Idols in the Temple of God by Mike Riccardi

Article from The Cripplegate

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I began a series on whom the faithful Christian minister may legitimately partner with in ministry. First, I briefly surveyed the history of the ecumenical movement in order to vividly illustrate the terrible consequence of disobedience to Scripture on this matter. Then, I oriented us to the key text that answers this question, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, and considered the context in which it comes. Next, I considered the main prohibition of text itself, and explored what it means for Christians to not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers.

In the latest installment in this series, I considered how the text outlines precisely how believers are “unequal” to unbelievers. I mentioned that there were five fundamental differences between believers and unbelievers that Paul enumerates, and we looked at the first four in that post. Believers and unbelievers are governed by different rules of life, are subjects of different kingdoms, are ruled by different kings, and are possessed of different worldviews. Today, I’m aiming to pick up where I left off by delving into that fifth fundamental difference, which is, simply, that we worship different Gods. Paul concludes his series of rhetorical questions in verse 16 by asking: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

Idols and Demons

There is an absolute incompatibility between God and idols. And that is because all false religion is demonic. In 1 Corinthians, Paul has taught us that idols don’t really exist: “We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one” (1 Cor 8:4); “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No!” (1 Cor 10:19). Idols are no true gods, because there’s only one true God: Yahweh, the Triune God of Scripture.

“But,” he goes on, “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God” (1 Cor 10:20). The fact that idols don’t exist doesn’t mean that there is no spiritual component to idolatry. Scripture says the millions of false gods of the thousands of false religions in the world are actually demons. When Israel turned from the worship of Yahweh and committed idolatry by making sacrifices to the gods of the nations, Scripture says they sacrificed to demons: “They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread” (Deut 32:17). And so Paul warns of those professing Christians who will abandon the faith and embrace false religion, saying, “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1).

This means that every false religion in the world is not just wrong; it is demonic. Every made-up idol—every false god of every false religion—isn’t just not true; it is a demon. It is energized and powered by the kingdom of darkness that is ruled by Satan himself. And so there simply cannot be any agreement between the worship of these demons and the worship of the one true and living God.

Our Jealous God

That’s why, from the very beginning of Israel’s history, God speaks so severely about idolatry. The first two of the Ten Commandments are devoted to this: “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God” (Exod 20:3–5).

And to the second generation Moses says, “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for Yahweh your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of Yahweh your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth” (Deut 6:14).

God is jealous for His own glory. He will not share the worship that He rightly deserves with demons! “I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8).

Ear-Tingling Calamity

How serious is God about there being no possibility of agreement between the temple of God and idols? Consider a couple of examples with me. Second Kings 21 chronicles the wickedness of King Manasseh, who is perhaps the most evil king in Judah’s history. And his wickedness consisted chiefly in his idolatry. Verse 3 says, “He rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.” This is high-handed idolatry perpetrated by the king of Israel.

But it gets worse. Verse 4 says, “He built altars in the house of Yahweh, of which Yahweh had said, ‘In Jerusalem I will put My name.’” And verse 7: “Then he set the carved image of the Asherah that he had made, in the house of which Yahweh said to David and to his son Solomon, ‘In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever.’” In 1 Kings 8, when the temple is finally completed under Solomon, the cloud of God’s glory had filled the temple, declaring to the people that Yahweh would take up residence with them and dwell among them in His temple. Solomon calls the temple “the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall be there’” (1 Kgs 8:29). This is where God’s special presence dwells with His people. This is where His holy name dwells. And in the courts of that holy place, Manasseh builds altars to Baal, and to the sun and the stars. He brings a wood carving of Asherah into the very temple of Yahweh.

Now, how seriously does God take this? “Behold, I am bringing such calamity on Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle” (2 Kgs 21:12). Verse 13: “I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.” And then this unthinkable statement in verse 14: “I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies, and they will become as plunder and spoil to all their enemies; because they have done evil in My sight, and have been provoking Me to anger since the day their fathers came from Egypt, even to this day.”

“I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance.” That ought to make every last one of us tremble. There is no greater insult, no greater blasphemy, than to bring idols of demons into the holy temple of God, and, in adulterous fashion, worship them rather than Him as it were right in front of His face.


