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The Truth About Idolatry B

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
August 17, 2022 4:00 am

The Truth About Idolatry B

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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August 17, 2022 4:00 am

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Paul says to the Corinthians, you can't realize what danger you're in if you let your liberty run you right out to the end of it. Well, I'm not going to get involved in this certain lust, and I'm not going to get involved in covetousness. I have my liberties. I can indulge in a few of those things. Well, if you keep exposing yourself to that stuff, the chances are you are. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Should you go see the latest action hero movie or allow your kids to see it? Should Christians boycott companies that promote policies contrary to biblical teaching? Can you listen to non-Christian music? When it comes to Christian liberty, especially with regard to gray areas, the discussion often comes down to a list of can I or can't I questions, like the ones I just gave you. But today, John MacArthur will show you why your liberty is less about what you can do and more about your relationship with God and your willingness to obey Him. It's all part of John's continuing study called Pitfalls of Christian Liberty.

And now here is John MacArthur. The truth about idolatry. The truth about idolatry.

Now, we know in the section that we're in in 1 Corinthians that the Apostle Paul is dealing with a particular subject, idolatry. The very term to me is repulsive. It doesn't take me very long to even turn my stomach a little bit when I begin to think about the term, let alone talk about it. It's a repulsive term. It fits somewhere in the category of my vocabulary with words like blasphemy, damned, hell and Judas. It's one of those kind of words.

One of those kind of words that I'm not too particularly excited about. It conjures up a great anxiety in my heart concerning myself with the holiness and the purity and the character of God. Now, let me say something that I think is very basic. This I believe, and by this I mean idolatry, is the most serious and contaminating sin there is.

Now, I hope you get that. Idolatry is the most serious and contaminating sin there is. And the reason is because it strikes directly at the character of God. Now, we need a close look at idolatry because if it's that important, if it's the worst sin of all, and if the Bible has so much to say about it, and believe me, I couldn't even begin to go through all the scriptures that talk about idolatry.

If that's true, then we really ought to understand what this thing is. First of all, and I'm just going to give you a broad definition and then a particularized look at idolatry. First of all, idolatry is libel on the character of God.

L-I-B-E-L. It is libel. It is slander on the character of God.

Alright, a second thought. Idolatry is also worshiping the true God in the wrong way. Thirdly, now I'll give you some specifics on idolatry to help you to define it. Idolatry is worshiping any image.

Now, let me give you another idea. Number four, I'm just listing these thoughts. Idolatry is worshiping angels. Don't ever worship angels. Fifthly, idolatry is worshiping devils. In Revelation 9-20, it says that they were, in the picture of the tribulation, worshiping demons.

And then it goes on to talk about idols of stone and silver and wood and all that. So, idolatry is libel against the character of God, and that means to think anything unworthy of God, worshiping the true God in a false way, worshiping any idol, any image. Idolatry is worshiping angels. Idolatry is worshiping demons.

And that goes on today, doesn't it? People who believe in the Satan church and bow down to demons and bow down to false deities and spirit beings, mediums, and all that we have, the trappings that go with it. Sixth thought in defining idolatry, and I don't know if you ever thought about this, but idolatry is worshiping dead men. Dead men. Any dead men.

Venerating or worshiping dead men is idolatry. And I'll show you an interesting verse that you may not have discovered on this, Psalm 106-28. I'll just read it to you. Don't turn to it.

It's just short. And here he is describing again the typical pattern of Israel being so unfaithful to the covenant of God and falling into idolatry. And he says this, they joined themselves also unto Baal Peor. This is a form of Baal worship.

Now listen. And ate the sacrifices of the dead. Part of the worship of Baal apparently involved the worship of the dead. And Israel had gotten into worshiping dead men.

That is sin. That is idolatry. We are not to worship dead men.

Any dead men of any kind. Worship God and him only, shalt thou worship, the Bible says. Not just that he is the supreme one to be worshiped. He is the only one to be worshiped.

It doesn't matter who that dead man is. And you know in the worship of Baal, part of the worship of Baal was in the gardens and the groves that they went to. They worshiped the graves and they worshiped the monuments that represented the dead people. That's idolatry.

