Idolatry and Total Depravity

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. [Exodus 20:3-6 ESV; Deuteronomy 5:7-10]

Jesus began His ministry, like John, calling for repentance. Unlike John, Jesus did not dwell on the call for repentance but spoke to those who are repentant in a way only they could understand. For those who reject Him He says God will reject them. This is difficult for those who view God as all loving. God rejects those who replace Him with the lie of an idol, worshipping the lie and rejecting truth. We all, because we worship idols in some way, are idolaters. Even those who do not physically or emotionally worship a physical idol are still idolaters. Any who have, through trying to control God, changed their understanding of Him from what He has revealed, the truth, to what they think of him or feel about him, have changed him into something He is not. They have created an idol.

We do not understand the word “idol” because it is archaic and generally not accepted in our culture. In ancient literature it referred to a physical image or representation of a deity other than God. These deities are non-existent, so those worshipping idols worshipped something which did to exist, which is foolishness and insanity.

God says we are to have no other “gods” before, or in front of, Him. “Gods” (small “g”) could mean anything from an absolute ruler to an angel or one of the non-existent “idols.” A “god” is a deity rivaling the Only God. Any suggestion another god exists is a declaration of allegiance to something other than the One who created all things. “Worship” means to bow down to, or prostrate oneself before, that which is perceived as superior or worthy of adulation. One does not have to worship a physical representation of an idol to worship. Idolatry is worship of anything before which one prostrates oneself in adoration and obeisance.

Worship suggests the thing worshipped can provide something not otherwise had through natural, or controlled, means. Such an idol, whether a physical thing, a superstition or a mental irrational belief, could embody a false sense of safety and security from enemies to the enjoyment of natural pleasures. Whatever the outcome, the object of worship is perceived as able to provide what is needed, even temporarily. Idolatry happens when the false object is seen as able to provide the perceived need when God either cannot or will not. Idolatry is the figment of one’s imagination having a greater place than the God of reality.

Here is a phrase which no one likes and most misunderstand. It is the phrase “total depravity.” This phrase describe better than any other the complete inability of those bent by sin to change by their own will and effort, and become pleasing and acceptable to God. Because we carry the image of God we know the difference between right and wrong and may want to choose what is right. People do good things. Some may even choose to seek God. But we do these things in our own power and strength, through our own motivations, for ourselves. We know how to please others and know how to hurt them. Though knowing what is right and good we choose to do what is not right in some ways and what is not right in other ways. We know what God is like to a small, yet certain, degree choosing to remake Him and redefine Him to fit our personal ideal of god.

“Total depravity” in its essence, is selfishness, self-centeredness and self-absorption, placing God on the peripheral of life,or ignoring Him completely. It places self above God. Sin is, in its essence, selfishness, the desire to control and coveting what uniquely belongs only to God. Although there are many phrases which may describe sin and its corruption of humanity “total depravity” captures the absolute extent of people’s rebellion against God. What are some of the observable characteristics of totally depravity?

First and foremost there is no love for God. God showed His supreme love for humanity by sending His Son as a sacrifice of atonement for sin. He did this because we could not. Yet, no one is able and all are unwilling to show any love toward Him. He is rejected because in our selfishness and self-centeredness we prefer self to Him, pleasing self above and before Him.

Secondly, when confronted by God through His Spirit and called by Him, commanded by Him, to receive His Son, we show displeasure with Him. As long as He stays within the restrictions and boundaries of our imposed perception, as long as we think we can control Him we may tolerate Him, and even show slight devotion to Him. Here is religion at its most worldly and basic level: to proclaim an illusion of god without embracing the real God.

Thirdly, since everything we do, think and feel, since our attitudes and motivations, are essentially selfish and self-centered, even self-righteous, we do nothing which pleases Him or meets His eternal standard.

Finally, we are constantly moving away from God into self unable and unwilling to draw near to Him.

Make this personal. Writing and thinking in the abstract gives an impression of being absolved from any guilt coming from rebellion to God. Thinking abstractly, in the “we”, and not the concrete “I”, allows us to control how we think and what we feel by losing ourselves in the larger community. Change your thinking from “we” to “I” and begin taking responsibility.

Those who are poor in spirit recognize their thinking and attachments are not upon God but on self. They understand a righteous God judges according to a righteous standard and all those in rebellion are facing His righteous judgment. They recognize the lie of self-righteousness and take responsibility for the thinking of their hearts toward God. They also learn quickly they can do nothing and must rely totally upon God’s grace and none of their works for all of their actions are done in rebellion.


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