So…guys get to pee in the ladies room now, huh? And our children get to decide for themselves based on their feelings instead of their biology whether they are male or female? And federal law says it’s ok for men to marry (I use the term grudgingly) other men and women to marry (once again I cringe at using this term “marry” in this context) other women? And Christian denominations are ordaining practicing homosexuals to pastor God’s holy children? And churches are endorsing gay “rights” by affirming what God clearly condemns? And Sports Illustrated magazine is going to celebrate a former olympic athlete who underwent a sex change by allowing him (her?) to pose nude on their cover? And the current front-running presidential candidate in America’s “conservative” Republican party has talked openly and publicly about wanting to date his own daughter? And all the while, the next generation that is set to take the stage as leaders in our society is celebrating and embracing this mess because it is viewed by them as a brave, new, sexually diversified culture? And we are shocked by it? Yes, we are. The fruit of our society has not only become rotten, it has become rancid.
But honestly…what did we think would happen? I mean, we were warned.
One thing about God’s word is that it never fails. If God says it, then you can bank on it. And His word states clearly that societies, cultures, and individuals would find themselves in this predicament if certain things happened. Or rather, if a certain thing happened.
As fallen creatures living in a fallen creation, we are prone to certain weaknesses that would not be evident in a healthy creation nor will they be manifest in the future new heavens and new earth in which will dwell righteousness. For instance, pride, anger, gossip, slander, disobedience, sorrows, and depressions are all examples of behaviors that are non-existant in a healthy, heavenly, holy society. Along with those examples, another behavioral mark of a fallen society is self-worship.
Self-worship is where we exalt ourselves to the status of tiny gods who feel entitled to be reverenced instead of the One True God who alone deserves worship. Self-worship demands that we indulge our own personal desires ahead of anything or anyone else. It dangerously promotes personal pleasure at the expense of what is right and true. Furthermore, it holds to the view that the pursuit of personal happiness is the highest goal in life. In the process, self-worshipers will often demote and downgrade the status of others when they potentially stand in the way of their own self-exaltation and happiness. Or maybe it isn’t other people who are demoted, but rather other ideologies that stand in their way. By-products of self-worship take on the forms of gluttony, greed, drunkenness, hoarding, vanity, lies, division, adultery, homosexuality, and other similar sins. Ultimately, we know that we are guilty of this sin when we find ourselves serving ourselves instead of God, others, and the truth.
At the heart of the illness, is the practice of usurping the Lord as the One True God and replacing Him with man who has been created in His image. This practice is a form of idolatry where man has taken the position that only God has the right to occupy. When the Creator of the universe is supplanted by humans as the object of worship, scripture is very clear concerning what the implications are and of what the outcome will be.
According to Romans
The letter of Paul to the Romans gives us the insight as well as the warning against the practice of worshiping self.
“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Romans 1:22-23 (NASB95)
In this passage, it spells out for us the premise for the results that follow in the next few verses. Essentially, it is pointing out that mankind, in their self-proclaimed wisdom became fools. And what happened that proved their folly? It says they exchanged the glory of God for the image of man, along with other created things. We thought we were being wise, but by making this choice, we actually became fools . The reason for this is because God is incorruptible, man is corruptible. Simply meaning that God is eternally uncreated, infinitely good, all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and holy whereas mankind is temporary, finite, created, unloving, weak, limited, and unholy apart from God’s intervention. So, in knowing this, why would a wise, enlightened creature worship man and created things instead of the eternal, uncreated God? Simple. They wouldn’t. Therefore, those who do such things are not wise at all, but instead are fools walking in darkness and sin. God’s word, not mine.
But more importantly, what happens to these self-professing wise sages who are actually foolish court jesters? The next few verses tells us.
