Part 2 of 2

Religious Idolatry

Having the foregoing understanding of the nature of idolatry, we can then see that man’s self-efforts under manmade religion and its manmade religious precepts can be insidious “works of the flesh.” These are “religious works” that are rejected by God. Whenever our approach to God is based on self-effort as in trying to “do enough” or to “be good enough” to meet the demands of some religious law-standard to earn salvation, or maintain favor with God… this then is the practice of religious idolatry. The one then being lifted up as “the answer” and the “way” to achieve righteousness is not Christ; no, it’s one’s self.

After all, if we could save our self, then who would get the credit? SELF would, of course. Even for the rebirthed Christian, self-idolatry ultimately may be exposed by asking and answering the question; “Who do I depend upon?”; “Who is the god of my life, the one I serve – is it still my self, or is it the Lord?” I personally, as a Christian, lived my life by mainly depending upon my self-effort and abilities in my secular and Christian life for about twenty-five years before I came to see and realized Christ was alive within me as my new life and that He is able to live through me – in place of my self-effort, if only I will trust Him.

Thus, religious self-effort can be just as much a “work of the flesh” as illicit sex, lying, or stealing. In God’s eyes such a religious person, even after becoming a Christian, has made Christ to be “of no effect” or help, so they’ve “fallen from grace.” They have missed out on the blessings of the grace of Christ living through them as their new life, as the new them (Gal 2:20). CHRIST IS BECOME OF NO EFFECT UNTO YOU, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Gal 5:4)

This does not mean that a rebirthed Christian has lost his salvation, because we are eternally mingled with Christ's life, His Spirit in our spirit (Rom 8:9, John 3:6). We know Christ will never leave us. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” (Gal 2:20). What it does mean is that one who self-relies makes “Christ of no effect (Gal 5:4 KJV),” of no benefit at all in their living. When I as a Christian choose to live by self-effort, I’m saying I know what I want to do, and I’ll do it myself” – notice all the “I’s.” All of us initially bring this self-dependent way of living into our Christian life and then fail… as we must. Self-effort takes the place of dependence upon Christ’s indwelling life and relationship with Almighty God out of the picture. Christ still indwells my spirit, but I then am on my own self as my god of my living; I’ve dropped away from the blessings and power of His indwelling life. I must fail because Christ’s is the only life that is genuinely righteous and able to live the Christians life… apart from Him “ye do nothing” (John 15:5).

There are basically two systems or economies of religion; the false one is based on human self-effort and achievement. The other is based on God’s love and pure gift of grace, received through faith (trusting) alone (Eph 2:8-9).

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who was put to death under Hitler’s Germany, visited Riverside Church, NYC, a citadel of social gospel liberalism, in N.Y. City in 1939.  He wrote of it that he was stunned at the “self-indulgent” and “idolatrous religion” he saw there.” (Taken from Wall Street Journal 4/22/2010 Pg A21). Many religious people do what they call “good works,” mainly to be seen as righteous, and to think of their selves as righteous. Self-serving religion is the epitome of the individual’s religious idolatry.

If a person is working to achieve righteousness, they are not depending on God’s gift of grace; they are ultimately depending on what they can accomplish to merit God’s approval. This folly is clearly exposed in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

A man who is trying to achieve justification by endeavoring to keep the Old Testament Law, man’s religious laws, or his own self-made “law,” is practicing idolatry. Of course men are selective as to which “laws” they hold dear; usually the ones they think they can keep. To this God say; Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4) Thus, a religious idolatry system based upon “performance works for salvation and to remain saved, or to be favored by God” is more insidious than the obvious gross sinful perversions.

Where do we see religious idolatry in our own day? It is everywhere among us.

  1. Certainly the works of the flesh are found in the many expressions of the New Age Movement, through the vain superstitions and practices of the false mystical spiritualism (e.g., Oprah, etc). Unfortunately, such idolatry is not limited to the cults or false religions.
  2. Religious idolatry has entered into the Christian churches at large when men seek to worship God in ways that He has not directed or prescribed for us under today’s “the dispensation of the grace of God”; they use tradition, laws, human authority, symbols, icons, objects, and self-works substitutes for worshiping God in “spirit and truth (reality) (John 4:24).
  3. The “works of the flesh” are encouraged even more subtly among the so-called Bible believing Christian groups and denominations by their teachings of “law-keeping” which is “legalism.” Many preach or imply a requirement for believers to keep “the law” in order to stay saved, or have God’s favor. Religious legalism is the teaching that men need to keep the law, perhaps the Ten Commandments, some of the 613 Mosaic laws, or pet denominational laws; “touch not, handle not, taste not.”( Col 2:22-23). To this they often add teaching for doctrine the commandments of men (Titus 1:14) and of the denomination.

This of course is not according to the truth of the faith that Paul taught, under today’s “dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph 3:2). By contrast to such religious legalism, Paul wrote, “Ye are NOT UNDER LAW, but UNDER GRACE.” (Rom 6:14). This was the new paradigm of pure grace for believers under “the dispensation of the grace of God.” It changes everything. All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient” (1Cor 10:23). Since we are not under “the Law” Paul says we are to endeavor to follow the leading or restraining of the Spirit by “walking” in accord with “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” who indwells us as our new life (Col 3:4a).

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)

But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18)
“(Since we have life) in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

Here below in Colossians we read that these works of the flesh originate from the flesh, then flowed to and through our fallen soul’s “mind.” The corrupted fallen mind of man became “the mind of the flesh” (Rom 8:7). Paul then points us to the Christ’s flesh body “death” at Calvary ’s cross (v22 below) as God’s basis for making believers reconciled to God and “unblameable… in His sight.”

“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, 22YET NOW HATH HE (Christ) RECONCILED IN THE BODY OF HIS FLESH THROUGH DEATH(Col.1:21-22a).

Being “reconciled” to God by the forgiveness and grace of God in His Son, there then is real “joy and peace in believing” (Rom.15:13). God’s grace saves and then renews or transforms our minds and life (Titus 3:5, Philip 1:6, 2:5, 2:13). Then Christ may be seen as “the fruit of the (indwelling) Spirit,” not the fruit of Sin and “the works of the flesh.”

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Now consider the second half of Gal 5:22 and Eph 5:25b-27. to PRESENT YOU HOLY and UNBLAMEABLE AND UNREPROVEABLE IN HIS SIGHT (Col.1:22B). “… Christ also loved THE CHURCH, and gave himself for it; 26 THAT HE MIGHT SANCTIFY AND CLEANSE IT with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he (Christ) might PRESENT IT TO HIMSELF A GLORIOUS CHURCH, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25b-27) After the Rapture the Lord will “present” us, “the church, which is the body of Christ” (Eph 1:22b-23a), to Himself as the finished work and fruit of His passion.