It seems to me that what is commonly called “Christianity” in our culture is not only very dissimilar to biblical Christianity, but it actually seems more akin to idolatry than Christianity. I’m not talking about bowing down to a statue; I’m talking about some of the real heart issues behind idolatry. Here are some reasons why many of us may be more guilty of idolatry than we think …
God Has Become a Means to an End
An idolatrous god is simply a means to an end. The ancients would worship a fertility goddess in order to be fertile. They would make sacrifices to the god of war in order to have victory on the battlefield. They would try to please the god of the seas in order to ensure a safe voyage.
The God of the Bible, on the other hand, is not worshiped as a means to an end. God is to be worshiped because He Himself is the end; He is the object of our pursuit. We are told to seek Him in order that we might find Him (see Acts 17:27; Hebrews 11:6). Not in order that we might find all the physical things—or even eternal things—we want.
But many of us have turned God into a means to an end. We are worshiping Him and serving Him in order for Him to give us the things we want. And it isn’t just the “health and wealth” preachers who think this way. Even when talking about heaven, many use terms like, “That big fishin’ hole in the sky.” They worship God because they see Him as the One who can provide the stuff they want, now and for eternity.
But God is not just a gift giver, He Himself is the gift! If you are just seeking the things God can give you, and not God Himself, then you don’t understand the God of the Bible. If you don’t see that the greatest blessing of Christianity is reconciliation with God (see 2 Corinthians 5), then you really don’t understand the Gospel!
A Personal God Has Become a Personalized God
An idol is a man-made thing and the god it represents is also man-made. Therefore it can be personalized to whatever the idol-worshiper wants it to be. An idol is a personalized god.
The God of the Bible is a personal God, but He is NOT a personalized God. He is a personal God because He knows and loves us personally, knowing every hair on our heads (Matthew 10:30). And He is personal because He cannot be worshiped, served or obeyed vicariously. In order to be a Christian, a person must personally believe in and follow Christ.
However, many in our culture have tried to personalize God, the way we personalize everything else in our culture. We want to have everything our way. We want to decide the color, shape and size of everything in our life. We don’t want our things to match our neighbor’s things; we want our stuff to be personalized.
Likewise, we have tried to personalize our God. Statements like, “Well, I just don’t believe in a God like that,” pass as legitimate theological arguments in our culture. It seems we actually think we can choose who God is.
Biblically, of course, that’s not how it works. God is God and we are not. He doesn’t need my permission, or your permission, to be who He is!