Now consider Ezekiel chapter 8. The Lord is about to bring about the judgment He spoke of in 2 Kings 21, and that will come in the form of Judah’s exile into Babylon. God gives Ezekiel a vision of the gross idolatry that provokes Him to the wrath He will exercise upon them. In Ezekiel 8:3–4, the prophet says the Spirit gave him a vision of the temple. And in the temple, right alongside the physical manifestation of the glory of God, was the seat of the idol of jealousy—an idol that the people had placed in the temple. Verse 6: “And [God] said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations which the house of Israel are committing here, so that I would be far from My sanctuary?”

We need to feel the weight of that. So that God would be far from His own sanctuary? So that He would be absent from the very place that was designed to house His special presence with His people? This is unthinkable.

“But,” verse 6, God says, “you will see still greater abominations.” God tells Ezekiel to dig through a hole in the wall to see what was going on in there. Verse 10: “So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around. Standing in front of them were seventy elders of the house of Israel, . . . each man with his censer in his hand and the fragrance of the cloud of incense rising.” The elders of Israel—the spiritual leaders of God’s people—were worshiping the images of idols that they had carved on the wall of Yahweh’s temple!

“But,” God says again, “You will see still greater abominations” (Ezek 8:13). And then he sees women weeping for the Babylonian god Tammuz (Ezek 8:14). And then he finds twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of Yahweh and their faces toward the east, bowing and worshiping the sun (Ezek 8:16). How symbolic that these men have turned their backs upon Yahweh’s temple.

These abominations, this mass idolatry, is happening in the temple of God. In the place where His glory dwells! In the place where He condescends and meets Israel and provides atonement for their sin!

So once again: what is God’s response? Verse 18: “Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity nor will I spare; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not listen to them.” And then Ezekiel sees God send executioners into the city to destroy all those who have committed idolatry. God commands them: “Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, . . . and you shall start from My sanctuary” (Ezek 9:6). Judgment begins with the household of God (1 Pet 4:17).

But then, even worse than that, the shekinah glory of God, which symbolizes God’s presence with His people, starts to stir. In 10:4 it moves from the ark of the covenant to the entrance of the temple. And then in 10:18–19 the glory stands over the angels of Ezekiel’s vision, who then move to the east gate of the temple. And then, finally, in 11:23, the glory of God departs from His temple, and stands over the Mount of Olives, before ascending into heaven. For the first time in the 850 years of Israel’s history, the people of God are without the presence of God. Yahweh is no longer dwelling with His people.

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” What happens when you try to yoke believers together with unbelievers? What happens when you try to mix demonic false religion with the worship of the one true God? What happens to a church that tries to make common spiritual cause with and partner in ministry with those who are not genuine believers in Christ? God writes Ichabod over the doorpost of that church. The glory of God’s presence departs from that place. Dear readers, do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what agreement has the temple of God with idols?

We Are the Temple of the Living God

You say, “Now wait a minute. I can see how all this ‘temple’ talk relates to Israel. But what does that have to do with the church?” 2 Corinthians 6:16: “For we are the temple of the living God!” In this age, the spiritual body of Christ, the Church, is the temple of God—the place where the glory of His presence dwells. God no longer dwells merely with us, in a sanctuary or a building that we construct for Him. He dwells in us, in hearts that He has recreated for Himself, and we ourselves become His temple.

What, then, is the consequence? What responsibility does that create for us? Verse 17: “Therefore, ‘come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean.’” If it was unthinkable—the height of blasphemy—for a temple made of wood and stone to have any association with idols, how much more unthinkable—how much more blasphemous—is it to bring idols into the temple which is constructed with living stones (cf. 1 Pet 2:5)? If God brought such destruction and judgment upon Israel for desecrating His temple with idolatry—if He delivered them over to death and to exile, if He removed the glory of His presence from their midst, and destroyed the very temple where He had caused His Name to dwell—how much severer should His punishment be for those who unite the living temple of God with idols?

