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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Idolatry and Spiritual Warfare

Earlier in this series, I made a comment, which I’d like to develop a bit in this article: “Idolatry, at its foundation is demonic.”  That is a strong assertion.  Let’s consider that and it’s implications for how we should deal with idolatry. 

The Bible certainly treats idols themselves as inanimate, powerless objects.  They “are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good” (Jer. 10:5).

However, behind idol worship is the influence of evil spirits, or demons.  Indeed, numerous texts indicate that idol worship is actually the worship of demons themselves.  

So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. (Lev. 17:7)

They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known… (Deut. 32:17)

They served their idols, which became a snare to them.  They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons (Ps. 106:36-37)

…what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. (1 Cor. 10:20)

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk… (Rev. 9:20)

These passages should cause us to recognize what is really going on in our fight against idolatry.  This is not merely dehabituation and rehabituation.  It is spiritual warfare.  As Paul teaches in Eph 2:1-3, there is a triumvirate of influences leading us away from fidelity to the one true God: our own depravity, the world, and “the prince of the power of the air.”  

In some Christian circles, particularly those most turned off by charismatic excesses, believers focus mostly on fighting the flesh and the world.  This avenue of dealing with idolatry typically entails “putting off” and “putting on” and avoiding the tempting situations that the world so eagerly supplies (Eph 4:20-24).  Certainly, this is necessary, but it doesn’t go far enough.  It fails to recognize the intelligent enemy involved.

Idols do not merely represent habits that divert our attention from the Lord.  The passages above would indicate that regardless of what they look like, idols are tools used by a cunning foe to lead us away from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.  Therefore, we are not just dealing with bad habits, but an intentional enemy.  Dealing with them, therefore, will require more than breaking a bad habit and creating a new one.  It will require a warfare mentality and resisting not just the flesh, but the devil.

Aren’t we commanded to do this?  James 4 is a classic text used in biblical counseling circles to get to the heart of quarreling.  It addresses the selfish motives of our flesh - you desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel…  It also addresses the influence of the world in this struggle.  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  There we have the fight against the flesh and the world.  However, James doesn’t stop there.  Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

Yet, some disregard the call to any kind of spiritual warfare, casting it into a trash can labeled “the devil made me do it.”  We should be thankful the NT authors don’t do that.  The NT is much more balanced.  We can fight against the devil in our struggle with sin without blaming him for our sin.  

James and Paul and Peter and the others have much to say about spiritual warfare, which is essential in our fight against idolatry.  James would have us see in the passage above that we must draw near to God.  That is, we must enjoy fellowship with Him in all the ways we talk about so frequently (Word, prayer, Body).  Part of this fellowship, according to James, includes mourning and weeping over sin (James 4:9) - agreeing with God about our sin, rather than agreeing with the devil about our sin.  

Paul would have us to know that prayer is a powerful offensive weapon of our warfare.  Most of the armor in Eph 6:10ff, is defensive in nature and it all relates to gospel truth - essential to our fight.  We must preach the gospel to ourselves in this fight and use that truth to stand firm in the faith.  But there is an offensive weapon - the Word of Spirit - likened to a sword, attached to a participial phrase, “praying at all times in the Spirit…”  We are to receive the Word of the Spirit (an offensive weapon), praying at all times in the Spirit.  It’s possible that one way we wield this weapon is by praying the Word.  We pray in the Spirit the Word of the Spirit.  

How might we use this weapon against our foe in the fight against idolatry?  We could pray imprecatory psalms against the enemy.  “For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads.  …As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane!” (Ps. 83:2, 14-15)  Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! (Ps. 35:1)  

We could also pray the truths of the gospel.  That though there was a record of debt against us, Christ canceled it on the cross and disarmed all demonic powers.  “Lord, let this reality be born out in my fight against idolatry.  Let not my enemies triumph over me.” (Col 2:14-15; Psa 41:11). 


Much more could be written here, but at the very least, let’s not consider idolatry a matter of defeating bad habits.  It will entail putting off ungodly behavior, putting on godly alternatives, and avoiding the worlds enticements.  But there is more.  It entails spiritual warfare.  

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