Keep Yourself From Idols (James 5:18-21)

The Bible is one book with unified themes.  In the beginning of God's people, following the Exodus from Egypt, God gave His people the Ten Commandments to govern their community. He started,

Exodus 20:1-3, “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” 

The bedrock of God's community is worship.  God wants all of our worship.  He wants to be supreme in our life. He wants us to worship and serve Him, rather than falling before creation.  Sadly, we too often want to elevate created things to the place of the Creator. Romans 1:24-25,

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

The shift is subtle and often undetected.  Anything that supplants God as our supreme object of worship is an idol or a small –g “god.”  In one sense, the entire epistle of 1 John is an attempt to eradicate idols by confronting the schemes of the devil with the truth of the gospel.  There were false teachers among the church who were leading people away from God.  The false teachers were instructing the people of their need for “special knowledge.”  John refuted their claims by teaching the church that they could know God and know they were in God.  John uses the historical events and historical records to prove his case. He wants the church to steer clear of idols so he ends the book with a final exhortation, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We can keep ourselves from idols:

By Knowing the Reality of Sin

            1 John 5:18, “We know everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

John has already made this point several times in this short letter.  A Christian should be marked by his new life in Christ. He should no longer continue to sin, but should live a distinct and set apart life for God. No one who has truly been born of God can continue in sin. 

1 John 3:6, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”

Christians will not be able to remain in sin, because it is against their new nature. If we understand the true nature of our sin, we will be aware of our sin.  Christians whom are aware of their sins can turn from them.  If we are unaware of our sins, odds are we are content to stay in them. If we never ask ourselves the question of how we can live a more holy life or how we can grow in love for God or for His people, we are probably content in our sin. 

            The best way to avoid idols is to love God more than your sin.  All sin is idolatry.  We love something or someone more than God.  John in no way minimizes sin.  “All wrongdoing is sin,” he writes in the previous verse.  We fall into idolitry, if we are lulled into believing that sin is no big deal.  We say things like, “It is only a little lie.” “It doesn’t hurt anyone else.”  “What’s the big deal?” Sin replaces God as your Lord and Savior.  If God says do not get drunk, and you repeatedly get drunk, than drunkenness is an idol that has replaced God. If God says give your tithe to the church, and you cannot give to the church because you had to have a certain size house or car, then your possessions are an idol and have replaced God as supreme.  A true Christian wants to honor Jesus as Lord in every area of their life and when they are confronted with sin, they will agree with God against their sin and against themselves. 
            There is also a great promise in the second half of this verse. Jesus protects Christians when they fall into sin.  John changes the verb form from a past present to an aorist form which indicates a reference to a specific point in history. This would be referencing Jesus Christ being born of God as a man in the incarnation.   John 17:12,

12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  

And Jude 24,

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,

Jesus will never lose one of his children.  Ever. Period.  We still will face evil in this world, but that evil will never be allowed to ultimately harm us. We have no need to fear those who could take our lives and then doing nothing else because we fear Him who after destroying our bodies could throw our soul into hell. We have no need to fear because we have Jesus Christ standing before the Father as our Advocate.  His Righteousness will always intercede for our lack of righteousness (1 John 2:1-2).

By Knowing the Reality of the World        

            We will keep ourselves from idols when we open our eyes to the reality of the world around us.  1 John 5:19,

            We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. We are from God.  We are different than this world.  When we put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  We are no longer of this world, but we still live in this world.  And the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  Consider these verses:

John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

John 14:30, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,

John 16:11, “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Ephesians 2:2, “in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 

Galatians 1:3-4, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 5:16, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

It is clear that this world is evil and ruled by the devil. The first step in overcoming our idols is to understand the reality of our world. It is rough out there. The second step is to look for the schemes or designs of this evil age. Two more Scriptures to consider, 

2 Cor 2:10-11, “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”

Eph 6:10-11, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Satan has designs and schemes in this evil age to drive us to idols. How does he do this? Here are only a small number of examples. 

Education - Whoever controls the schools, rules the world.
One of the greatest dangers is that it limits or attempts to silence the message of the gospel. Schools are trying to silence the Christian message because of its exclusive claims. Listen to how God refers to those who hinder the proclamation of the gospel.

“the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind, by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last! 1 Thess 2:15-16.

And this is not limited to public schools K-12, but our universities are a bastion of anti-Christ doctrine.  We want our children to go to good colleges, but are we taking as much care in researching the spiritual well-being of our child in those “good” colleges.

Misinformation or lack of information - Whoever controls the media, rules the mind. Information is power.  Ignorance or misinformation is one of the greatest dangers of our age, because we make decision based on all the facts.  The media leans against the Lord and does not broadcast news that is against their worldview.  Read the Herald…It is not balanced. It often puts forward a message that is against the Lord Jesus Christ.

Materialism/Consumerism– If we live for our possessions, and do not renounce all we have under the authority of Jesus, we cannot be his disciples (Luke 14).  We cannot serve both God and money. If we fall to consumerism, church is no longer a place to serve others’ needs, but a place to have my needs met.

Freedom – Freedom is a great word and a great concept, but it has been hijacked for evil purposes.  Think of how our society teaches on "freedom" : Sexual Freedom, Reproductive Freedom, etc.  There is no freedom without God. We are slaves to whom we obey (Romans 6).

Authentic Community – The quest for an “authentic community” often leads people only to love people who are like themselves (only love people who are real and vulnerable etc.).  Any idea that pulls you away from loving God’s people is an idol. Do we love the idea of community more than God’s blood-bought community? We must be willing to love all of God’s people and not just those who we want to be around.
Idols are everywhere.  They appeal to the desires of our hearts.  

The problem is that our desires are not strong enough, but too weak. We are satisfied with things that are less than God, Himself. We are satisfied with measly idols and forsake the Creator who is blessed forever. 

By Knowing the Reality of the Son


We can keep ourselves from idols by knowing and loving Jesus Christ more than everything else.  Jesus has given our hearts understanding that we may know Him who is true.  He is the true God and He alone gives eternal life.  If we know the one true God, why would we let our hearts be satisfied with less? Jesus laid down His own life for our sin.  He died to pay the penalty of my lust, my greed, and my anger.  He died to pay the debt of my discontentment, jealous and pride.  And He gives me righteousness, holiness, and love.  He marks us by His name and gives us His place to live with His people in His presence for all eternity. 

1 John was written so our hearts would rejoice in the truth.  Beloved, we know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, and in the Son, Jesus Christ.  We know Jesus as our Lord. And that glorious thought should keep our hearts from idols!!! 

Steven Brazzell

Charlotte, NC