This is the first in a series of posts on idols in the church. You can read the others here:
Have you ever allowed yourself to wonder, “What would have happened had Adam and Eve not taken of the wrong tree’s fruit?”
If you have too, and are like me, any more than a passing thought of wonderment at this question will mess you up. You may even find yourself compelled to ask even more questions – and then find some equally wrecking answers.
This is the kind of thing that sent me headlong into seeing God’s Eternal Purpose.
It is the collision of that Eternal Purpose, and the muse about “What if?” on Adam that has led me to a crisis of conviction, and the topic of this post:
We have made Salvation an Idol.
Let me define how I am using the word “Idol” in this context – Anything (anything) that is placed ahead of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s really a pretty simple concept, that like many things, tends to be overcomplicated. If we allow any thing, place, person, or ideal to take precedence over Jesus Himself, then that thing, place, person or ideal has been made into an idol – and we are guilty of idolatry.
You must not have any other god but me. (Exodus 20:3)
So be careful not to break the covenant the Lord your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the Lord your God has forbidden this. (Deuteronomy 4:23)
I like what the Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words adds to our context:
“Idolatry,” or eidōlolatria in Greek, is “the worship of false gods,” usually by doing homage to images—called idols. God’s people in the Old Testament were constantly tempted to participate in idolatry and often gave in. By the time of Jesus, however, the Jews had basically abandoned the worship of man-made idols. Thus, there is no mention in the Gospels of Jesus ever speaking about idolatry—except in a specialized sense concerning the worship of mammon, Aramaic for “wealth” or “riches” (Matt. 6:24).
Outside of Palestine, however, idolatry was pervasive. Throughout the Greco-Roman world, idols were venerated in temples dedicated to the traditional Gentile gods, in popular magic and superstition, as well as in mystery religions. Thus, when Paul went out on his missionary journeys into the Gentile world, he encountered those who participated in idolatry and idols of every sort. For example, when Paul went to Athens, he was “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16, NIV). Athens was typical of other Hellenistic cities that were committed to many forms of idolatry. Ephesus was given over to the worship of Artemis, and Corinth was plagued with idolatry and its accompanying evils.
The fullest discussion in the New Testament on idolatry (eidōlolatria) and the idol-worshiper (eidōlolatrēs) is found in 1 Corinthians. In an earlier letter, Paul had told the Corinthians not to associate with those who called themselves believers, but were still idol-worshipers (1 Cor. 5:9–11). In that letter from the Corinthians to Paul, they must have asked for clarification on this matter. Thus, 1 Corinthians provides a response to their question. The kind of idolatry that Paul condemns is that which involved Christians offering sacrifices to idols and then partaking of the food that had been sacrificed to them. The participants are called “idol-worshipers” because their involvement in idolatrous sacrifices was perceived as having fellowship with demons.
In Paul’s other letters, Paul speaks out against actual idolatry and what we might call figurative idolatry—that is, idolatry in the sense of desiring something above God. For example, in Romans 1:18–32, sexual licentiousness and other sins are ultimately traced to idolatry. Idolatry is included in Paul’s list of what he calls “deeds of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19–20, NASB). And those who are idol-worshipers are included in the catalog of all those evil people who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). Believers today must take special care not to desire or value anything more than God: whether it be family, a job, success, money, and even depression, self-image, or loneliness. All we need is the Lord, and He is to be first in our lives.
It is in that vein that I believe that Salvation, as necessary and beautiful as it is, has become an idol in greater Christianity. How can this be? Because it is often desired and valued more than God.
The root of this idolatry can likely be traced back to The Protestant Revivalist movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, along with the massive influences of evangelists such as D.L. Moody and Billy Graham. While these movements and men are certainly to be celebrated for their contributions to the Kingdom of God, it is fact that their gospel had but one message – salvation for the sinner. The goal, and the only goal, was to “save as many souls for the Lord” as possible, by any means. While not wrong in and of itself, a negative outcome notwithstanding was the rooting of an individual Christianity – one that was “me” focused:
- I am a sinner
- I need to be saved
- Now that I am saved, I need to go find others who need to be saved and
- Go live my individual Christian life.
