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).
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.