“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1:24-25 (NASB95)
This verse says, therefore, or because of their so called wise choice to reject the incorruptible glory of God for their own corruptible glory, God gave them over to impurity. This impurity is already lying in the human heart waiting for an opportunity to metastasize and reveal its ugly cancerous head. The only thing that holds the evil desires of our hearts in check is the Spirit of God. We are inherently sinful, and it is an amazing miracle of God that we all haven’t completely given in to every single dark impulse that crosses our minds like raging, anarchist savages (I am reminded of the children stranded on an island in the Lord of the Flies). But by God’s grace, He is holding us back and preventing us from devolving into creatures of complete, absolute evil. There are still the echoes of goodness at times within us, such as mothers caring for their newborn babies. But we also see the corruption of that good when we hear stories of abuse at the hands of those same mothers.
But when mankind chooses to exchange the glory of God for their own deceptive glory, God has no choice but to give us over to the impurity that lies within the lusts of our hearts. But it isn’t because God is a big tyrant in the sky waiting for us to mess up so He can punish us. The purpose Paul says is so that our bodies, which is the thing being worshiped, would be dishonored among us. Does God have an agenda in allowing this to happen? I believe He does. It is so we can be awakened out of the fog of our foolishness. In all of this, even in the act of God giving us over to impurity for the purpose of having the true nature of our bodies exposed for what they truly are, ugly and corrupt, we find that this is an act of God’s grace and mercy. It is His grace because it is His discipline towards those who are legitimate children of the kingdom, and it is mercy to those who are illegitimate children as He desires to adopt them into His kingdom by bringing them to repentance by opening their eyes to their ugly reality. As we are awakened to truth, and if we turn to truth, we will find forgiveness and healing as we re-exchange the image of our glory back for the glory of God; worshiping Him alone. In light of this and the amount of impurity that is being celebrated around us, our country stands on the edge of an incredible opportunity for revival.
But just in case we missed it in verses 22-23, Paul repeats and expounds on the human condition of self-worship by stating it is also an exchange of truth for a lie. So not only is it foolishness, but it is empty and false.
The following sets of verses in Romans 1 categorically describes in detail what exactly those impurities of the lusts of our hearts are – degrading passions and depraved minds. This includes a descriptive picture of homosexuality. Point being, when a society, a culture, or individuals begin to worship themselves as our society has, the result is that God will give us over to impurity. One of the marks of which is abnormal, unnatural, indecent, and improper sexuality. This is what has happened to our society in America as well as around the world. And what is worse is that it seems for the most part that we have no shame about it.
Which is startling when we read the final verse in chapter 1:
“and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Romans 1:32 (NASB95)
This is where we are at in our culture right now…we were warned, we knew better, but we exchanged the truth of God for a lie anyway.
You see, God will not share His glory with another. The Lord will not allow His praise to be given to someone else. Not because He is egotistical or is Himself self-absorbed but simply because He is the great “I am that I am.” He is the most magnificent Being in all of the universe. To worship and exalt something lesser is simply failing in the natural order of things. It isn’t wise. It isn’t proper. It isn’t right. And it won’t stand.
The Doom of Dagon
If you need illustrations of idolatry, the Old Testament is a great place to turn, as they stand as great tutors for us.
In 1 Samuel, we find the state of Israel in poor condition. It says that in those days, word from the Lord was rare and visions were infrequent. Think about that for a minute. God had led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day. Furthermore, His spoken word had come to them regularly through Moses and Joshua. But now His word was rare and visions were infrequent. When you consider that these were the people through whom the Lord would reveal His glory to the rest of the nations, it is unfathomable to think that God had become silent to them. Obviously, they had fallen on hard times.
Partly this had to do with the spiritual leadership in Israel at the time. Eli was the priest at Shiloh and he had two sons who the bible describes as “worthless” men. They abused and disgraced their God ordained positions by taking advantage of God’s people, showing themselves to be evil. But these were Israel’s spiritual leaders.
Another reason Israel had fallen on hard times was because there were still hold outs of the Philistines in the promised land that God had given them. In fact, there were five main cities where the Philistines thrived and flourished. God had commanded Joshua and the Israelites to drive them out when they entered the land. The Philistines were ruthless in war, possessing stronger weapons than those that Israel was able to make. They also had among the ranks of their army mighty warriors, such as Goliath. They used these advantages against Israel as they would come against them regularly in battle. In spite of this, God promised to fight their battles for them; giving them the victory. But they had failed to trust Him, and now they faced the consequences of their disobedience as the Philistines regularly came against them in battle.