Now let me get it much more down to our society and to what we think in terms of our own attitudes. Idolatry is any, hang on to this one, any idol in your heart. Idolatry is any idol in your heart. And you know you have to look at your own heart to tell what it is. But I dare say, if I said alright everybody, take out your pencil and do this. Write down the idols that you struggle with in your life.

There isn't a thinking person who couldn't write something down. If you have a problem with it, ask your wife. She'll have no problem with it. She knows where you worship. She knows what you bow down to. So do your kids.

So do you. It can be a lot of things. Education. There are some people who bow down to education. All they want are degrees. They don't want just a name.

They want a name with a whole bunch of extraneous letters stung on the end of it. Some people bow down to science. Chad Walsh has written a book called Campus Gods on Trial. And he talks about the fact that on the campuses of America the students have gods. And summing it all up, basically the gods of modern man are humanism, materialism and sex. Humanism.

You know, Billy Graham says we have in God we trust on our coins and me first engraved on our hearts. That's humanism. That's humanism.

It's mother I'd rather do it myself. That's humanism. I can handle my own problems.

I can solve my own mysteries. I'll run my own world, you know. But that's humanism. And the materialism, another of the gods of humanity. Materialism and then the god sex that is probably the ugliest god.

It's no different. We were in Baalbek some time ago and seeing the god Bacchus to whom the great temple of the orgies was built. Incredible edifice. Worshipping sex. This has always been one of the gods of men. So, an idol in the heart. Now Ezekiel 14 zeroes in on this. Son of man, Ezekiel 14 3, these men, and he's talking here about the elders of Israel in verse 1. The elders of Israel have set up their idols in their heart.

They haven't made any stone images and they haven't made any gold and silver gods, but they have idols in their heart. And they put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face. I mean they've got this thing between me and them.

All they can see is this idol. This is what they're bowing down to. They can't give me priority. They're too busy getting an education in our day. They're too busy making money. They're too busy being somebody. They're too busy with their activities.

They're too busy worshipping the god of recreation or sport or whatever it is and they've got that between them and me. Verse 4 he says, Thus saith the Lord God, every man of the house of Israel that sets up his idols in his heart and puts the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and comes to the prophet I, the Lord will answer him. I will answer him. I'll take the house of Israel in their heart because they are estranged from me through their idols. I'll take over, he says.

I'll seize them. Idolatry is any idol in the heart. Now I can be specific about a couple of these if you'll look with me at Ephesians 5, 5.

I'll show you a couple of idols in the heart. Ephesians 5, 5. And Paul here suggests this almost as an aside but helps us to get an idea that is very, very, very important. He's talking about the fact that as children, dear children of God, we ought to walk in love. And walking in love means we avoid false love but we maintain true love.

False love is fornication and all of the stuff that goes with that and then he goes on and do other things that we should avoid. In verse 5 he says, For this you know, that no fornicator, sexual sin, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, parenthesis, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Now here's another thing that is idolatry.

This is the eighth in the list. Idolatry is covetousness. Or covetousness is idolatry. Somebody who covets really is worshiping in the materialism end, isn't it? This is money, things, possessions.

It could be a house, a car, clothes, more money, more bonds, more stocks, bigger business, more products, more inventory, more and more whatever. Covetousness is idolatry because whenever you begin covetousness, do you want to give me a definition of covetous? Wanting what you don't have. That's covetousness. You say, oh, are you kidding me?

I'm not kidding you. Covetousness is wanting what you don't have. Did you ever do that?

I do it. I have to say that because you know that anyway. Of course, covetousness. Wanting what you don't have. Now you can be tempted to want what you don't have and reject the temptation. That's covetousness to get to the place where you have a strong driving desire for the thing you don't have. Paul says, I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. I know what it is to have.

I know what it is to have not. Either way, God help us to get to that level of maturity. Covetousness. Worshiping money. Worshiping possessions. And just to make sure you didn't forget that, a little later in the New Testament it's echoed in Colossians 3, 5.