And yet that is what we do when, in “ecumenical” fashion, we propose to unite in common spiritual cause or ministerial partnership with the enemies of the Gospel. It doesn’t matter how many social issues or political positions we agree on. It doesn’t matter if they call themselves Christians and say they love and worship Jesus. If they do not confess faith in the only true and saving Gospel, they do not worship God in Christ, but a false god, an idol whom they’ve fashioned in their image, and thus they share in the worship of demons.

The dear people ensnared by these idolatrous false religions are not our partners in ministry, but our mission field. They need the Gospel. They do not need to be inoculated against the Gospel by being led to believe that they are genuine partners in ministry with the true people of God. We need to come out from them and be separate. Not so that we can shun them and feel superior about ourselves. But so that the fundamental differences between us might be made plain, that their need for faith in the true Gospel of the true Jesus might be made clear, and so that we can bring them that message of Good News in its purity.

Identifying False Teachers & False Religions

Both false teachers and false religion can always be identified by asking three simple questions:

  1. What about Christ?
  2. What about salvation?
  3. What about the Bible?

Allow me to explain:

  1. Concerning Christ, what does the teaching/religion being questioned say about Christ? If it’s NOT the Christ of scripture, the Son of God, second person of the trinity, the one who died for the sins of men it is a false Christ.
  2. Concerning salvation, how is any man saved according to the teacher or religion under scrutiny? If salvation comes not from grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone it is false doctrine. if men must add works for justification/salvation, or add works to remain justified after having repented and been forgiven for sin, Is is false doctrine.
  3. Concerning the Bible, what does that teacher or religion say about the Bible? if the Bible is not viewed as the Word of God and sufficient for everything leading to a Godly life, it is false doctrine. If other books are set alongside the Bible as equal to it, or traditions of men considered equal to scripture, walk away.

It might be beneficial to ask the questions in the order presented above, and here is why I say that. The wrong answer about Christ settles the matter. A correct answer concerning Christ can be given, but a wrong answer concerning salvation. Case closed. Correct answers can be given concerning Christ and salvation, but an incorrect view of the Bible means trouble. There are, in fact, theological terms for each of these subjects; Christology, soteriology, and bibliology. the Web site Got Questions has excellent summaries of all three:

“What is Christology?”

Answer: The word “Christology” comes from two Greek words meaning “Christ / Messiah” and “word” – which combine to mean “the study of Christ.” Christology is the study of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. There are numerous important questions that Christology answers:

Who is Jesus Christ? Almost every major religion teaches that Jesus was a prophet, or a good teacher, or a godly man. The problem is, the Bible tells us that Jesus was infinitely more than a prophet, a good teacher, or a godly man.

Is Jesus God? Did Jesus ever claim to be God? Although Jesus never uttered the words “I am God,” He made many other statements that can’t be properly interpreted to mean anything else.

What is the hypostatic union? How can Jesus be both God and man at the same time? The Bible teaches that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, that there is no mixture or dilution of either nature, and that He is one united Person, forever.

Why is the virgin birth so important? The virgin birth is a crucial biblical doctrine because it accounts for the circumvention of the transmission of the sin nature and allowed the eternal God to become a perfect man.

What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God? Jesus is not God’s Son in the sense of how we think of a father/son relationship. God did not get married and have a son. Jesus is God’s Son in the sense that He is God made manifest in human form (John 1:1,14).

A Biblical understanding of Jesus Christ is crucial to our salvation. Many cults and world religions claim to believe in Jesus Christ. The problem is that they do not believe in the Jesus Christ presented in the Bible. That is why Christology is so important. It helps us to understand the significance of the deity of Christ. It demonstrates why Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Christology teaches us that Jesus had to be man so that He could die – and had to be God so that His death would pay for our sins. It is perhaps the most important area of theology. Without a proper understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He accomplished, all other areas of theology will be errant as well. An in-depth study of Christology has incredible personal impact on the believer’s daily life. As we delve into the heart of Jesus, we begin to grasp the amazing concept that He, being fully Man and fully God, loves each of us with a never-ending love the extent of which is hard for us to imagine. The various titles and names of Christ in the Scriptures give insight into who He is and how He relates to us. He is our Good Shepherd, leading, protecting and caring for us as one of His own (John 10:11,14); He is the Light of the world, illuminating our pathway through a sometimes dark and uncertain world (John 8:12); He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), bringing tranquility into our tumultuous lives; and He is our Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4), the immovable and secure base who we can trust to keep us safe and secure in Him.

