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1 John 5:21

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Every idol promises much but cannot deliver. This is the consequence of making God in our own image. Our finite minds and fallen natures make it impossible for us to fashion a deity that can even begin to be compared with the one true God. The gods we make invariably turn out not to be as holy as Yahweh, the holy God of Scripture, who detests sin so much that He cannot even look upon it and accepts nothing less before His bar of judgment than absolute perfection (Hab. 1:13; Matt. 5:18). When we fashion idols, we create gods that look a lot like us and thus cannot satisfy, for as Augustine of Hippo said, our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord.

Idolatry was a persistent problem for the old covenant people of God, but it did not go away when Jesus brought the new covenant. Today’s passage warns the new covenant church that idolatry remains a real temptation for us, for the Apostle John tells us to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). This verse helps us see that idolatry includes far more than just the crude fashioning of gods out of metal, stone, or wood. When John wrote his letter, such idolatry existed in the Roman world and was a danger to the early Christians, but the Apostle was not focusing on that type of false religion. He wrote, instead, to counter false ideas that people had about the one true God, especially the belief that God the Son had not taken on human flesh (see 1 John 4:1–3). Wrong views about God are idolatrous, which is why we must take our theology—our doctrines regarding God—only from Scripture.

We have noted that each of the Ten Commandments both commends something and forbids something. Since wrong views of God are idolatrous, we conclude that the first commandment, in forbidding idols, tells us to develop and promote knowledge of the one true God. Dr. Joel Beeke writes in his commentary on the Johannine Epistles that “we keep ourselves from idols by abiding in a right relationship with God, which entails living through the means of grace in the shadow of Calvary, so that when idolatry offers its attractions, we will be able to see them for what they truly are.” To avoid idols and remain focused on the one true God, we remember the cross and its revelation of God’s holiness and mercy; participate in the ordinary means of grace of hearing the Word preached, receiving the sacraments, and prayer; engage in Christian fellowship; and so forth. If we do these things, we will keep ourselves from idols and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

God has not left us hard directions to follow in order to be equipped to keep the first commandment and, indeed, all His commandments. Participation in Christian fellowship and the ordinary means of grace is how we grow and are fortified to more and more die unto sin and live unto righteousness (Acts 2:42–47). We do these things in the local church, which is why church membership is so vital.


For Further Study
  • Ezekiel 20:18
  • Hosea 6:3
  • 2 Corinthians 4:6
  • 2 Peter 3:18

The Absurdity of Idolatry

No Graven Images

Keep Reading Salt and Light

From the July 2022 Issue
Jul 2022 Issue