Same statement. Covetousness which is idolatry. You cannot worship God, the true God, in the true way, Jesus said, and also worship money.

God and mammon. But I'll tell you, money gets in the way of worshiping God. Read 1 Timothy 6.

They that would be rich fall into many snares, deceitful lusts and hurts and temptations. And that's the thing that gets in the front of you like the Israel elders of old. You get money between your face and God and you can't see Him anymore. Or maybe your God is possessions or a better job or a better salary or a bigger house or whatever or whatever.

And that becomes the preoccupation of your mind. That stands between you and God and blocks His view. There's another thing, and I don't want to spend too much time because the Holy Spirit is going to deal with you on this as He is with me. But number 9 in just giving you a long list of things to define idolatry is idolatry is also lust.

Idolatry is lust. I think this is a very helpful verse. Philippians 3, 19. Now, I don't want anybody to panic, but here it comes. Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly.

Oh my. And it goes on to define it. Whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things. Now, whose God is their belly could better be translated appetite.

And most of us would feel a little better about that. That's a little more abstract. But even better than that, I would say whose God is lust.

But, if you want to be honest, lust is a broad term and it can involve the belly. There are people who live for the one thing that they have in mind centrally and that's to eat. You know, there are people who haven't finished the meal they're eating until they're already thinking about where they're going to get the next one.

And what it's going to be. Do you know how many of those people? You know, we live in a society that crowds us this way. We get to the place where all of a sudden we've lost our perspective.

It's true. People can live to eat, but that isn't all that he has in mind here. And unfortunately, the King James says belly and it's really broader than that. It can be a lust for anything. Some people just run around to panda sex. Oh, they just go from one sex object to the next.

You know, it's a magazine and when the magazine is done it's a television program. When the television program is done it's whatever, whatever, whatever and that's in their mind all the time. It can be lust for any direction, toward any object. Strong desire sets up God's.

Lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, pride of the life. Well, I've given you nine things that will give you a fairly comprehensive look at idolatry. Wrong thoughts about God.

Images other than God. Wrong ways of worshiping the right God. Worshiping angels, devils, dead men. Setting up idols in the heart such as covetousness and lust. Now that's idolatry, beloved.

And what does the Bible say it would do about idolatry? What does it say in 1 Corinthians 10, 14? Do what? Flee. Paul says to the Corinthians, you can't realize what danger you're in if you let your liberty run you right out to the end of it. Well, I'm not going to get involved in this certain lust and I'm not going to get involved in covetousness. I have my liberties. I can indulge in a few of those things. Well, if you keep exposing yourself to that stuff, the chances are you are. Turn and run.

Now I want to help you a little bit further to know why you ought to run. By telling you what effect idolatry has on you and on me. How does idolatry affect us? Number one, it defiles us. And what that means is it renders us sinful.

It brings sin upon us rather than righteousness. In Ezekiel 20, verse 7, it says, defile not yourselves with idols. Idols have defiling effect.

I don't care whether it's the gods of Egypt that you're bowing down to Ra, you know, the sun god, or you're bowing down to the beetle god of Egypt in the time in which this was indicating, or whether today it's the god of golf in your heart or whatever, or money. Whatever that idol is, that has a defiling effect. That is, it interrupts righteousness. And I'm talking to an unbeliever or a believer.

It will have the same effect on either. Fortunately and graciously, God forgives and keeps on cleansing the believer, but it is no less idolatrous and no less defiling. Secondly, idolatry has not only a defiling effect on the person who is involved, but it has a polluting effect on everybody around him. A person who worships an idol tends to tear down everybody around him.

You see this in Israel. A little group of people began worshipping Baal and pretty soon it had national consequences. And Ezekiel chapter 36 verse 18 helps us to see that in these terms.

It says, Wherefore I poured my fury on them for the blood that they had shed on the land and for their idols by which they had polluted it. Idolatry not only has a devastating effect on me, whatever that idol might be, but it has a polluting effect on everybody that I touch. Another thing about idols, they can't help you anyway.

