Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Dangerous Gods

If you don’t acknowledge the Creator God, you will foillow a false god or a false idea

When you travel by commercial airline in Australia, the terms with your ticket include the following: “For safety reasons, dangerous goods may not be packed in checked or carry-on luggage or taken on board with you.” In the USA they are called “hazardous materials” instead of “dangerous goods.”

Dangerous goods are grouped into nine classes including: explosives, compressed gases, flammable substances, oxidizing agents, toxic substances, radioactive substances and corrosives. Vehicles transporting dangerous goods display diamond shaped signs – red-colored for gasoline.

Dangerous goods can explode, burn and spill. Accidents with dangerous goods can cause major disasters – such as those involving rail, road or ocean tankers. Oil spills, such as the one off the coast of Spain last November, can contaminate seacoasts and oceans.

In my profession, I deal with dangerous goods, and sometimes when typing reports I accidentally leave out an “o” and type them as “dangerous gods.” When that happens, I’m reminded that we live in a world of dangerous gods. Let’s look at some of them.

No God
Secularism and the pursuit of leisure, pleasure and wealth characterize much of the western world. Secularism is a rejection of all religious faith. It assumes that scientific, rational faith is superior to religious faith. But we all make assumptions, and live by them. How reliable are the ideas from science and rational minds that we have faith in?

The Bible says atheists are fools: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1 NIV). This doesn’t mean that such people are not intelligent; many atheists and agnostics are very clever people. They are foolish by choice; in their thoughts “there is no room for God” (Ps. 10:4). Because they feel no need for God, they live as if He never existed. Agnostics say they don’t know whether there is a God, but they generally behave as if God doesn’t exist. The motivation for both seems to be that they don’t want to be accountable to a supreme being.

If you don’t acknowledge the Creator God, you will follow a false god or a false idea: “When you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods” (Rom. 1:23-25; Gal. 4:8-9). This is the most dangerous god of all because it is Satan’s deception to lead people to the lake of fire (Mt. 25:41). This disaster goes on and on. There are no fire fighters, no emergency response crew and no chance of rescue there!

The Bible’s answer to atheists and agnostics is, “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). He has revealed Himself in creation and in our conscience (Rom. 2:1-16).

Money And Possessions
There is another dangerous god. After his return from a visit to Europe an early Chinese philosopher declared, “The European god is not so large as the Chinese. It is so small that one can take it in the hand. It is round, made of silver and gold, bears inscriptions, and is called money.” My uncle used to say, “Money is round to go around, but it is also flat to stack.”

In the western world people often aspire to a standard of living well beyond their means. What were once luxuries are now essential parts of daily life. Credit card debt and personal bankruptcies have soared and people work longer hours to finance their purchases.

Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his or her possessions” (Lk. 12:15). Self-worth is not measured by possessions. But what you think you own may end up owning you! Money isn’t evil, but it is seductive: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10). A strong desire for wealth leads to sinful behavior. If we keep chasing better jobs, investments and possessions, we will lose the desire to live for the true God. Wealth doesn’t bring lasting satisfaction and is easily lost (1 Tim. 6:17).

The Bible’s answer to those seeking money and possessions is this: “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5). God doesn’t value us according to our money and possessions, so we shouldn’t use these to compare ourselves with others. Instead, God wants us to be “generous and willing to share” our money for His work (1 Tim. 6:18-19). We need wisdom as we earn, save, give and spend money.

Selfish Ambition
Selfish ambition is another dangerous god. One of the reasons why the Jews didn’t accept Jesus was because they placed high importance on receiving approval, recognition and honor from others (Jn. 5:44). They wanted praise from others, not praise from God.

It’s good to have goals and a purpose in life. However, they should be godly, not selfish. Jesus was asked to give James and John a prominent position in His kingdom, a place of authority and recognition (Mt. 20:21). Like Pharisees, they desired a place of honor (Mt. 23:6). Also, the disciples argued among themselves as to who would be greatest among them (Lk. 9:46).

This can also happen in the local church. Paul said, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us” (3 Jn. 9). Diotrephes loved being the leader. He took charge and dominated others. This is pride and arrogance supposedly carried out in God’s name!

The Bible’s answer to those seeking a position of importance is, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mt. 20:26-28). Jesus Christ did not come to earth to be served but to serve.

Legalism And Religion
The next two dangerous gods are opposites, either adding to or taking away from what God has revealed in the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). Legalism involves adding to the Bible, and liberalism involves taking away from it. Both are mindsets from the sinful nature, not from the divine nature. They are associated with distorted views of “grace” and “truth.”

