Idols and idolatry are almost meaningless terms to moderns. We hear St. John’s exhortation to keep ourselves from idols, and we think we’re safe because we haven’t been bowing down to any Buddha statues, sacrificing pigs to Baal or burning incense to Moloch in the last few weeks. In fact, we’ve probably never done any of those things. So when we think about idols we think we’re safe.
But the Bible is clear: idolatry is the root cause of cultural decline. Israel did not become the cesspool of the Middle East because she didn’t have her systematic theology straight. Of course Israel really did bow down before statues and she really did offer incense on every green hill and she really did cause her children to pass through the fires of Moloch, but these were the external, cultural signs of a prior idolatry: the worship of acceptance, fame, respectability and status in the world. She wanted to be like all the other nations around her, and in the end she was even worse than the pagan nations around her. Even they were embarrassed by her lewdness.
And it is no different today. You will not find Christians sprinkling blood before some black, lifeless statue. You will find Christians taking bribes to tell lies. You will see Christians doing obeisance to the gods of fashion, selling their children’s inheritance on credit cards, automobiles, houses and vacations. You will find Christians looking the other way, embarrassed to condemn sin and folly. You will find Christians offering up their children to be educated by god haters and pagans, defending the practice because, you know, ‘Daniel came out of the lions’ den unharmed.’ You will find Christians cheating on their taxes, overcharging for shoddy work and selling Jesus junk as though our faith is a commodity to be bought and sold. You will find Christians fawning before the gods of intellectual respectability, working feverishly to find ways to ignore what the Word of God plainly says about creation, human sexuality, and the protection of the weak and defenseless. And so, with John, I exhort you, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”