The deceitfulness of idolatry


By Rev. O.L. Johnson

Religion Columnist

From time to time, it’s wise for us to put ourselves to the test to determine if we have unknowingly put ourselves in harm’s way. Consider the sin of idolatry, which is easy to fall into and not be aware. 

This is true because must of us don’t recognize idolatry when we see it. This requires some elaboration, so here we go.

First, let’s revisit the first two of the Ten Commandments where God spells it out for us. In the first one, God prohibits and defines it for us in this statement, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” Thereafter, he elaborates and describes idolatry as making and worshipping images of any created thing. So, literally anything can be the subject of idolatry. 

It’s no accident that this sin is placed first among the 10. It occupies that spot because it is the one most likely to severely damage one’s relationship with God, if violated. It may seem that idolatry is an easy commandment to deal with; it’s just a matter of refusing to create images. But we’ve created other subjects to idolize, without creating images; so, God changed the rules.

One of the Ten Commandments tells us that we are not to covet anything that belongs to any other person. That’s an Old Testament rule as old as the other nine. So, because of our attempts to get around these prohibitions, God included “covetousness” as an act of idolatry. Check it out for yourselves in Colossians 3:5. 

God recognized that over time most of us have developed a bad habit of coveting something that belongs to another person, and we still do even today. So, since Colossians was written, anytime we covet anything we are guilty of idolatry. It’s easy to see how incidents of idolatry through coveting can add up without our being aware of it. Here’s an example.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:28 that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her in his heart.” This is classic idolatry and a violation of three commandments: numbers 1 and 10, both of which prohibit idolatry under different circumstances, and number 7, which prohibits adultery. And all from just one look.

So then, the question is, are we in jeopardy without even knowing it? As we suggested above, it’s probably a good idea to test ourselves by revisiting our thoughts of the recent past and see where we stand. 

It could be that repentance is called for. It’s never too late to absolve oneself from sin. God loves it when we do so. Think about it.

Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in South Los Angeles.

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