True Worship vs. Idolatry: What Is Idolatry?

What is idolatry? According to Allen P. Ross, “idolatry was the ultimate rejection of the sovereignty of God…anything that rivals God in his rightful place as Sovereign Lord is a violation of the first principle of the faith.”[1] This means that anyone who worships anyone (e.g. relationships) or anything (e.g fame, fortune, and power) except the Lord God, commits idolatry.

God’s first commandment is: “Do not have other gods besides Me” (Ex. 20:3; Deu. 5:7, HCSB). This is linked to His greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deu. 6:5, HCSB). If we focus more on other things or anyone rather than God, then we commit idolatry.

In Exodus, after the Israelites worshiped God at the base of Mount Sinai, Moses went up for 40 days. Guess what the Israelites did. They committed idolatry. They made a golden calf and worshiped it. This corrupt worship also happened during King Solomon’s time (due to having many wives who influenced him to worship other gods). This is the reason why his kingdom was divided into Israel and Judah when his son sat on the throne right up to the exile. The Israelites worshiped other gods. God sent some enemies to subdue them. They cried out to God. God delivered them. They worshiped God. They return to idolatry. God even sent prophets (e.g. Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, etc.) to warn them of their idolatry and apostasy; yet, they did not heed their warnings. This cycle just continued until God sent kings, such as Hezekiah, Joash, and Josiah, to reform their worship. However, there were more evil kings than good ones, so they ended up in exile.

David Powlison, a Christian counselor, groups our idols (things we worship) into 4 basic categories, as follows:

  1. Idol of Power: Some people love influence and recognition. They seek that through things like money and status.
  2. Idol of Control: Some people want everything to go according to their plan, and want to know that in the future that everything will continue to go on their plan. (a. They don’t like uncertainty and they have to have things happen on THEIR terms and according to their timetable. b. If that timetable is thrown off, they become irritable, impatient, even angry.)
  3. Idol of Approval: Some crave to be accepted. They can’t be happy unless certain other people are happy with them, admire them, or desire them. (a. So, criticism is devastating to them. b. Not being affirmed is devastating. c. Feeling like they are not attractive enough is devastating. d. Being picked last is devastating. e. Many times they are cowards–they don’t do the right thing not because they don’t know what it is, but because they don’t want to deal with the disapproval of friends for doing it. So they cave.)
  4. Idol of Pleasure: Some long for physical delights–the good life is sensual delights, be that sexual pleasure, a nice house, best vacations, a nice car, good food, or creature comforts.[2]

Prayerfully evaluate yourself using the the above list. Honestly, which ones are yours?

I confess that I have the tendency to become impatient and irritable when things don’t happen the way I believe should happen. One of my idols is control, so I surrender this to God, and trust Him that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, HCSB).

Place all of them at the Lord’s altar. Surrender them to Him. Repent. Repentance is the solution for idolatry and corrupt worship. Repent, just like David repented in Psalm 51. Focus your eyes on Him. Read and meditate on God’s Word. We can only know true worship from His Word, and not from anything else.

When King Josiah heard the words from the Torah, he tore his clothes, and humbled himself before God because the kings before him did not follow God’s ways (2 Chron. 34). He and the people made a covenant before God to follow Him. They destroyed all the idols and altars. This is what we need to do.

To those who are not following the Lord, repent. Believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior, Lord, and God. Have faith in Him, and trust Him.

To those of us who already believe, we have the tendency to commit idolatry while we live in this world. Repent and confess for He is merciful to forgive us. We need to get rid of the idols and worldly ways, and focus on the Lord and follow His ways through His Word. We need to spend more time with Him. Fellowshipping with other believers and small groups (bible studies) are also important. The opposite of holiness is worldliness, and the opposite of worldliness is holiness. As Ross states, “Worship must transform us into the image of Jesus Christ.”[3] We can do this through His resurrection power.


[1] Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006) 311.

[2] JD Greear, “Releasing the Power of Life in You,” https://summitchurch.com/GetFile.ashx?Guid=c58a60a2-12ba-4d25-b08d-38b3abfaea84.

[3] Ross, Recalling, 341.

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