"…every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, expert in inventing idols." — John Calvin
By the grace of God my soul lately has been grieved and burdened in waging war against a vicious onslaught of idolatry. God has been faithful to maintain me through the midst of the struggle and gracious to cover the times of failure. As I was reasoning within my mind one day, seeking to justify a passion gone apostate, I came to a significant realization that I would do well to remember. My reasoning—devilish, indeed—was that I was not embracing "sin" as others were; I was not indulging in, say, immorality or drunkenness. But this led me to ask the following question, and praise be to God that I did: "And what, exactly, is sin?" I thought to myself. Immorality and drunkenness are definitely sins, no doubt, but they are not all what sin consists of. I was being led to believe that I was free to indulge in my heart's desire because it was not on par with gross sins like theft, murder, or adultery. This, however, is the very thinking employed by Satan and championed by Pharisees.
Sin is disobedience against God; it is lawlessness. And the same God who forbids us from committing murder and adultery also commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—which, indeed, is the "great and foremost commandment" (Matthew 22:38). Yet I was not loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength; I was not loving Him more than that to which I was being drawn—and that right there is sin. God help us to never forget that seeking to justify such treasonous affections whilst condemning outward sins is an exceedingly dreadful beginning of a hellish path toward self-righteousness!
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
You don't have to only murder, steal, or commit adultery to become guilty of committing sin. Idolatry is sin, as well, and a terrifying one, since it can be far more subtle than the rest. It is found in the same list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, a list of sins for which the judgment of God is threatened. Elsewhere Paul declares with absolute certainty that no idolater will have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5-6) and that God's wrath is not only coming upon those who practice immorality and impurity, but also idolatry and covetousness, as well (Colossians 3:5-7). We can be so inclined to minimize subtle, idolatrous passions, but the apostle Paul and the rest of the inspired writers make no such categorization anywhere in Scripture.
With that said, let us be on guard against entertaining vain thoughts against God and Christ. When we desire something more than Christ, that is sin. That, in fact, is the root of all sin. All people sin because they desire something more than Christ. This is that corrupt spring that has plagued the sons of men and from which all manner of sin springs forth. We fool ourselves thinking we are not sinning just because we abstain from blatant, outward sins—all the while demonstrating more love toward things than Christ.
Moreover, when we violate our conscience, that too is sin. If we are convicted against something, but we go on to pursue it because, after all, "it is not a vice like immorality," we are in grave sin. Paul tells us that what we do must proceed from faith because "whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). Though a particular activity may not be sinful in and of itself, since God has commanded us through His apostle not to violate our conscience, that activity becomes sinful in the specific case in which we are convicted against it. Often we try to reason our way around this when we are convicted against a certain activity by appealing to the fact that it is clearly not a sin or other genuine Christians are free to participate. But, as Paul warned, we are condemned if we partake, because we do not do it from faith.
We need to be ever on guard against such subtle sins as these, as God has brought me to realize recently. There is a reason why the last verse in the apostle John's epistle contains a warning against idolatry. Let us take heed:
1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation