Idolatry and Sin
One of the most “called-out” sins in Scripture is idolatry. It was one of the primary reasons why God’s people were sent into captivity. Isaiah said,
“Their land is filled with idols;
they bow down to the work of their hands,
to what their own fingers have made.” (Isa 2:8)
Jeremiah, likewise, was clear:
“Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them.” (Jer 10:14)
Habakkuk pulled no punches:
“What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!” (Hab 2:18)
Over and over, the prophets chastise various forms of idolatry. The people should have known better, for they were warned from the beginning not to make graven images to worship, not even of Yahweh Himself (Exod 20:1-6). Nothing else is permitted to come before God. Nothing.
If idolatry is worshiping something other than God or putting something else before Him, then all are guilty of it and it is still just as much a problem as it has ever been. One may well make the case that all sin is idolatry, for in every sin people are putting self over God. It is the clay trying to take authority over the potter, the image trying to control the one in whose image they are made. It is exchanging the “glory of the immortal God” for the lesser images, even of self (Rom 1:23). Even covetousness is specifically referenced as idolatry (Col 3:5).
Sin, therefore, is not simply doing something wrong, but at the deeper level it is seeking to change places with God, to dethrone the Almighty in order to create its own rules and seek its own undeserved glory. Sin forms idols of the clay and acts as if the Potter is meaningless or can be ignored. The mess humanity makes with the image in which all are made is the reason for the corruption and despair of the world. It is also the reason that Jesus descended to this world and died. This fact needs to sink in deeply.
Some think that Jesus could have died just about any kind of death, and that would have been sufficient for God’s purposes. Yet if that is true, then the ugliness, reproach, and humiliation of the cross would, at best, be gratuitous and excessive. There would have been no point to it. Why go through such a brutal death if any death would do? Why would the death of the cross come at just the right time in history?
Remember that crucifixion was horrific. It was the most extreme punishment, which is why Cicero thought it to be so inhumane and unworthy of Roman conversation. Herein one’s human image is essentially humiliated and destroyed. For Jesus, in Isaiah 52:14, “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” Why must it have been this way? Why did His image have to be so marred? Here’s one way to think about it:
Crucifixion would indeed demonstrate the horrific nature of what sin does. The physical destruction of Christ’s body symbolized what sin does to the image of God in mankind. No animal sacrifice could have accomplished such (Heb 10:1-10), for no animal was made in God’s image. The death of Christ is God manifested in the flesh, the one who is the exact representation of God (Heb 1:3), coming in that image as a man and having his visage decimated. In doing so, he paved the path of forgiveness so that the image can be remade, reborn, and repurposed. This is why the resurrection was also necessary. Death would not, could not, have the last word. Note the progression:
1. God made man (male and female) in his image.
2. Man sinned, thus marring that image through self-idolatry. Everything was corrupted.
3. Christ, who is God, came as a man and suffered the extreme destruction of his own image. This demonstrated the horrors of sin. He was then raised again to defeat the death that was so destructive to his image, and by extension, to all mankind. Defeating such death and destruction paved the path not only for forgiveness of the sins that caused the destruction, but also for the renewal of that image in him (2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29; Col 3:10). The culmination of all of this will find its completion in the final resurrection, wherein all will be restored.
Trying to make an image of God, whether materially or in the mind (idolatry), is an affront to God who has already made human beings in His image. God has taken this insult head on in Jesus and turned it into an opportunity for blessing. Now God offers forgiveness, purpose, hope, renewal, and eternal life. Idolatry is finally defeated.