And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
In the last verse we found out that a man as soon as he steps away from God and His grace and mercy starts to exalt himself and his achievements and his popularity and his attributes.
In this verse we find out what happens next. And this happens in EVERY individual and every community and society that rejects God and His ways and His truth.
As soon as mankind rejects God as His source of worship, gratitude, strength and truth – he immediately has to create another god to take the real God’s place.
This is a universal principle and it is always true.
The NIV translates this verse as:
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Exchanged is a better translation of the Greek allaso than the KJV changed. It means to swap (or swop for the transatlantic readers of this!) one thing for another thing.
Whenever you give up on God and His goodness, you cannot leave that gap empty! You have to generate something or someone else to be your god. You exchange the glory of God for the image of:
3) animals (four footed things)
4) reptiles (creeping things)
Now, in our contemporary culture idoltary is not as blatant as it was 4000 years ago say, with genuine false gods with names and statues and so on. There is not too much of this around today in Western culture. Certainly in Hinduism for example this idolatry is maintained.
Just as an aside the gods of Hinduism are totally false gods. We have a lady in our church who was a Hindu and she is clear: none of those gods have ever done anything for her, and none of them have ever answered a single prayer.
In our culture though, false gods are not so noticeable, so let’s first define what an idol is.
1. An idol is something that you give unconditional emotional investiture into.
2. An idol is something that you spend disproportionate time, money and effort on.
3. An idol is something that you value its ideas and ideals without question.
4. An idol is something that without which life would not seem worth living.
So, when Hindus worship Ganesh, they unconditionally love him and worship him whether he answers their prayers or not.
They spend time and money and effort feeding and clothing and caring for what is essentially a statue of a man with an elephant head.
They value his ideals, such as being in business, overcoming obstacles and unity. I am not saying they are not good ideals, but it is the idea of not questioning that makes him an idol.
Finally, having access to Ganesh makes life worth living for many Hindus and Jains across the world.
This identifies him as an idol. Now to us the idea of doing all this for the statue of a man with an elephant head seems bizarre, but we have our idols too!
Let’s put the same first test to let’s say the televsion:
Some people put unconditional emotion into the television. I remember once being in a church as a preacher and an elder rebuked me for being too exuberant during the worship. I said to him: “maybe I should be telling you off for being too wooden”, trying to build a rapport with him and help him see the nature of worship.
He said that he just did not get emotional about things and it was not his nature. I told him that I did get emotional about Jesus, so the conversation was left there. A few weeks later I had reason to visit this elder at his house while the football was on (soccer for you Americans!). This was a revelation as the same man who worshipped like he had left the ironing board inside his shirt on the Sunday was screaming and yelling and was very mobile indeed in front of the television on Saturday.
You see he did express strong emotions visibly – he just did not have strong emotions for Jesus. Unfortunately, he is now divorced and not in the church anymore.
Do you laugh more and cry more due to secular TV than you do with Jesus and with real people? Do you watch programmes that make you feel scared because you enjoy the rush, but wouldn’t dare putting 10% of your pay check in the church and enjoying the rush of wondering how God is going to keep His promises to you as a tither?
What about the second test? Do you spend disproportionate time, energy and money on anything? Sometimes I am preaching in an evening service and it might get late and people get edgy and some people might leave because it is 9pm. Listen – 9pm is not late when you are in the world. But people would give hours of time to the nightclub and only a little bit of time to the church!
What about money? Before I became a Christian my gods were music, alcohol and whatever girl I happened to be seeing at the time. No-one ever had to take up an offering to persuade me to give far more than 10% of my income to these false gods every single paycheck!
What about the third test? An idol is something whose values you imbibe without questioning. So many Christians have a favourite preacher (and there is NOTHING wrong with that, I have my favourite) – but it is the unquestioning nature.
I honestly believe that some of the big name charismatic stars could go on TV and say that Jesus wants us all to dress up as oak trees to be saved and Christians would be down the costume shop the next morning. I have no problems with people with big ministries, I have a problem with anyone receiving what someone has to say without question. I have a problem if you receive what I have to say without question! That is idolatry.
And finally, an idol is something you could not live without. Could you live without TV, the radio, your favourite Christian rock star?
Idolatry is the natural state of man without God. As soon as someone rejects the glory and goodness of God and fails to glorify and thank God, they need to find someone else to fill that void. That is why idolatry is utterly universal within humanity – false religions, personality cults, false ideological concepts have always thrived – because a person rejecting God’s goodness and glory and the gospel always exchanges that for a false god.
Now as a Christian, is there an area where you have an idol, a false god? Do you give unwarranted affection or unquestioning loyalty to any thing or anyone?
So why do people serve false gods? Because the truth of the good news of God forces them to strip off their own confidence in their self. As I said when talking about the previous verse, you cannot serve God and hold onto valuing your deeds and your attitudes.
You can worship a false god without letting go of these things. That is why so many people do.
Glory and freedom,