1. Application

The idolatry of today

Judges 3:7–11 (ESV)

7 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.

If we’re honest, we tend to scratch our heads at Israel’s idolatry. Worship an idol carved out of wood and stone? We laugh at that. We say, That’s foolish, primitive. We might be willing to admit to our deep shame that we too have our idols, but…wood, stone, temples? Baal culture is not our culture!

But “do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in much of the church today. Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it.”1

Baal worship is self-worship. The allure and success of the religion are viewed in terms of its benefits.

What is so much of Christianity today saying? Worship is for me. It has to meet my felt needs, touch my heart, give me fulfillment. More and more the gospel is being marketed as something that helps cope with a wayward personality, gives relief from past pain, boosts self-esteem, fixes marital stress, promises success in business. And so, many churches today, whether in the liturgy generally or the preaching specifically, are market-driven, attempting to meet the need of their consumers’ desires for self-fulfillment. It’s thought that if people can feel good about themselves, then their motivations will change, their poor self-image will change, and they will stop acting according to the bad habits to which they have become accustomed. But while all these various issues just mentioned are not inconsequential issues, they are not burning issues with which the Bible is concerned. What is central to the Bible is the true and right, sin and grace, God’s wrath and Christ’s death; what is central to so many people today is simply what offers internal relief and practical advice on how to live my life.2 Idolatry of the self is rampant. With Christ, you’re better, you’re stronger, you’re even more likeable. Excessive self-focus. Israel was infected with it, and the church today is threatened by it, in its worship and daily life.

How influenced are we by the self-focused culture around us? How have we and our interests become great and God and his glory little? The names may have changed, but the idols still offer the same ways of attaining satisfaction and significance. Idolatry is very tempting, because we all want to feel good. We all have our own personal idols, things that take the place of God, that make us comfortable, but in reality, things that lead us away from the one true God. Each of us has our own set of Baals and Asherahs, much like every town in Canaan had their own Baal and Asherah temple. But the temptation is the same for all of us: to bow down and sacrifice to the gods and goddesses of our culture, to help us feel good about ourselves – through substances, through clothing and fashion, through technology and entertainment, through business success, through fantasy or pornography. Baal and Asherah religion is about what makes you feel good…all the while forgetting God. Idolatry inflates your ego and feeds your desire for significance by even telling you that God loves you just the way you are – and so sin is no big deal. Which is so opposed to the gospel that tells you that in Christ, God loves you in spite of who you are.

And while you can often indulge your idols and not get caught, Judges 3:7–11 makes it clear that sin has consequences. Bowing down to the idols of our age can be downright enjoyable, and can even lead to temporal prosperity. But we then miss out on obedience to the Lord, which is the way of true prosperity. Sin leads to pain, for ourselves and those closest to us. The results of sin are not always as stark and severe as they are in the book of Judges. But sin always leads to bondage, brokenness, and death, at one level or another. It reminds us of our need for deliverance.