“Little children, keep yourselves from idols”

The verse is 1 John 5.21.  I have come to believe that it is one of the more important verse in the Bible.  It captures the essence of the Bible’s main message, just the negative version of it.  Its more positive flip-side might read: “I am the Lord your God . . . You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod 20.2-3) Or, “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Ps 37.4)  Or, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God” (Ps 42.1-2)? Or, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Mt 22.37-38).

To keep ourselves from idols is essentially an exhortation to keep ourselves for God.  What follows are six practical ways to help us fight for this main thing.

1. Confess them before the true God and the body of believers (1 Jn 1.9).  This would include a fruit-bearing repentance that looks like:
2. Reading your Bible daily and, preferably, giving it the honor of priority as the Word of God.  The true God, over against idols, has revealed Himself to us in a book.  We keep ourselves from idols by communing with Him in the Bible.
3. Remembering the Gospel of Jesus daily (1 Jn 5.20).  God has revealed Himself in the Bible, and God has revealed Himself in His Son and, of course, Jesus is the Word.  He reveals the Father.  No one has ever seen God except the Son and He has made Him known.  Thus, as we remember the Gospel, as we read the Gospels, as we take in the life and death and resurrection and ascension and intercession and glory of Christ, we come to see and love and know the one true and living God.
4. Take up our Savior’s call to cruciform love.  It is true that no one has ever seen God except Jesus.  So it is true that Jesus has made Him known to us.  And it now follows that we, having seen Him in Christ, also make Him known (remarkable!) as we imitate Christ.  This is particularly so as we love one another (1 Jn 4.12; 4:20-21).
5. Thanksgiving.  We keep ourselves from idols as we give the one true and living God thanks in and for all things.  Thanksgiving properly recognizes Him as the Giver of all things, especially His infinitely valuable Son and the hope of glory.  Thanklessness is surely the route to and symptom of idolatry (Rom 1.18-32).  Indeed, so is a godless thanksgiving.  But a thanksgiving that arises from the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart, understanding our entire being to be the direct result of His existence and kindness towards us, is pleasing to God, recognizing God as God.  This surely cuts at the root of idolatry, for the heart shows itself won to God.
6. Consider the consequences of idolatry and true worship.  We are to be concerned with personal and corporate holiness.  It is a matter of love for the body of Christ.  We must understand that we have been designed by God to imitate and, particularly, to imitate affections for those things that appear worthy of affections in the hearts of others.  Luke will imitate my love for Jenny, and he will imitate my love for football.  These can be loved rightly, and these can become idols.  We must be weary of idolatry precisely because others are watching and have been made to imitate.  Our personal holiness is, among many things, a call to keep an eye out for the holiness of others.  Love for them pursues their holiness.  This implies our own battle against the temptation to idolatry.  We do not want to put a stumbling block, an idol before the hearts of others (Ezekiel 14.1ff).  On the other hand, the consequences of our spouses, children, brothers and sisters, etc., witnessing our pure devotion to Christ, our pure love for the one true and living God is of equal motivation, for they will see God as the supreme desire of our hearts and lives — and this is right, biblical, gospel, glory!
So, “little children, keep yourselves from idols.”