In Deuteronomy 17:2-5 God lays out a clear plan to deal with idolatry among His people,
“If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the LORD your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing His covenant, who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination has been committed in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones.”
He’s pretty clear, idolatry was to be punished by death. That way there would be no chance for the plague to spread from person to person. Just like eliminating an epidemic of sickness, the source must be identified, isolated, and destroyed. In order to get rid of idolatry from His people, God ordered death for anyone caught worshiping another god.
I believe one of the reasons believers struggle with sin today is because we have not eliminated idolatry. We have allowed it to live and grow and be passed from person to person like a plague. The idolatry in today’s church is covered over and ignored. Pastors largely side-step it. Christian culture has become a big pep rally, encouraging us but never challenging us.
And when idolatry isn’t killed, it spreads.
More than half of Christian marriages end in divorce. Christian teenagers are indistinguishable from their non-Christian counterparts. Half of Christian men are addicted to porn, and most of the other half are lying. Materialism and selfishness are rampant. It grows, thrives, and spreads because we do not kill it.
So what do we do about it? How do we deal with the plague of sinful idolatry that has so engulfed the church? The passage in Deuteronomy gives us a plan. I’m going to shorten the three steps considerably for the sake of space, but you’ll get the point:
Step One: Identify. When “…it is told you, and you hear of it” We must be aware as the Holy Spirit identifies areas in our lives that are not like Christ. We must be willing to listen to His voice when He speaks. Truthfully, He probably has already spoken and we already know what needs to change, and we just don’t have the courage to admit it.
Step Two: Expose. “…you shall bring out to your gates…” This is where the breakdown begins. In order to eliminate idolatry it must be publicly exposed. We must allow it to come into the light, and for most of us that is a scary thing. But as the old saying goes, we are only as sick as our secrets. To find freedom from idolatry we must be open, transparent, and accountable.
Step Three: Kill. “…stone to death that man or woman with stones.” I’m not advocating a literal stoning, but those idolatrous and sinful habits must die. They cannot be allowed to live in the least. Death is final, complete, and irrevocable. We must kill whatever feeds the sinful habits and attitudes. Jesus was clear, “if your eye offends you, pluck it out.” Get rid of whatever enables our sin. Whatever excuses or justifies our sin must die.
Most of us struggle simply because we don’t really want to die. We don’t want to give things up. We don’t want to change our lifestyle or our entertainment or our habits. We are comfortable in our sin, and may have even covered over the voice of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us. We have hidden behind grace as a justification for our sin. But it is there, and we know it. And it’s not going away until it dies.
It’s easy to blame the church. Maybe in the beginning of this post you were agreeing with me, “Yeah, there’s too much sin in the church these days!” But the church is us. It is you and me. If there’s too much sin in the church, it’s because there is too much sin in me. I have allowed it to live. I have looked the other way. I have excused it and justified it. And so have you.
The church won’t change until you and I change. That’s the ultimate message behind my book, “The Church Must Die” We have to die. Our idolatry and sin and selfishness have to die. And until they do, we’ll continually be held back from becoming who Christ redeemed us to become.
Freedom from sin is possible. It’s just that it requires death.