The work of mens hands
Adam was created in the image of God (Gen 1.27). He was made to know God, serve Him, and enjoy communion with Him. Sin entered the world through Adam (Rom 5.12), and, as a result, the beautiful relationship between God and man was spoiled and because of sin came death (Gen 2.17). Because men were created for God, to know Him, and be consciously aware of His presence, those who do not know Him are restless and dissatisfied, for God has set an awareness of eternity in mens hearts (Eccl 3.11). Men have an awareness that there is more to life than that which can be seen, that there is an eternity, and such awareness leads to thoughts of God. Dissatisfied and frustrated, men seek to find satisfaction outside of, and apart from, the true God. Their efforts lead to further frustration and to confusion and sadness which will continue unless and until they know the true God, have fellowship with Him, love Him, rest in Him, and seek to serve and glorify Him.
As a result of not knowing God, men seek something to worship and they will worship idols. Satan and demons are behind idolatry. At what might be regarded as the lowest and the simplest level, men will worship the sun, moon, stars, birds and beasts, and creeping things (Rom 1.20-23), or make idols out of wood, stone and precious metals. The idols men make cannot speak, see, hear, or move (Ps 115.4-7; Is 44.9-17). Men are influenced by that which dominates their thinking and that which they worship. Idol worship has always resulted in confusion and impurity. Idolatry was rife among the Gentiles and God told the Israelites not to worship the idols of the Gentile nations and warned that they would be punished for disobedience to this command (Deut 29.17-21).
A covetous man who is an idolater
An idol may be regarded as anything which is worshipped instead of the true God, or anything which comes between a believer and the worship and service of the true God. An idol can be something which is far more subtle than an object made by men. If, instead of leading a God-centred life, a believer leads a self-centred life, then the believer worships himself and is, at one and the same time, both the idol which is worshipped and the idolater who worships the idol. People can make idols of wealth, status, possessions, hobbies or other people such as entertainers or sports stars.
We read that "no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph 5.5). Here we learn that a covetous man is an idolater. This truth is revealed to us again in Colossians 3.5. Idolaters are warned that they "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev 21.8).
Keep yourselves from idols
Johns first epistle was written to believers (2.12-14,21,27), and the purpose of writing was that they might know that they had eternal life (5.13). In carrying out this purpose, John also revealed those who did not have eternal life. John warned the believers not to be influenced by the teachings and beliefs of those who had left their company (2.19). The believers were given seven indicators by which they would know and have assurance that they had been born again, that they had been saved. These indicators were:
1. Keeping Gods commandments (2.3)
2. Believing and keeping His Word (2.5)
3. Doing those things which are righteous (2.29)
4. Not sinning continually (3.9)
5. Loving other believers (3.14)
6. Having a hunger to hear the teaching provided by those who have been raised up by God to teach and edify the saints (4.6)
7. Separating themselves from the world and to God (5.4).
The believers to whom John wrote were being attacked by false teachers, among whom were Gnostics. The Gnostics taught that people could not be saved through the completed work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross: they taught that it required knowledge which was only possessed by a limited number of people. They also taught that physical matter was evil and that the Son of God could not have come in the flesh. We know, however, that "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God" (1 Jn 4.2). Some of the false teachers denied the deity of the Lord and the reality of His humanity. They preached "another Jesus" (2 Cor 11.4). John stressed the fact that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 Jn 1.7), and wrote, "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: but he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also" (1 Jn 2.22-23).
In 1 John 5.21 we read, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols". At first glance this verse might appear not to be connected with all that has been written in the epistle up to this point. It might almost appear to be an afterthought. We can think of an idol as anything that takes the place of God. Believers may allow into their lives things which come between them and God. The salvation of believers is assured (Jn 3.36; 10.28-29), but their service for God and enjoyment of the peace of God will be adversely affected by any idol in their lives. Any substitute for the true God is an idol, and any false teaching which leads to a false conception and wrong appreciation of the Lord Jesus Christ, His deity, humanity, substitutionary suffering, bleeding and dying on the cross and His resurrection from among the dead, is effectively causing people to worship an idol. Such an idol is the product of mens minds and not the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit. God has commanded people to worship Him, the true God, and not those who are false gods and idols (Ex 20.3-5; Deut 5.7-9). The command to "keep yourselves from idols" is no afterthought, but flows naturally from the preceding verse which itself is consistent with the teaching found in the Epistle, elsewhere in the New Testament, and in the Old Testament.
The Lord Jesus is the embodiment of truth (Jn 14.6), and in 1 John 5.20 we read that "we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life". Believers are in the Son and in the Father. The deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is stressed in this verse, as is the unity and equality of God the Father and God the Son (Jn 1.18; 10.30; 14.6,9,10; Col 1.15). The teaching found in 1 John applies to all believers in all ages. Those of us saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be vigilant to keep ourselves from idols and to love and serve the true God.