You've got to keep that in mind. You don't have one idol in your life that's going to be any use to you. You certainly can't turn to your money when you get into real problems. You can't turn to your education. You can't turn to whatever particular point of fame you might have.

You can't turn to your big house or your bank account, whatever. In Isaiah, I think it's 46.7, you have that indicated. It says, it discusses idolatry. It's really funny to see the way he discusses it. He says, These guys are making idols and they do all this and they carry their idols on their shoulder. Here they come with their new idol. They just forged their new idol.

They come down the road with their new idol. And they stick it in its place and it stands there, Isaiah said. There it is. And from its place it shall not move. It'll never go anywhere. That's the end.

It's there and that's it. Yea, one shall cry unto it, yet can it not answer, nor save him out of his trouble. Idols can't help you.

Can't do a thing for you. And I'll tell you something further that he talks about in Ezekiel 44. Idols not only defile you, pollute everything around you, can't help you when you need it anyway, but idols bring upon you guilt that activates God's vengeance. Ezekiel 44, 10.

And this is straight. The Levites that are gone away far from me, when Israel went astray, who went astray away from me after their idols, they shall even bear their iniquity. Idolatry has culpability. That is, it has guilt connected with it. When you have a false god, you render yourself guilty. And that, you see, brings down God's vengeance. You put yourself in a position for chastening, for God to judge. Just to show you how he does that in Isaiah 65, 2.

These are interesting terms. Listen to this. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people that walked in a way that was not good after their own thoughts. You see, they conjured up their own ideas of God and their own ideas of how to worship.

A people provoking me to anger continually to my face. They sacrifice in gardens and they burn incense on altars of brick. They remain among the graves and they lodge in the monuments. You see, there's that idea of worshiping dead people. That eat swine's flesh and broth of abominable things in their vessels that say, stand by thyself, come not near to me. Stay away, don't come near me, for I am holier than thou. You've always wondered where that came from, haven't you?

It's Isaiah 65, 5. And I like God's reaction. He says, they are smoke in my nose.

Do you ever get smoke in your nose? That is irritating. God says, they irritate. Behold, it is written, I will not keep silence, will recompense, even recompense into their bosom. I'm going to bounce it right back, like a backboard right at them. Your iniquities, the iniquities of your fathers together, says the Lord, who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed me on the hills.

And they had their idols up on the mountains. Therefore, will I measure their former work into their bosom. I'll bounce it right back at them, right into them. Now this people tells you what happens in idolatry situations. You activate the recompensing vengeance of God. A man who lives worshiping any other than the true God, or worshiping the true God in any other way than the true way through his son, is in a position where God's vengeance is activated against him. While I'm in Isaiah, I'll show you an interesting verse in 57.5. This is just a fascinating look at idolatry.

You can't believe how sordid this is. It talks about sorcerers, adulterers, and harlots, and all the gross things. But it just doesn't get any more vile than verse 5.

And this is another aspect of it. Idols defile, they pollute, they give no help, they bring guilt, and they demand vengeance from God. And one other thing that idols do is inflame the heart. They set men on fire, spiritually speaking. They begin to consume them.

They get out of control. Verse 5, inflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree. You've lit yourselves on fire with this thing. And when we say a man has a fire in his heart, we mean he's got a tremendous uncontrollable passion.

And you know there is even an exact physical act that brought this statement to bear? They used to, at the spring festival, the Palestinian heathens, at the spring festivals, they took huge trees and they hanged on the trees their sacrifices and then burned up the whole tree. So, that was like a metaphor for the burning of their hearts.

And then the second part of the verse, I'll just give you a footnote. Slaying the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks. The Canaanites killed their children. Part of their sacrifices to the god Moloch was to take their children, for example, when they build a building, put a live child in a jar, seal the jar and build it into the wall. Further than that, what he's referring to here is they used to take little children at the festivals to Moloch and they would stick them in a leather bag and they would tie knots at the top of the bag and throw the children off a cliff. That's precisely what this means, slaying the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks. That's idolatry.

