As written about in Art and Soul, chapter 10, idolatry and holy worship often lay at odds with one another. This is my response to a constant battle against our bend towards sin and the necessity of holy pursuits. Would these words encourage holiness and weed out the strains of idolatry that lie within.
Venture with me into a garden wholly pure and unadulterated. Unencumbered by the chains of sin, man and the creation that surrounded him, lived in peace. It was in this garden where perfection knew no other name and where the reality of life exquisite dwelt. But then, in a gruesome act of disobedience and idolatry, man chose another path-one leading to death (Genesis 1-3).
It is easy to conclude that Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s straightforward command to abstain from eating fruit taken from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but to call it idolatry, that is a wholly different claim. Yet its evidence is clear. Adam and Eve choose something else above God, that being knowledge of good and evil. They placed this consciousness above their innocence and the unawareness that God that mercifully granted them. The results of this decision were explosive. No longer would God walk amongst his creation. No longer would the earth be whole.
Time and time again, after the fall, man’s idolatry is evidently seen. Each act of defiance committed by man finds its roots in the sense that something other than God is more worthy of praise, and therefore held in higher regard. I wonder then, if that is why the first of the Ten Commandments says “[y]ou shall have no other gods before me,” followed closely by the second commandment which says “[y]ou shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:3-6). God gave these words to a people who struggled deeply with disbelief. The Israelites struggled in their belief of the same God who’d led them out of Egypt.
A deep-seated struggle within humanity’s veins, idolatry weighs heavy on every heart, whether consciously or subconsciously. Within each is a desire to elevate themselves, others, or objects above their holy God and anything one “desire[s] more than [God] becomes an idol,” writes Sarah Young in her devotional Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence (71). This tendency can be seen within the church, well, because it’s composed of redeemed, yet sinful humans.
We’ve established that idolatry is rampant and its effects within the church dually so. In many settings Believer’s gather and worship with little regard for the God of their faith because the idols in their lives and within the church take precedence over Him.
For example, a pastor may be elevated for his eloquent speech and influence. Or the worship leader may be excessively praised for her exceptional abilities. Or perhaps the building, or location, or level of excellence or amazing ministry opportunities clouds the saving God of the Gospel in an exultant attempt to seek man’s approval rather than God’s.
Therefore, in order to edify the body and honor God, it is important that we not only recognize our tendencies towards sin but the grasp truth of authentic worship and faith.
In his book, Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin writes of his slow journey from idolatry into holiness as a worship pastor seeking man’s approval and praise to a sinful man saved only by grace. Sharing his experience he writes “[w]hen I sought glory for myself, praise for my accomplishment, and credit for my growth, I wasn’t depending on a Savior-I was searching for an audience” (25). His idol was his own success. But when he focused on the Gospel, he found that worship wasn’t about things done, but about the heart (25).
And it is true, we have a definite bend towards the elevation of earthly above eternal, but, by the grace of God, we have the power to overcome and make right what’s been wrong.
Authentic worship-what does it look like? What does it mean to focus on God rather than the temporal? Primarily, it is an act of the heart. In Colossians 3:2, Paul encourages his readers to set their “minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Their old selves have been put to death and the new has been raised again with Christ. Paul goes onto command further that they put off “whatever belongs to [their] sinful nature” (3:5), turning from their old selves and putting on the new self “which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3:10).
In an act of idol removal we must “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And… run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2) and trust “that he who began a good work… will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Therefore, since we are incorporated into the family of God, no longer belonging to this world, we have confidence in God’s faithfulness. Because we know these truths, worship, unchained by idolatry, can flow smoothly. D.A. Carson writes that “[w]orship is the proper response of all sentient beings to God, ascribing all worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so,” in his book Worship Matters (26). And worthy indeed is he. We mustn’t ascribe worth to anything else. Only God is worthy of praise and exaltation. Only God deserves our affections and total devotion.
And so as we, through the power vested to us, strive towards God, leaving behind the ways of idolatry, we must be careful as we interact with things and people of this world. We know how easy it is to fall into sin therefore we must gaze even more intently upon God. But, in this pursuit we mustn’t completely exit this reality that God has placed us in. The people around are placed in positions of authority for a reason. There are also cultural gifts that God has endowed upon man. Technology, art, and other facets of society are avenues that we might go down in order to worship God more tangibly. Francis Schaeffer writes in his book Art and the Bible, that the creation of these cultural goods, specifically art, is not wrong, but their worship is (20). So let us use the goods that God has given man, but let us not elevate them to positions of immovable significance. God needs to be the focal point of our worship. He is the only one who is worthy.
Carson, D.A.. Worship By the Book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
Kauflin, Bob. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008.
[NIV: New International Version]. 10 March 2011. <http://www.biblegateway.com/>
Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.
Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004.