In your mind’s eye, what does it look like? Is it a commercial airliner? A military fighter jet? An antique bi-plane? A toy airplane? A cartoon? Does it have propellers? Does it have a logo on it? What color is it?
There are so many images that fit the word “airplane”. All of them are different, but all of them are accurate.
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were surrounded by a polytheistic religion. The religion recognized hundreds of gods by crafting statues of them, housing them in elaborate and beautiful temples, and creating exotic and mystical ceremonies and celebrations around them. The Egyptian religion was filled with visual pictures of their deities. So, when the word “god” was tossed around, the images were many. And, in that culture, they were accurate.
After living in that culture for centuries, it’s no wonder that when they were released from bondage, and Moses apparently abandoned them for a 40 day hike up the mountain, the Israelites responded in desperation by creating an idol, a statue to worship. In fact, they even gave credit to this idol for delivering them from Egyptian captivity. Ex 32:4 says “This is the god that brought you out of Egypt.” They were obviously confused!
The God of Israel was not just one god of many gods. He was and is the ONE TRUE GOD. He is not to be lumped in with a mish mash of other gods, none of which have any real power or authority. He is supreme, unique, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. He wants us to have an accurate concept of who He is. And above all, he will not tolerate our worship of other gods.
We may not be guilty of crafting golden statues to worship, but we are more like the Israelites than we think. We often have an inaccurate or incomplete perception of God. Our idea of God has been developed through our lives, from our childhood experiences, the influences of our parents, our life’s experiences. If we don’t cultivate an accurate view of God, we are in essence creating a golden calf idol to worship. And God won’t tolerate that.
1. We have an inaccurate view of God’s character: Some people describe God as unloving, distant and impotent. They don’t see him as loving, intimate and powerful. They ask, “If God is so loving, why is there evil?” They consider God too big, too busy and too uninterested in the daily affairs of life. Prayers go unanswered, so they conclude he’s not powerful enough to reply. These are all inaccurate views of God. Scripture is clear. He is loving, near and omnipotent. He is intimately involved and concerned with our lives. He has the power to do anything. Diminishing the character of God creates an inaccurate picture, a worthless idol.
2. We have an inaccurate view of God’s creation. When man begins to worship nature, or attribute god-like qualities or rights to it, that’s creating a idol out of nature. It’s wise to care for the environment, protect animals, preserve natural resources and study the movement of stars and planets. But to elevate any of those to the position where they have power, or provide life to people, that’s creating an idol. Extremists in these areas often don’t realize that they are elevating creation over the creator, and God won’t tolerate that.
3. We have an inaccurate view of crafted objects. Expecting an inanimate object to provide luck or fortune is an abomination to God as well. It can be an innocuous as a good luck charm or lucky t-shirt. It can be a religious item such as “holy water” or a cross pendant or a statue. But it can also stretch into the darker world of the occult, with its talismans, tools and tricks. Fortune telling, palm reading, horoscopes, astrology, numerology, tarot cards, channeling, yoga, mysticism, chain letters, crystals, ESP…all of these have roots in the occult, the domain of the devil, and are inappropriate for Christians. In addition to being dangerously demonic, they cultivate an inaccurate view of God by assigning His qualities to lifeless created objects.
4. We have an inaccurate view of God’s salvation: I grew up thinking that God was this heavenly judge who was always watching me to make sure my good outweighed my bad. And quite frankly, I thought He was pretty impressed because I was a pretty good person. I really thought that if I checked my behavior, I’d win God’s favor. The prize: I’d go to heaven. That philosophy ruled my life. I was CONSTANTLY working hard to be a good person. How misguided I was! To think that God was measuring MY goodness in order to accept me seems ludicrous now. Because no matter how good I am, I can probably find someone who’s even better. So, how good is good enough?
The bible says “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There’s no way I can earn God’s favor because He will only accept perfect behavior. He’s perfect and cannot permit anything less than perfect in heaven. So, he had to make provision for imperfect people to be considered perfect. That’s why Jesus came. Jesus’ death on the cross redefines my state as “perfectly acceptable.” I am considered righteous because of what Jesus did.
I did nothing to earn salvation. And when I think that ANY of my efforts count to my credit in God’s ledger, I diminish his work of salvation, his gift of mercy, his immeasurable love, and I re-define who He is. I have an inaccurate picture of His salvation. I begin to think it all rests on me. I move from living in the gospel of faith to a gospel of works. I make an idol out of my own efforts.
I remember telling a friend about how to get to heaven. “All you need to do is confess that you’re a sinner, accept Jesus’ death as payment for your sin, and invite Him to take the throne of your life. It’s that simple.” She was a woman who was deeply involved in her religion, very active in her church, but did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. She replied, “I can’t accept that it’s so simple. What about all the hard work and good things I do in church? Don’t those all count for anything? Isn’t God pleased with my efforts?”
Sure He is. But they won’t get you to heaven. When we assume that God is pleased with what WE think he should be, we are creating an idol, an inaccurate picture of God. We cannot redefine the plan of salvation.
So, that’s the 2nd commandment. God is bigger and better than we can think or imagine. To diminish Him, limit Him, redefine Him or worship anything else but Him is contrary to this commandment. In summary, consider Eph 3:14-21, one of the most electric statements about God’s bigness: