Idolatrous Church: 1 John 5

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As a kid, I would always read the last sentence or the last page first when picking a new book to read. I’m not even sure where I got this weird quirk from, but every time I picked up a book, I would make a beeline to that last page, furiously flipping through pages so I could read the conclusion first. It’s weird, but it’s an efficient way to learn a lot about the book itself.

1 John is a fascinating book of the Bible. For 5 chapters, John writes at length about the love of God for us and how it’s his immense love that empowers us to love him and others. The immensity of God’s love for his people is obvious and I would probably greatly benefit from reading through it more often than I currently do.

After chapters of incredible detail about the love of God for us, John ends the book with these verses:

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:20-21 (ESV)

John’s final thought he wanted to leave to the church was to keep away from idols. He didn’t leave instructions about reading your Bible or praying more or gathering in church every week. He didn’t talk about worship or speaking in tongues or church governance—he wanted to make sure that the church was pure and spotless, vigilant in keeping away from those things that could take the number one spot in their hearts above God.

If I were to put my own spin on this verse, I would say, “Be ruthless in killing the idolatry in your heart.”

Idolatry is one of those words that almost seems irrelevant in today’s culture. It sounds like one of those “outdated” religious words that just aren’t used today. But it’s biblical, so I’m going to use it.

Idolatry is when something takes the number one spot in our lives above God. The highest command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—when we love anything more than we love God, then that’s an idol.

It’s so easy to sweep this under the rug. Honestly, this is really difficult for me to grapple with because my biggest idol is myself. I’m tempted to seek my comfort, security, and entertainment above devotion to God. I can love my plans, ideas, or ambitions more than God. I can so easily worship my wants or my desires, finding more pleasure, fulfillment, and joy in them instead of in him.

Idolatry can be subtle and insidious. It can weasel its way into our hearts and lives without us immediately recognizing it. I think that’s why John was so intentional to remind us to keep away from idols. Because he understood the love of God for us, he knew how damaging idolatry can be in our lives. Idolatry evicts God from his rightful place in our lives and puts something unworthy in that top spot—how heartbreaking!

Thankfully, it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. And the more we experience his love for us, the more we will willingly keep away from those idols. I think that’s why John structured the book the way he did—when we understand God’s love for us, it can be a joy to kill those idols in our hearts.

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:2-3 (ESV)

My prayer today is that we would each take some time to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those areas in our hearts where we have allowed idolatry to fester and grow. That we would be quick to humble ourselves and repent. And that our love for God will only grow. Killing idolatry is a hard and lifelong task, but I pray, just as John wrote, that we will be consumed with a love so great that God’s commands are not burdensome. That our relentless rooting out of idolatry would become an absolute joy in our lives.

Idolatry can take many different shapes and forms throughout our lives; let’s be people who are ruthless in uprooting idolatry in our own hearts.

How do you define “idolatry”?

How do you practically uproot idolatry in your heart?

To go Deeper: Read Clearing the Closet of Accumulated Idols, Fruitful: Rotten Fruit

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