Where is Jesus in all of this?
Most of the books, conversations, teaching and preaching in the Christian community today is still centered in man, man’s Fall, man’s needs and God’s provision for meeting those needs. Man is central and God is for man’s benefit. The result of Adam and Eve eating of the wrong tree was a prideful orientation toward self for humanity – and this attitude pervades today – even into that which we hold most dear in our Christian story, our Salvation from the consequence of the Fall.
This was never God’s intention – for Adam – or for us.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. 9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. (Ephesians 1:3-11)
Paul reveals to the Ephesians the “plan” that existed in the Father, Son and Spirit – outside of time, and outside of sin. Before creation, and before sin, God planned (notice all the past-tense underlined above) to “bring everything together under the authority of Christ.” That includes you and me, chosen one.
We were always intended to be “summed up in Christ,” even before Adam and Eve ate of the wrong tree. Because of this, God’s ultimate plan did not change, He simply took a brief detour because “He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins.”
We have been so conditioned to relate to Jesus Christ only in the redemption and Salvation of man from sin and death – that we have not appreciated all the Father intended, and still intends, in Christ for eternity and for His Eternal Purpose.
We need to move from the altar of our Salvation to the feet of Jesus.
We need to move from sitting at the foot of the Cross to Living in the shadow of the Cross.
We need to replace the idolatry of our own Salvation with worship of He who is Salvation.
We need to quit viewing being saved as the final destination, and start viewing it as the pathway back to God’s Eternal Highway – which is The Path that began before time, and continues for all eternity.
If man had never sinned, would “all things (have still been) summed up in Christ?” (Ephesians 1:10). If man had never sinned, was God still planning on all things to be “in Christ?” If man had never sinned, would Jesus have been incarnated as a human?
God has always intended for His Son to be His glory – not because sin entered the world – but even if sin had not entered the world.
The Father has always wanted:
- To dwell with and in men – and Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of His House.
- For His Son to have a Body to express His Life – Himself – into the world – and Jesus Christ is Head of that Body.
- To have a family, of which Jesus is the Firstborn among many children.
- For His Son to have a Bride on whom He pours out His Love, and to whom He is the Bridegroom.
These are the elements of the Eternal Purpose of God. They existed in His beating heart before time, creation and sin. They exist now. They will be fulfilled, all in Jesus Christ.
God gave Adam and Eve (and all of us) free will – the opportunity to choose to cooperate or not with His Purpose. As a result of rebellion to Him and that Purpose, redemption and Salvation were necessitated. This redemptive phase was never intended to replace or overshadow His original intention, however.
Watchman Nee puts it like this:
We only see history back to the Fall. God sees it from the beginning. There was something in God’s mind before the Fall, and in the ages to come that thing is to be fully realized. God knew all about sin and redemption; yet in His great Purpose for the Church set forth in Genesis 2, there is no view of sin. It is as though (to speak in finite terms) He leaps in thought right over the whole story of redemption and sees the Church in future eternity, having a ministry and a (future) history which is altogether apart from sin and is wholly of God. It is the Body of Christ in glory, expressing nothing of fallen man but only that which is the image of the glorified Son of man. This is the Church that has satisfied God’s heart and has attained dominion.
In God’s thought, redemption and our Salvation has been but a brief “dip” down on the eternal upward sloping line of His design and intent. He has had from eternity a glorious Purpose for Himself, that amazingly includes man. Salvation is not the end, but only a recovery back to (before) the beginning. It is but a parenthesis in the grand narrative. His mind has “leapt” over the whole story. We are saved in Christ, and praise and thanks be to God for that! But He has His heart set firmly on another Purpose, one from before time.
If our hearts and eyes are anywhere other than the same, even on the glorious gift of Salvation, we are guilty of idolatry. God has His heart set firmly on His Son, in Whom all things are, and in Whom all things will be summed up.
So too should we.