Legalism is an attitude regarding our approach to God. It imposes law on the believer’s conscience so that it comes between them and God. It also includes an effort to merit God’s favor. Legalism exalts “law” above “grace” and replaces “faith” with “works.”

The Pharisees were obsessed with following man-made rules; Jesus strongly criticized their religious practices (Mt. 23). Strict religious rules don’t have power over the sinful nature (Col. 2:20-23).

The risk of legalism comes from within the Church. The Bible is largely comprised of principles which can be expressed in many ways. Any group that has existed for some time tends to become legalistic as its customs and traditions get confused with scriptural truths. For example, there is usually resistance to change, as some confuse change with liberalism.

So, we should be careful not to equate customs and traditions with biblical truth. Otherwise we will be locked into the practices of times past, and become irrelevant and old-fashioned to today’s generation. Instead, we should unselfishly consider today’s generation and be culturally relevant. We also need to avoid pride, and “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7). “For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Liberalism And Pleasure
Liberalism interprets the Bible and Christianity in terms of current ideas and reasoning. This means using the glasses of secular humanism where “reason and science” replace “faith” and “license” replaces “grace.” From this viewpoint, there is no such thing as right or wrong or sin. There is no need for God’s grace or a Savior, and we have license to live as we wish. We are the authority, instead of God.

The Gnostics were liberals who influenced Christians to think they were free from moral law because of grace. Liberalism involves doctrinal error, hedonism and immorality (2 Tim. 4:3; Jude 4-10), where people “follow their own evil desires” (Jude 16).

The risk of liberalism and pleasure comes from the culture we live in. Christians are exposed to the media, movies, and advertisements. We must be aware that these preach humanism, hedonism and materialism. For example, TV and movies encourage sexual immorality. The Church needs to be relevant to the culture but not accept its values. This is a challenge.

We need to recognize sin. Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom 6:1-2). “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13).

Safety First
The Bible says that these dangerous gods are idols (1 Chr. 16:26; Ps. 96:5; Gal. 4:8-9). They hinder and entangle Christians causing them to backslide and lose their joy (Gal. 4:15; Heb. 12:1). That is why believers are urged to get rid of them (Gal. 4:30; 1 Cor. 10:14; 1 Jn. 5:21). We should be reminded of this when we see “dangerous goods” or “hazardous materials” signs.

Jesus said the religious leaders were able to predict the weather by interpreting the sky’s appearance, but could not interpret the signs of the times (Mt. 16:1-3). Likewise, sometimes we fail to recognize the dangerous gods in our midst.

Dangerous goods need to be contained so they can be used safely and not explode, burn or pollute the environment. When large quantities are involved, it is good practice to provide more than one level of protection. Major industries typically have three levels of protection for dangerous goods: the container, an impervious wall, and drainage to a spill tank.

With dangerous goods the policy is always “Safety First.” But if there is an emergency, people refer to the “Material Safety Data Sheet” to find out how to bring it under control. The MSDS is written by the manufacturer of the hazardous material. Similarly, the Bible was written for our protection, providing three levels of protection against dangerous gods.

1. Leaders. Paul warned against the dangerous gods of his time, including: pagan idols (1 Cor. 10:14), Jewish legalism (Gal.), liberalism and sexual immorality, false teachings, and all sorts of sinful behavior, including greed (Eph. 4:17-5:6). The elders at the church of Ephesus cared for the flock, and part of that care was to warn about dangerous gods (Acts 20:28; 1 Th. 5:12). Similarly, our leaders, preachers and teachers should remind us of the dangerous gods today and help us stand against them. We should listen to and obey our leaders (Heb. 13:17).

2. Peers. “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Gal. 6:1). Here we see Christians helping to get a friend back onto the right path. In these situations we should “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). We need to have Christian friends so we can help each other stand against dangerous gods. This means knowing each other well, telling the truth and respecting the advice and help offered (Gal. 4:16).

3. Individuals. We don’t have household gods as Laban did, or do we? (Gen. 31:19, 33-35). God said, “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Ex. 12:12). Likewise, we need to judge them in our lives.

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Heb. 2:1). Christians should remember the truths learned from the Bible, so they are not deceived into following dangerous gods. These gods can be tempting (Heb. 2:18). Jesus used Scripture to deal with temptation (Mt. 4). But how can we combat temptation, if we don’t know the Scripture?

Published: July 2003

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