Recommended Resource: Jesus: The Greatest Life of All by Charles Swindoll

“What is Soteriology?”

Answer: Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation. Soteriology discusses how Christ’s death secures the salvation of those who believe. It helps us to understand the doctrines of redemption, justification, sanctification, propitiation, and the substitutionary atonement. Some common questions in studying Soteriology are:

Once saved always saved? Perhaps the most heart-wrenching fear some believers live with is that we can do something to lose our salvation. But the Bible speaks clearly about the eternality of our salvation and how we are preserved by the One who bought us with His blood.

Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works? Am I saved just by believing in Jesus, or do I have to believe in Jesus and do certain things?

Is baptism required for salvation? What is baptismal regeneration? Baptismal regeneration is the belief that a person must be baptized in order to be saved. While baptism is an important step of obedience for a Christian, the Bible is clear that baptism is not a requirement for salvation.

What is repentance and is it necessary for salvation? Biblical repentance is changing your mind about Jesus Christ and turning to God in faith for salvation (Acts 3:19). Turning from sin is not the definition of repentance, but it is one of the results of genuine, faith-based repentance towards the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to be a born again Christian? The phrase “born again” literally means “born from above.” It is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the person who believes—a spiritual transformation. Other than Christology,

Soteriology is the area where Christianity is the most different from the cults and other world religions. Understanding Biblical Soteriology will help us to know why salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. No other religion bases salvation on faith alone. Soteriology helps us to see why. A clear understanding of our salvation will provide a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) because we come to know that He who can never fail is the means by which we were saved and the means by which we remain secure in our salvation. If we were responsible to save ourselves and keep ourselves saved, we would fail. Thank God that is not the case! Titus 3:5-8 is a tremendous summary of Soteriology, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

Recommended Resource: So Great Salvation by Charles Ryrie

“What is Bibliology?”

Answer: Bibliology is the study of the Bible, the Word of God. The Bible is the inspired source of knowledge about God, Jesus Christ, salvation, and eternity. Without a proper view of the Bible, our views on these and other issues become clouded and distorted. Bibliology tells us what the Bible is. Common questions in Bibliology are:

Is the Bible truly God’s Word? Our answer to this question will not only determine how we view the Bible and its importance to our lives, but also ultimately will have an eternal impact on us.

What is the canon of Scripture? The basis of Christianity is found in the authority of Scripture. If we can’t identify what is Scripture, then we can’t properly distinguish any theological truth from error.

What does it mean that the Bible is inspired? While there are different views as to what extent the Bible is inspired, there can be no doubt that the Bible itself claims that every word, in every part of the Bible, is inspired by God (1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Does the Bible contain errors, contradictions, or discrepancies? If you read the Bible, at face value, without a preconceived bias for finding errors – you will find it to be a coherent, consistent, and relatively easy-to-understand book.

Is there proof for the inspiration of the Bible? Among the proofs for the divine inspiration of the Bible are fulfilled prophecy, the unity of Scripture, and the support of archeological findings. Its most important proof, however, is in the lives of those who read it, believe it, and live according to its precepts.

Bibliology teaches us that the Bible is inspired, meaning it is “breathed out” by God. A proper Bibliology holds to the inerrancy of Scripture—that the Bible does not contain any errors, contradictions, or discrepancies. A solid Bibliology helps us to understand how God used the personalities and styles of the human authors of Scripture and still produced His Word and exactly what He wanted to be said. Bibliology enables us to know why other books were excluded from the Bible. For the Christian, the Bible is life itself. Its pages are filled with the very Spirit of God, revealing His heart and mind to us. What a wonderful and gracious God we have! He could have left us to struggle through life with no help at all, but He gave His Word to guide us, truly a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). A key Scripture on Bibliology is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Recommended Resource: Making Sense of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation by Geisler & Howe