• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Atheism and Other Kinds of Idolatry

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." Psalm 14:1; 53:1ESV


Question 105 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?”  It gives the first part of the answer, “The sins forbidden in the first commandment are, Atheism, in denying, or not having a God; Idolatry, in having or worshipping more gods than one, or any with or instead of the true God; the not having and avouching him for God, and our God... .” Last week we looked at what it means to please God. This week we consider the first part of the answer to Question 105 as we examine the sin of idolatry.

Atheism is an expression of the sin of idolatry. It is a religion that worships what is not the true God.  Literally the word means “no – God-ism,” or “no gods.” Thus, you would think that atheists are against all worship and all religions, and in a sense they are. Atheists reject all formal religions, especially their writings and expressions, but atheists do have their “gods” and they do worship them. These gods are chiefly “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (1 John 2:16).  Atheism is marked by the arrogant assertion and unyielding promotion of modern scientific theories of cosmology which all ultimately devolve into the absurdity of spontaneous generation: that the universe created itself from nothing. Since atheistic theories of origins are false, nonsensical, and self-contradictory, atheism must shift attention from its own groundless doctrines in order to try to malign Christianity; the only religion that is true, and therefore the only real enemy of atheism. As we see it expressed today, in writings, rallies, and its first monument, atheism is fueled more by a passionate desire to proclaim its denial of the true God and the Bible than anything else. Thus, the atheist in his militant atheism unwittingly fulfills Romans 1:18, as he seeks to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. But instead of becoming wise, his foolishness is seen by all who will open their eyes, as he ends up worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever, amen (Rom. 1:25).

Christianity is true. The Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. Therefore, what it says about man is true. Man is a creature made in the image of God, made to find his true purpose and joy in serving and worshiping his God. Accordingly, when man denies his maker the glory due to His name, man only ends up hurting and corrupting himself. Having been created for worship, man is driven to seek out and serve something greater than himself in order to find meaning, purpose, and joy. When he refuses to acknowledge the true God as the rightful object of his worship, man has a powerful need to create for himself false gods. Accordingly, all false religions and false gods testify to the need of man to be religious.  In these false religions we see man in a twisted fashion trying to satisfy his need to worship the true God.  Thus, false religions have systems of right and wrong and ways to satisfy their deities’ anger with the sins of man, usually involving sacrifice. The human sacrifice of primitive religions, though a monstrous evil, actually bears witness to man’s innate understanding that he deserves to die and needs to offer a substitute to satisfy the wrath of the deity that he has offended. Hence, the worshiper of false gods is less foolish than the avowed atheist, since unlike the atheist, he is not in total denial of his creatureliness.  However, since other religions and gods are false, the embracing and worshiping of them only mires man further in sinful guilt before the true God.  

Another expression of idolatry is to worship and serve the true God, while also worshiping and serving false gods. This option would claim to do justice to man’s created desire to acknowledge his Creator and the fallen desire of his sinful nature to embrace sin. Yet it fails miserably, because God will not allow His glory to be given to another (Isa. 42:8). We owe all of our worship and allegiance and service to God. To ascribe to any creature what God alone deserves is a great sin against God. Thus, in the end, to seek to worship the true God and false gods is the most offensive form of idolatry, since it seeks to play God for the fool as if He would be satisfied with lip service rather than the true worship that He alone deserves.  As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon,” (Matt. 6:24). Take some time today to pray that God would keep you from the great sin of idolatry, so that you would give all of your worship to the one true God who alone deserves and is worthy of it.

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

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