In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes how modern man tends to think of idolatry in terms of people bowing to figures carved of stone, metal, or wood. However, idolatry begins in the mind, even if no overt worship takes place. Tozer goes on to explain that idolatry is any entertaining of thoughts about God not worthy of Him, not only worshipping something other than Him.
This has great relevance in our society that views God in so many different ways other than what He reveals in the Scriptures, and that tries to use Him for political and financial gain. This also has great relevance within modern Christendom where many of its adherents often seem to stress more as to whether or not they like the worship services, rather than truly considering if He likes them.
Nearly across the board people believe in God’s love. Certainly love is part of God’s character. The Scriptures declare, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 [ESV]). However, it is imperative we understand His overarching attribute—holiness! This attribute is the umbrella to every other one. Holy means “set apart; other; extraordinary; transcendent.” It is the only attribute of His mentioned to the third degree—and in both the Old and New Testaments:
“And [the seraphim] called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:3)
“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8)
God’s love is a pure, holy love. His love will never be separated or go against His holiness. Jesus says the Father desires worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24). So, to profess God’s love while disregarding His holiness is to make a mockery of true worship and to plummet heart first into idolatry, which leads to holy judgment.
One of the tragic cycles we read of in the Old Testament is the Israelites’ regression into idolatry. Integrating the customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the people around them into the worship of God, only to drift away from Him without even realizing it. Perplexed and angered by the prophets’ rebukes and confrontations, all the while indulging in the immorality of the cult religions of Baal and Astarte, and the child sacrifice of Moloch (something God declares that never even entered His mind [see Jeremiah 7:31]).
One of my great concerns for many churches today is the adapting of customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the secular and pagan society around us, trying to integrate these into the Christian faith, dismissing the very attributes and ways of God He reveals to us in the Scriptures.
Jesus said of some of the religious people of the day, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’” (Mark 7:6-7).
And one of the most haunting things He says is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
God is holy, but He is also loving. Although He is loving, may we remember He is also holy, holy, holy, and His love is a holy love. If we try to tweak these to accommodate our desires or to condone or justify our beloved sins, we are guilty of idolatry. To not desire God as He is is merely to desire a god of our own making.