That's how far it went and Israel was involved in it. Now, that's idolatry. Lighting the flames of their own burning. In fact, Jeremiah 50, 38, Jeremiah says, idols have driven you mad.

They've lost their senses. And idolatry, a lifetime of worshiping the wrong things that the wrong gods in the wrong way can drive a man to the place where he cannot any longer think sanely. Now, that helps you to see idolatry, doesn't it? What's God's attitude? Deuteronomy 7, 25 says, idolatry is an abomination to me.

God hates it. Deuteronomy 16, 22, Deuteronomy chapter 17, God says, I hate idolatry. Jeremiah 8, God pours out his wrath against idolatry. He says, the people who do that are going to be manure.

They're going to be dung on the earth. Revelation 14, Revelation 21, Revelation 22, God says, there's no idolater ever going to enter into my kingdom. So, beloved, there's only one way to react to idolatry. That's one. What is it? Run from it.

Any kind. Leave it. I'm going to close with this. Joshua 23, 7. It says this, that you come not among these nations, these that remain among you. Don't intermingle, he says.

Please don't intermingle. This is Joshua's final message, just before he dies. Don't make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them, but cling to the Lord your God. You see, Joshua's words are just like Paul's. Have nothing to do with them.

Don't even talk about them. Cling to God. Beloved, we have liberty, but our liberty is not to see how far we can go until we get to the end of our liberty, right on the edge of the world's idolatry and get into temptation and fall in.

Our liberty is to let us run away from these things. Don't let your freedom from sin turn into freedom to sin. A crucial reminder from John MacArthur as he continued his current series on Grace to You, titled Pitfalls of Christian Liberty.

Along with teaching on the radio, John also serves as chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary. Well, friend, the lesson you just heard focused on the danger of idolatry. It's a temptation every Christian faces.

And John, in those moments of temptation, when sin entices a believer, what is the most effective weapon he or she has for resisting? Yeah, well, what you're talking about is a fully informed and active conscience. Conscience is your warning device, God-given warning device. A few days ago I said it's like pain in the physical world. If something's wrong with your body, God has given you a warning system. It's called pain, and you know something is wrong, and you can deal with it, you can make it right.

That's critical. You wouldn't want to live without pain because you could be dying and never know it, damaging yourself and never know it. The same is true in the spiritual realm. The conscience activates your will and says, whoa, stop, I'm going down a wrong spiritual path, there's danger ahead. But the conscience can only respond to what you believe, to what you believe, to your convictions. That is why it is critical to have biblical convictions that accurately inform your conscience. Look, a suicide bomber blows himself up because his conscience doesn't stop him. His conscience is informed by lies, so your conscience can only react to whatever your belief system is. As a Christian, you need a well-formed, sound, biblical belief system so that your conscience can activate. All of this and a whole lot more is in a book I wrote called The Vanishing Conscience.

You need to read it. The Vanishing Conscience, soft cover, 250 pages. It'll change how you view that most important gift from God, your conscience. You can order one from Grace to You today. Yes, friend, this is one of John's classic books, and you really need to read it. To help make sure that you're taking sin as seriously as God expects you to, pick up a copy of The Vanishing Conscience when you contact us today. You can order by calling toll-free 800-55-GRACE or by visiting our website, Again, to get a copy of The Vanishing Conscience for yourself or a few to give away, call 800-55-GRACE or visit If you're looking to strengthen your conscience by really expanding your understanding of biblical truth, let me recommend the MacArthur Study Bible. With detailed introductions to each book of the Bible and 25,000 study notes by John, the MacArthur Study Bible helps put Scripture in its proper historical context, and it shows you how to apply God's Word to your life. The MacArthur Study Bible is available in the New American Standard, New King James, and English Standard versions.

There are also many non-English translations to choose from. To see all of the options, go to That's our website, Or you can call us at 800-55-GRACE. Now for John MacArthur and the entire staff, I'm Phil Johnson reminding you to watch Grace to You television Sundays on DirecTV channel 378, that's NRB-TV. Or check our website to see if it airs in your area. Join us tomorrow for another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-09 21:49:40 / 2023-03-09 22:01:22 / 12

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