One such battle proved to be disastrous for Israel. In one day, 34,000 Israelite soldiers were killed including the two God-ordained yet wicked sons of Eli. Along with this defeat, the Philistines were able to steal the ark of the covenant from Israel. After their victory and claiming their prize, they brought it back to one of their cities, Ashdod. In Ashdod, the Philistines had a temple to their false god, Dagon. They decided to set the ark of the covenant right next to the statue of this false god.
What we find in their decision is probably an attempt by the Philistines to place Him alongside their god, in spiritual sense. Often among the pagan nations there was a plurality of deities. Instead of the atheism that runs rampant in our modern culture that states God does not exist, in ancient times the popular belief was the acceptance of multiple gods. So in their view, the God of the Israelites was just one god among many gods. Along with this is the idea of a hierarchy among the gods. If one nation beat another nation in war, then it was interpreted that the victorious nation must worship a stronger, wiser, more authoritative god. So possibly for them, by bringing the ark into their temple, it served as a reminder to everyone that their god was more powerful and more important than the God of the Israelites. Our god beat your God, so therefore, He must be inferior to Dagon. By displaying this publicly in their temple, anytime someone would come to the temple of Dagon to worship their false god they would be reminded of that victory.
But for whatever reason they brought the ark into Dagon’s temple, what I find interesting and exciting is what happens next.
“When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD.” 1 Samuel 5:3 (NASB95)
I would really have liked to have been there when the Philistines came into their temple to worship Dagon that morning and found his statue lying on the ground before the ark. I wonder if anyone actually said, “Oh no! Our god has fallen over!” How obviously ridiculous it is to worship something corruptible. But the story doesn’t end there.
“So they took Dagon and set him in his place again. But when they arose the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.” 1 Samuel 5:3-4 (NASB95)
So after setting him back up, they returned the next morning to find him once again fallen over on his face before the ark, but this time his head and his hands were broken off. This time the results were a little more severe for the idol. Along with the destruction of Dagon, the following verses explain how the hand of the Lord was heavy on all the citizens of Ashdod, ravaging them with tumors and mice to the point where they finally decided to get rid of the ark of the Lord and send it back to Israel. Incredible story.
But how does this story fit in with this article concerning the peril of self-worship? Well, I believe the prophet Isaiah sums it up by simply saying this:
I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.
God will not and cannot share His glory. Whether it is just some silly, demonic statue or some foolish society that has exchanged the truth of God for a lie, it is not lawful for God’s glory to be given to anything or anyone else. It contradicts and demeans what is just and right in this universe we live in. I mentioned briefly at the beginning some shocking samples of the state of our society currently caused by the exchange of the image of God’s glory for the image of man. Then we looked at why we are in this state according to the letter to the Romans. And now we see a clear example of how God feels about sharing His glory with something or someone else…it simply will not happen.
How Will It End?
Just as I believe scripture has been clear in how our modern culture has gotten to the place that it is at today, I believe the bible is just as clear on what the outcome will be. I believe there are two options. One path involves the steady erosion of the image of mankind eventually ending in final destruction just as it did for the statue of Dagon. The other ends in life as repentance is sought, God is given His proper place in our lives, and forgiveness is found in Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation (the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift) for our sins.
If you find yourself afflicted by the impurities of the lusts of your heart, turn to Jesus. If you discover that you would rather worship yourself instead of the Lord, crucify yourself and follow Jesus. If you find that your flesh dominates your daily schedule, be filled with the Spirit and walk in Him. If you find that your mind is deceiving you, transform it with the truth of God’s word. There is always hope for the wandering person, no matter what the circumstances of life are; no matter how old or how young, Jesus is waiting patiently to receive your worship because He loves you and knows what is best for you.
“When the wicked increase, transgression increases; but the righteous will see their fall.”
Proverbs 29:16 (NASB95)