People fashion idols and images out of metal, wood, stone, and plastic. They also fashion idols mentally, that is, they create false ideas about God. These ideas about God are man’s feeble attempt to describe God. The Bible tells us, “Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out. . .” (Job 37:23). At the present time we see, as Paul said, “through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). God has revealed to man what he needs to know. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). When one creates an idol or some subjective concept of God, he has taken upon himself a right that only God possesses. God alone knows what He is and how He appears and thinks. “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” (Isa. 40:18). Any idol or concept of God that is inaccurate is an idol, a violation of the second commandment.
The problem with all these man-made concepts is that they are too narrow. They limit God. God is omnipotent. God is omnipresent. God is omniscient. Contrary to the pagan world God is not limited. Pagan concepts of various gods restricted their sovereignty and power. Pagan gods had carefully defined responsibilities. There was a god for love, a god for agriculture, a god for the sea, etc. Each god was supposed to solve the problem one encountered in that area. The true God is not restricted. He is the God of all things. Yet, the Bible tells us we “cannot find Him out.” “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (Eccl. 3:11). At the present time it is not possible to really grasp the fulness of God and His accomplishments in this world. Images and man-made ideas about God are not true characteristics of God. Any idol or concept of God that gives a false impression is a violation of the second commandment.
The second commandment reads as follows: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:4-6). This text clearly states that there are to be no images made with the expectation of worship, nor for the purpose of bowing down to them.
Those who involve themselves in idol worship or conjuring up false concepts of God do so for the purpose of serving that image or concept. This is because many people desire to have something to which they can render service.
But the Bible warns:
Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it (Deut. 12:30-32).
Heathen idols represent concepts that are at variance to the will of God. They should be avoided at all costs. Following various concepts that have taken the place of God should also be avoided. Time and service are required in order to serve these false gods. Furthermore, these false gods or concepts divest us of the right understanding we should have of the true God. Yet, the majority of mankind is hooked on one or more of these idols. Remember, an idol is a representation of an idea or concept. Whether one serves a literal idol or a concept, the result is the same. We have been deprived of the true knowledge of God. To be acceptable many people do not have the courage to reject these things. To live a truly godly life is not popular. Just as in the days of Christ, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). What should Christian service be? Paul tells us, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2). Forms of religion that are approved in this world may not be approved by God. It is imperative that we know the difference. Mark Twain once remarked, “religion is a very dangerous thing unless you get it right.”
These false religious concepts continue with each generation. Why? Because they are passed on down from father to son. The curse pronounced in Exodus 20:5 is because of this. Notice it. “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” A man who hates God practices idolatry. Parents who place much stock in images or concepts are bound to influence their children. They set the example, whether good or bad. Children should be taught the right way of God, not the wrong way of idols and false concepts. Children who are taught error most likely will reflect that error all their lives. They will often follow the gods of their parents, with the resulting consequences. “For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psa. 37:28). “Thou shewest loving kindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them: the Great, the Mighty God, the Lord of hosts, is his name” (Jer. 32:18). What is the result of passing these idols and false concepts from generation to generation? Here is the answer: “What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” (Ezek. 18:2). Why should this be? Because the sins of the fathers are passed on down to the children, just as Exodus 20:5 states.
False systems of worship and false depictions of Christ comprise another form of idolatry. These religious systems are not Biblical, and include much of what is called Christianity today. Yet, Christians by the millions accept what they are taught in their churches without questioning anything. They believe their particular denomination teaches the Bible. How can this be when many of these denominations disagree with each other? They cannot all be right. Some of our most respected religious celebrations and holidays come directly out of paganism. Anyone who is willing to check the encyclopedias can quickly find this out. Images and pictures of Christ are found in almost all Christian churches. Yet, what does the Bible say about the appearance of Christ?
And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength (Rev. 1:13-16).
Is it possible, then, to even have any kind of an accurate representation of Christ? Of course not! Anything other than the true representation of Christ can only be an idol. True worshippers of Christ worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). They are not deceived by false religious systems or false representations of God.
Christians are admonished, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Conforming to the world requires an enthusiastic participation. Few people are successful without putting maximum effort into their endeavors. Love for the world and what it has to offer can be a serious stumbling block-an idol. Love for the world makes it impossible to be devoted to God and to pursue the true spiritual riches. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:16-17). Idols can take many forms. One who is enamored by this world, by its concepts, its philosophies, and its rewards is enmeshed in idolatry. An idol is anything that one places ahead of God. Mammon is the idol here. James tells us, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).
A converted man walks with God. He loves the way of God. He finds no fellowship with those who oppose God, who walk in opposition to the Laws of God. What does God say about these human ways of opposition? “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). One cannot be doing the will of God by participating in its various forms of idolatry-religious concepts, images and idols, fundamental concepts, etc. An idol is anything that takes the place of God. Anything that is more important than God is an idol. Idolaters are guilty of breaking the second commandment.