Monday, May 27, 2013

P2 Why Idolatry is so bad

1 John 5:16-17 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

Review and today's focus
In yesterday's post we defined idolatry by three terms drawn from the scriptures: Exalting oneself, Exchanging God and Enthonement of comfort.  In today's post we will consider why idolatry is so bad? Answering such a question may seem easy. Yet idolatry is so powerful that it can dull our senses if not rooted out and replaced by a complete focus on Jesus Christ.  Jesus locates idolatry in the heart in Matthew 5:18-19 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies". 

Warnings about Idolatry's dangerous lure
As you read John's 1st Epistle in 1 John 5:16-17, you discover various statements about sin that serve as warnings about the seduction and lure of idolatry.  In 1 John 5:16a we see mention made about "sin not leading to death".  Then in 1 John 5:16b we see reference to a category of sin by the intimidating title: "sin leading unto death".  Then finally, John mentions in 1 John 5:17 that in all reality, all sin is worthy of death.  It is in this three-fold manner of argumentation that John warns his readers about the dangerous and alluring road of idolatry.

Defining sins that do not lead unto death.  1 John 5:16a
The category of "sin not leading to death" can pave the way to idolatry.  John writes in 1 John 5:16a "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death."  John reminds his readers of their need to be looking out for one another.  What happens when we see another fellow brother or sister doing something that could pose harm to themselves or other's in either the spiritual or physical realms?  Do we say anything?  Jude 22-23 states - "And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh."  When dealing with sin in the church or in our own lives, restoration and mercy is to be the basis rather than retribution.  Galatians 6:1-2 tells us in similarly - "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ." 

As you read John's words, they are dealing in areas wherein fellow believers love one another and are praying for each other.  Praying that God will grant repentance and softness of heart to those who are caught up in "sin's that do not lead to death" is encouraged and commanded by John.  As you look throughout his little letter, various sections serve to warn those who are committing sins that are "not unto death".1  As bad as those levels of sin are in 1 John, John is warning his readers of how such escalating levels of sin can drive people into the arms of idolatry.  God's mercy is shown in these texts.  Yet there is a classification of sin which reveals an invisible line that God draws - a line that John terms "sin leading unto death".

Defining the sin that leads unto death
The second category of sin leading unto death demonstrates the ultimate fruit of idolatry.  1 John 5:16b says these frightening words - "There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this."  What could a person do that would have God exercise such extreme measures?  What is the "sin unto death".  Having read commentaries on this text, and even listening to such noted Bible preachers and Dr. John MacArthur, there appears to be two prevailing opinions that have equal footing and scripture support.  In the Bible there are two sinful conditions that can lead to the spiritual or physical deaths of unbelievers and believers: apostasy for unbelievers and sudden physical death for believers. For those who want more details and scriptural study, I have included such details in the endnotes at the end of this post.2  

In the first possibility, the "sin unto death" for the unbeliever is primarily spiritual, whereas the "sin unto death" for the sinning Christian is physical.  Now when John mentions about "not making such a request for those who have committed sins unto death", it does not appear he is forbidding God's people from praying.  Rather all John is saying is that he has no instructions, no advice and no counsel to give from the Lord.  All we can do is pray God will grant persons who are unsaved another chance to believe and be saved.  If that unbeliever does end up believing on Jesus Christ, then clearly they had not apostasized.  Likewise too, for the Christian who has been unrepentant, there are those cases where they heed the Spirit's conviction and respond, prompting the urgent need for mercy and restoration. (compare 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2). 

All sin deserves death
When you really think about what we just discovered about the "sin leading unto death", as well as those "sins that don't lead unto death", does it not make you marvel at God's mercy?  The road to idolatry is paved by sins not leading to death that point in the direction of sin leading unto death.  In one respect we can say the consequences and nature of some sins are worse (leading to death) than others (not leading to death).  However John is quick to point out in 1 John 5:17 "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death."  In other  words, all sin, regardless of the category, is deserving of death.  Yet God in His mercy prefers and in the overwhelming majority of cases chooses to draw the line moreso on the side of mercy and patience rather than swift judgment.  The fact that I am here typing this sentence and that you are there reading it demonstrates the incredible mercy of Holy God.  Thanks be to God for the shed blood of Jesus Christ and the Father's Eternal purpose of grace that shields and preserves the child of God. 

As you can see, idolatry is bad because of what people do in pursuing it, and the merciful God that the heart of idolatry finds easy to exchange.  Why would anyone want to trade such a wonderful God for anything is what reveals the insanity and seductive danger of idolatry.  If pursued to its logical and spiritual end - idolatry can kill the person doing it: spiritually and even physically!  This is why John warns his readers to guard themselves against idolatry.  This among the other many reasons we could cite is why idolatry is bad.

Tomorrow we will consider one final question in this series on idolatry: What is the number one way to combat idolatry?


1. It is most likely that these sections in 1 John are written to those people in the church who are professing Christians but who never experienced genuine salvation. John is deeply concerned about such persons, since such activity not only hurts them but hurts the church. Notice the sections:
1. Warnings to Pretenders of the faith. 1 John 1:5-10
2. Warnings to Pleasure Seekers. 1 John 2:15-19
3. Warnings to Practitioners of ongoing sin. 1 John 3:18-10
4. Warnings to those who Persist in error. 1 John 4:3,6,8

Such sections in 1 John serve to depict persons who are participating in ever darkening and debasing levels of sin, who profess to be Christians and who need to know Jesus. The people to whom John is addressing are still alive, thus meaning that they have not yet committed a sin unto death. 

2. For those who are unbelievers, this extreme "sin unto death" is what we call "apostasy". Jesus refers to the sin as "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" in Matthew 12:40-41. In this form of apostasy, the unbeliever, claiming to be a believer, ascribes the work of the Holy Spirit to none other than Satan himself. Hebrews 6 and 10 refers to those professors of Christ who "apostasize" (literally stand opposed), not being able to be renewed again unto repentance". In extreme cases, an unbeliever who persists headlong into rebellion against the appeal of the Gospel, will be left alone by the Holy Spirit's general call to repent and believe. Proverbs 6:14-15 issues this warning about such unbelievers -"Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, Who spreads strife. 15 Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; Instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing."
Often people will wonder and worry whether or not if they have committed the unpardonable sin. My answer to them is that if they are worrying, they clearly have not committed that sin and that furthermore, such an extreme sin is committed by an unsaved individual whom God has handed over to their degrading passions and warped nature of their minds. (Romans 1)  No true Christian can blaspheme the Holy Spirit,

The second type of "sin unto death" in scripture has to do with genuine Christians who sin so greviously and so persistently against Christ that they suddenly die, physically. Passages in the New Testament speaks about such Christians As Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and some of the Corinthians believers in 1 Corinthians 11:30 who were "falling asleep" or "physically dying" due to having "crossed the line" with God. Proverbs 29:1 issues this chilling statement - "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." Can God do such a thing? Absolutely! Why? To ensure the salvation of the Christian.  

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