and the apostles spoke of the Last Days, they repeatedly used one word to describe Satan’s last-ditch effort to capture the hearts of men. They used the word, “deception.” In the Last Days God will permit Satan to loose minions of evil spirits with a special power to deceive men. In Thessalonians Paul described it as “strong delusion.” And we see that today. There have never been more cults and isms and philosophies and heresies than today. It’s even evident in mainline churches.

(Illustration) Just the other day someone told me a minister preached a message on “the dangers of literally interpreting Scripture.” The minister developed his entire sermon on the detrimental effect the Scripture’s have on those that rely on them. Saints of God, that message is “another gospel” that is being idolatrously enshrined! Our duty as Christians isn’t to make excuses for God’s precepts; our duty is to embrace them.

(Illustration) Awhile back, a minister preached on the “Judgment of Hell.” When one person heard that they retorted: “My God would never do that!” The minister responded: “You’re right! Your god wouldn’t. The problem is . . . your god doesn’t exist except in your mind. You have created a god in your own image, according to your own liking, and now you have fallen down and worshiped him instead of the God of the Bible . . . you have committed idolatry!”1

The Jesus some people serve today masquerades as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). It’s a god of their imagination and one that can’t make demands on them. That’s a god of convenience and it’s a dangerous god to worship.

The most important system of belief you will ever develop is your theology. That’s because your eternal destiny is linked to what you believe! If you subscribe to a counterfeit gospel or the notion that rejects the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture, it will ruin your life! It doesn’t matter that we “feel” the Bible writers misrepresented God or that He is not as inflexible as Scripture reveals Him. It doesn’t matter if people “feel” Hell doesn’t exist, or if it does exist it doesn’t burn infinitum and that morally good men will escape it. God has lovingly said what He meant in the Bible, and that settles it regardless of how we “feel” about it!

Listen to Paul’s words about the dangers of accepting “another Gospel” in Galatians 1:6-9. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- (7) which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.(8) But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (9) As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (NIV)

That’s strong and social “insensitive”! Hear it again: “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” That means ‘cut off and sentenced to Hell’! Paul willingly took this “politically incorrect” stance that because he knew a counterfeit gospel would shipwreck our faith! And religions around the world are ruining lives because they offer a sweet-sounding, but counterfeit Gospel:

    They deny Christ’s deity, virgin birth, sinlessness, miracles, resurrection, and outright ridicule the divine inspiration of Scripture.

    They preach a gospel of universalism that says, “Ultimately everyone will be saved, so enjoy life and live as you please.”

    They deify “another gospel” that says a good moral life can get men to Heaven. And in so doing they reject Scripture’s indictment of man’s sinfulness and the need of God’s only begotten Son as their Savior.

The Church is Called to Preserve Sound Doctrine

One of the Church’s chief duties is to maintain doctrinal purity. It’s to preserve the integrity of God’s Word. 1 Timothy 3:15 says the church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” If anything is worth fighting for it’s the veracity of God’s Word!

It’s amazing what some churches war over. They can ignore some of the foundational doctrines of Scripture or propagate a sweet-sounding message that “tickles the ears” and ignores the abrasive portions of God’s Word. On the other hand, if the pastor had restructured the “Order of Worship” or moved the piano or modified the style of music, the church would split as wide as the Grand Canyon!

There is a logical explanation when problems like this arise: “Touchy,” “feely” congregations like this have “consecrated” the wrong thing! They have undertaken the occasion to sanctify the method rather than preserving the message! And defending and preserving the integrity of God’s Word is more important than anything else a Christian congregation could do! We can’t deny or ignore the passages of Scripture that make us uncomfortable. We have to accept everything from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. In the end, it’s people that deny or amend Scripture that will be injured most. 1 Peter 1:25 says: “the word of the Lord stands forever” and that means this Book isn’t going anywhere! Embrace it! Live by it! And don’t be deceived by accepting “another Gospel!”

(Transition) Secondly, we’re guilty of idolatry when we insert a substitute for the substance.

II. Idolatry Inserts a Substitute for the Substance

The bottom line to idolatry is this: It replaces God! It substitutes the holy, loving, God of goodness for another object of affection. And regardless of the “substitute” it will always be infinitely inferior to Almighty God.

If you’re wondering what gods preempt the Lord today, then do nothing more than investigate what is near you. That’s what Paul did. In Acts 17 he was preaching in Athens and noticed false gods everywhere. One historian says there were 30,000 gods in that city. Do you know what Paul saw behind these 30,000 idols in Athens? He understood that each idol represented someone’s capacity to accommodate God. Each idol revealed somebody’s’ willingness to make time and room for worshiping something other than the One true God.

Don’t believe the lie that people don’t have time for God because we make time for whatever our heart desires! The issue has nothing to do with time! The issue is, What are we substituting for God? What’s preempting His place? God is grieved when we waste hours on things that detract from the attention He deserves!

(Illustration) This could be an extreme illustration but it helps make the point. Years ago, I lived across the street from a couple that worshiped their house. Virtually everyday one of them was in the yard mowing, raking, picking up brush, or sweeping even the tiniest particle of grit or dirt from the cracks in their walkway. Don’t get me wrong, most people need to give their lawn more attention, but hauling out the wheelbarrow each day to pick up a pine needle that nobody else notices is making a substitute for God.

