Turning from idols to the true and living God

Turning from idols to the true and living God

Idolatry is a major theme in the Bible. To worship an idol means to have something other than the true God as the most important thing to you. We see warnings against it at the start of the 10 commandments in Exodus 20, we see Isaiah mocking the whole idea in Isaiah 44, and we see examples of people falling into idolatry in different ways all through the Bible account.

Yet, sometimes, we see accounts of people turning from idols to God.

In the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians, we read that the Christians in this city in northern Greece had turned from idols to serve the living and true God. It’s worth thinking what that looked like in their culture. The Greeks worshipped a whole pantheon of gods. Much of your public life would be involved with offering sacrifices to gods or attending religious activities in the local temple or family shrine. When these Thessalonians became Christians, they turned away from that. That would mean that they no longer took part in the sacrifices, and they likely avoided the festivals. Their lives took on a different rhythm, and different things became important to them.

It’s not easy standing out. And I am sure it wasn’t easy back then, either. Their families might have seen the turning from idols as a betrayal of family tradition. Their neighbours may have thought that the city was at risk from the anger of their gods because these people have stopped sacrificing and worshipping them. These Christians were impacting the social life of the city, spending their time and money in different ways, and it appeared like this God they worshipped was trampling on traditions that were centuries old. This would lead to opposition for the new Christians, exclusion by many, and suspicion by all. A life transformed by the gospel is noticeable and costly.

Our modern context is different, but the same exclusion, opposition and suspicion are still felt by those who convert to Christianity. I have former Muslim friends who no longer pray in the mosque or who no longer wear the hijab; this alienates them from their family. I know single young adults who are mocked for not joining in with the heavy drinking that is so common among their friends on the weekend. Anyone who doesn’t join in with what is normal in their society will find it difficult.

There is a cost to following Jesus. Sometimes, that cost is social: exclusion and opposition, even from those closest to us. It is hard for others to understand that worshipping the true God means turning from worshipping what we used to. Despite the conflict that comes from turning from idols to the true and living God, the satisfaction and joy found in Jesus are worth it.