We have a problem. This problem has a name.
Sure, most of us don’t have a prayer shrine in our homes decorated with miniature metal statues of false deities. However, all too often, we set up a shrine in our minds dedicated to a god we have fashioned out of our favorite Scriptures, Christian catch-phrases, and preacher quotes.
We form a god for ourselves, the way we want him to be…then we act as though he is the God presented in the Bible, and we pray to and worship our false god.
This is not a new story.
In Exodus 32, the people of Israel formed a golden calf and declared it to be God himself! They wanted a god they could see, a god who represented the things they valued, a god on their terms. Once their idol was fashioned, they worshipped it and gave it credit for the very saving acts which the LORD had performed.
Idolatry is a very old story…and we are still guilty.
What is the cure to this incredible infection of mental idolatry? Because the good news is…there is a cure.
The prophets, who are well-known for condemning idolatry, illuminate the solution to this epidemic by pointing out its cause…
Hosea 4:6, My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And, since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
Over and over again, the prophet Hosea points out the cause of idolatry…the people do not KNOW God (e.g. Hosea4:1, 4:6, 5:4, 6:6). They have forgotten God’s law/word, which is the very means through which one comes to know God.
In forgetting God’s Word, the people forgot God himself. When one does not know God, one will create his/her own god. Lack of knowledge of the one true God is at the heart of all idolatry. Thus, the remedy for idolatry is to KNOW the LORD.
But what exactly does it mean to know the LORD?
To “know” God is not merely grasping some type of factual knowledge. Knowing God is not like knowing algebra. It is not being presented with bare facts for memorization. In Scripture, “knowing” between persons typically implies deep relationship. As a matter of fact, “knowing” is even used within scripture as a euphemism for sex within a marriage relationship.
The book of Hosea specifically pictures the relationship of God and his people as a marriage. It is this type of “knowledge” that the people have forsaken. They have abandoned a deep, “marriage-type” relationship with the LORD to seek after idols. They do not “KNOW” God.
But how does one even begin to “know” God in this way?
A “knowing” relationship with God begins in the same way that all relationships begin…initiation. Someone must initiate the relationship. Scripture is clear that God is always the initiator…
1 John 4:19, We love because he first loved us.
In order for a relationship to begin, one person must make some sort of revelation to the other. In my own marriage, I introduced myself to Holly, I asked her out on a date, I asked her to marry me…I continually revealed my heart as the initiator. In order for us to have a relationship with God (know God)…God must reveal himself.
THIS IS KEY!
Has God revealed himself?
The simple answer, “Yes.”
Where has God revealed himself?
We could answer that question by saying that God has revealed himself everywhere! He is seen through everything he has created. This is true, yet Romans 1 tells us that such general revelation is not enough for people to know God in the manner we are discussing.
We need special revelation from God in order to truly know him.
As Christians, we believe that God reveals himself in this special way through Jesus…and we are able to see him revealed in Jesus through his Word, namely, the Bible.
So how do we know God? How do we keep from committing mental idolatry?
The short answer, “We heed God’s Word.” Let’s examine this more fully.
1. God and his Word.
From the opening of Genesis, the God of the Bible is revealed as a God who speaks. He is a God who reveals himself through words. He does not allow images to be made of himself (whether metal or mental). And, from the beginning, his Word was intended as a means for people to know and love him…to be in relationship with him (Dt. 6:4-6, 30:6;Mt. 22:36-37).
Jeremiah 31 promises a day when the law (God’s Word) would be written on the hearts of God’s people, resulting in a deep knowledge of God…
The entire point of the law/Word was for the people to know and love God through it.
2. Jesus is the Word.
John 1:1-18 points to Jesus Christ as the Word. He is the fullest revelation of God. He has revealed God the Father to us (Jn. 1:18), and it is only through him that we can come to KNOW the Father (Jn. 14:6). If we want to know God, we must know Jesus…we must have a knowing-loving relationship with Jesus.
John 17:3, And this is eternal life, that they KNOW you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
3. The Spirit and the Word.
So, if everything depends upon a knowing-loving relationship with Jesus…if it is through Jesus that we come to KNOW God…then how does one come to KNOW Jesus?
John 14:26 (Jesus speaking), But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
John 16:13-14 (Jesus speaking), When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus Christ by declaring his Word! He (the Spirit) inspired the writers of the New Testament, just as Jesus promised he would, and we can now have the very Word of God in our hands in the form of Scripture. The Holy Spirit still works in conjunction with the Word of God to bring people to faith in Christ…for faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Ro. 10:17).
So…let’s put this all together by going back to the original question…How do we KNOW God?
The Holy Spirit speaks through God’s Word, revealing Jesus to us, through whom we come to know the Father. Knowing God is being in relationship with the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Knowing God is encountering him as he is revealed in his Word, namely, the Bible.
How do we guard against mental idolatry?
We seek to KNOW God through his Word. We don’t forget his Word as the people of Hosea’s day (Hosea 4:6). We don’t pick out a few pieces of his Word and use it to form our own God. No. We submit our ideas of God to the whole of Scripture. This is a continual process. ”Knowing” any person in the context of a real relationship is always a continual process. It is never static.
Throughout the entirety of our lives, we seek to know God until the time when we will know him fully in glory (1 Co. 13:12, Rev. 22:4). Everyday, we must ask the Holy Spirit to use the Word of God to form us into the image of Christ (2 Co. 3:18)…not the other way around.
For, God is the potter, and we are the clay. Anytime it becomes the reverse, we are headed for idolatry.