We have only two choices: we either worship the one true and living God, or we worship one of our own devising. There are no other options. We either run with God and his self-revelation to us about who he is and what he expects of us, or we just make things up as we go along.
There are countless millions of people who have chosen the latter path. It is the easy path to follow. Following the true God means letting him call the shots, and recognising that we are not the centre of the universe. Following a god of your own devices is easy – you effectively are just worshipping yourself.
Even more tragic, many of these folks actually think they are worshipping the real God, and that they are real Christians. But when you reject God and his revealed truth as found in Scripture, and substitute a god who simply represents the spirit of the age, then you are worshipping an idol, a false god.
Examples of this are of course everywhere to be found. We see it happening all the time, and the social media provides us with endless cases of this. Consider just one example of this that I found on a friend’s post. He made a comment about the Israel Folau case.
It had to do with the star rugby player speaking biblical truth about homosexuality, and how repentance is what is needed to keep sinners out of hell. I wrote about that here: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/04/06/folau-and-unacceptable-truth/
But a person seeking to pass himself off as a Christian was not at all happy with this, and offered this comment in response:
“It’s not a question about voicing an opinion. To oppose same-sex marriage is voicing an opinion. To state that God’s plan for gay people is Hell, is stupid. My God teaches me love and forgiveness. My God does not teach hate and discrimination. My God does not tell me that loving somebody else is a sin.”
I offered a brief reply of my own to this fellow:
“It seems that the god you worship is really just yourself, and certainly not the God of the Bible who has made it clear what he thinks about these matters. There is no forgiveness without repentance; we are of course to discriminate between good and evil, just as God does; and God clearly does tell us that homosexuality is a sin.”
But it is worth expanding a bit more on what he said, since it is such a clear case of a person making a god in his own image, and that of the surrounding secular culture. First, how could any Christian say that what God has told us is stupid?
That hell is the destiny of all those who reject God and cling to their sin is fully affirmed throughout Scripture. So it is never stupid to simply share what God has said about such important matters. It is however stupid to imply that God is wrong, and that mere man knows better.
And notice that the God he projects is simply a partial God of the Bible. Is God a God of love? Of course, but never in isolation from his holiness, his justice and his righteousness. And does God forgive? Of course, but only when we come to him on his terms.
And those terms, as Jesus and the disciples made perfectly clear, is repentance and turning from our sin. There is no forgiveness without this. This is the heart of the gospel message, and no one honestly reading the gospels and epistles could miss this.
And does God really not hate or discriminate? Um, no. Anyone reading the Bible knows how foolish these claims are. They are patently false. God hates sin, he hates false religious worship, he hates evil, he hates that which turns people away from him.
Since we are talking about idolatry here, let me mention just one passage – of many dozens – that speak of the things God hates. Consider Deuteronomy 12:31: “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates.”
False gods and idolatry are at the top of the list of what God detests. And because of this, God is the most discriminating being there is. He always discriminates between right and wrong, true and false. He expects his people to discriminate as well.
And when this guy keeps talking about “my God,” as if he owns God, he is making it pretty clear that he means ‘the god of my liking and my point of view’. This is a god that fully approves of and endorses everything this guy says and does. This is a god which happens to be fully in alignment with what he and the world believes.
All up, his beliefs are fairly evident here: there is no hell; god judges no one; homosexuality is just peachy; and anyone disagreeing with me is a hater. That is the god he has created – one in his own ungodly and unbiblical image. Thus when he speaks about “my God” he is really just speaking about himself.
The bitter fruit of idolatry
Idolaters love to justify themselves. It seems this fellow was another one of those trolls who just loves to argue, but is never willing to learn. He came back with plenty of comments that I and some others tried to respond to. He even asked where the Bible condemns homosexuality.
After we supplied some passages for him, he simply changed tack, and started accusing us of being judgmental and hateful. Yep, that is how the other side argues! Forget the evidence and the truth, and just lash out when people dare to differ and offer biblical responses!
Of interest, early on in his comments he even admitted that he did not know the Bible very well. Yeah, well that much was obvious. I encouraged him to spend less time in public arguments with others, and to spend more time actually reading and studying the Bible.
But it seems his preference was to do the former. As I said, he has made God into his own image, and he alone will decide what is right and wrong, true and false. That is the epitome of idolatry, and that is exactly what will send a person to a lost eternity.
So I finished by telling him it was rather futile discussing this with him any further, and that I instead would pray for him. Sometimes that is all we can do with such folks. They refuse to listen to Scripture, and they have hardened themselves to any biblical correction, so we just pray for them.
Let me close with a few terrific quotes on idolatry and why it is so pernicious. We must avoid like the plague this strong tendency to try to remake God into our own image:
“Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.” John Calvin
“Loving a holy God is beyond our moral power. The only kind of God we can love by our sinful nature is an unholy god, an idol made by our own hands. Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him… To love a holy God requires grace, grace strong enough to pierce our hardened hearts and awaken our moribund souls.” R. C. Sproul
“Idolatry is of all sins the most hateful to God because it is in essence a defamation of the divine character.” A. W. Tozer
“The religions that man creates are actually attempts to escape having to face the true God. We invent religion — not because we are seeking God, but because we are running away from Him.” James Montgomery Boice
“If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.” Tim Keller
“Beware of manufacturing a God of your own: a God who is all mercy, but not just; a God who is all love, but not holy; a God who has a heaven for everybody, but a hell for none; a God who can allow good and bad to exist side by side on earth, and will make no distinction between good and bad in eternity. Such a God is an idol of your own creation as real as Jupiter or Moloch; as true an idol as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple; as true an idol as was ever moulded out of brass or clay. The hands of your own notions and emotions have made him. He is not the God of the Bible, and aside from the God of the Bible there is no God at all.” J. C. Ryle