Throughout human history, people have taken elements such as wood, stone or metal and formed them into statues. Then, these same people begin to believe that this object that they created now has magical, god-like powers so they must worship the statue. The statue controls their thinking, their actions, their words.
You may think that this only existed centuries ago, but that is not the case. On a recent trip to Southeast Asia, I visited a site where more than one million people on one particular day came to bow down and pray to a golden statue of Buddha. Some prayed for good luck. Most prayed because they really believe the statue has power. And the smaller golden Buddha back in their home is an object of their worship too.
In America, idols of all shapes and sizes are worshiped by people: automobiles, fashion, entertainers, sports celebrities, politicians or political parties, wealth, houses, drugs, alcohol, smartphones, and a host of other things. These things control people.
Who or what is controlling you? The apostle John gives us some things to consider.
1 John 5:18-21
18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not sin, but the one who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true one. We are in the true one — that is, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
God’s children seek to live holy lives (vv18-19). The phrase “does not sin” in v18 could be translated “does not continue to sin” or “does not sin continually.” The world is under the sway — control — of the evil one, the devil, but not so God’s children. The world runs to sin, but the Christian runs away from sin. We are able to do this because Jesus (referred to in v18 as “the one who is born of God”) keeps us. Jesus is our example to follow and through his Spirit he keeps us on the right path.
God’s children know Jesus personally and eternally (v20). The world seeks philosophies, religions and processes to try to understand and explain where we came from, what we are here for, and where we are going. Verse 20 tells us that Jesus is the one who gives understanding. Through faith in him, we come to know him in a real and personal way. He is the true one and he gives us eternal life. Eternal life begins the moment we trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. When you know him, you understand the things the world is trying to understand. You understand that you want the words of Jesus — the words of truth — controlling you.
God’s children guard themselves from idols (v21). John wrote the letter of 1 John while living in the Roman Empire, with people all around him worshiping the Greek and Roman gods. The statues of these gods were idols that people worshiped. Today, people worship all sorts of idols — sports, money, possessions, relationships, alcohol, and entertainment, to name a few. The reality is that anything that comes between you and God has become an idol in your life. Stay close to Jesus. Remove the idols from your life. Let Jesus control you. He will never lead you astray and he will never leave you empty.