What we have to understand about idolatry is, our idols are willfully crafted! Exodus 20:4 says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” They don’t accidentally appear, they are conceived by our imagination, formed by our hands, and worshiped by our will. If you want to determine what idols you’re worshiping check the desires and affections of your heart. If your heart is inordinately connected to your checkbook or television habits or possessions or business or some individual, you have created an idol! And you need to deal with that idol because as innocent and as it appears, it is not! It’s destructive!

We think our earthly gods somehow improve our standard of living or instill emotional wellbeing, but there’s never an improvement. We are always the loser when we worship the wrong god. Let me show you what I mean: Did you know that seeking for success at any price is idolatrous? That’s right. Seeking success at any price is idolatrous. When people are willing to step on people, lie, cheat, or do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, it becomes idolatry.

(Illustration) Several years ago John Candy starred in the movie, Cool Runnings. John had been on the American Olympic bobsled team that won a gold medal. Eventually the Olympic Committee discovered the bobsled had been illegally weighted and his team was stripped of their gold medal. Several years later the Jamaicans asked him to coach their first ever bobsled team. He trained four young men that had never even seen snow. The Jamaicans practiced tirelessly to win a medal. And John Candy was right there with them, driving their grueling practices. About halfway through the movie the Jamaicans asked him: “Why are you so intent on helping us win?” He replied, “If you can’t be happy without a gold medal you can’t be happy winning a gold medal by cheating.” You see, success at any price does not content the soul!

Here’s the problem with idolatry. Every god exacts a price from its worshiper. And sometimes it’s a deadly and eternal price. In the end, an idol always leaves a void within the worshiper and fails to instill a sense of dignity and worth.

    The gods of alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs destroy health.

    The god of sensuality destroys relationships.

    Worshiping money destroys trust in God and is the “root of all evil.”

Look at the consequences the Bible reveals about idolatry: Whenever you see Israel worshiping idols in Scripture you see they were terrorized with an enemy. Idols never live up to their promises; they only drag people down and ruin us. The apostle Paul said in Romans 1 & 2 when people “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve other things” they suffer the penalty of their gods.

    Jonah 2:8 says: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”

    Ezekiel says idolatry causes God to ignore our prayers (8:3, 18).

    1 Corinthians 10:20 says idolatry dulls the senses and makes it difficult to discern truth from error.

And just in case somebody needs an example of what 21st Century idolatry looks like, consider this:

    If you’re rifling through the Internet to check your daily horoscope or calling the psychic hotlines . . . that’s idolatry!

    If you’re seeking peace by pursuing Eastern meditation or excessive pleasures . . . that’s idolatry!

    If you’re hooked on movies, sensual novels, or recreation . . . that’s idolatry!

Whatever blocks your view and worship of God is an idol. And I urge you, through Christ’s love, to deal with it. Here’s how you can guard yourself against idolatry: Adopt the mindset that says, “God is enough for me in every situation.” And if you will live by that principle regardless of what happens, you will discover that God will always uphold you. He will prove to you that He is enough! You see, the underlying deception of idolatry asserts just the opposite: It suggests “God isn’t enough”! And it’s interesting that most of man’s sinning flows from an idolatrous “isn’t enough” spirit:

    • Adultery assumes your spouse isn’t enough.
    • Effeminacy assumes masculinity isn’t enough.
    • Homosexuality assumes the opposite sex isn’t enough.
    • Covetousness assumes God’s supply isn’t enough.
    • Drunkenness and drug abuse assume sobriety isn’t enough.
    • Reveling and excessive partying assume self-control isn’t enough.
    • Pornography assumes purity isn’t enough.
    • Manipulation assumes trusting God isn’t enough.

That’s why it’s important to believe what God says about Himself in the Bible: God is enough! He completely satisfies! He fills your soul with gladness!

(Illustration) I have a friend that put every penny of his retirement into the stock market. His stocks rose to $74.00 per share but within two months they plummeted to $31.00 per share. He lost over 100% of his retirement. When I asked him about it he said this: “My future isn’t in the stock market, it’s in God, because everything I have comes from Him. As long as I tithe, I don’t have any worries.”

There’s nothing wrong with investing in Wall Street but there is something wrong when people’s hearts are connected to Wall Street to the point that they would commit suicide should their assets fail them.

(Transition) I want to close by pointing out an amazing fact about idolatry.


Do you realize the Bible never justifies man’s excuse for committing idolatry? There’s not one valid excuse man can offer God for enshrining “another gospel” or embracing a substitute god. That’s because Romans 1:19-20 says God has plainly revealed Himself to everybody. Creation itself testifies to the existence of an almighty God. And if you’re worshiping an idol, the Bible tells you how to handle them—you renounce them!

    Ezekiel 14:6 says: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!”

    And 2 Corinthians 6:17 says: “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”

Can you take an honest, penetrating look at yourself right now and ask God to show you the idols of your heart? Those idols you most cherish? The idols you really don’t want to destroy but know you should? If you’re honest with yourself you have to admit they’re ruining your relationship with Christ.

1 J. David Hoke, Sermon: Thinking Biblically About Idolatry, January 16, 1996.