In the old testament an idol was any substitute for God. Idolatry was forbidden in the Ten Commandments and described as adultery by many of the prophets - adultery as in the adulteration of union and intimacy with God. In the new testament an idol is anything that is not Jesus but purports to give life. Or any concept of god and godliness that is a generalized god rather than the person of Jesus. For example deism is not god and neither is providence. Jesus is the fullness of God. In calling Himself ‘I am’ He was equating Himself with the fullness of the trinity, which is why the Bible says, ‘In Him lives the fullness of the God-head bodily.
An idol can be any icon, religious attachment or behavior that replaces Jesus when it stands for that which only Jesus can be for us - our life and our righteousness. When Jesus said, ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father’ He implied that He was God in fullness and the exact representation of His being. The doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus expresses the truth that Jesus is all things to all men and women, in regard to our relationship with God, ourselves, each other and the earth.
The simplicity of Christ our life is the guarantee of our access to God and to heaven. It is also the touch stone of authenticity in regard to liberation from death and all forms of non-life like weakness, fatigue, crippled-ness and disease. Jesus is life itself and life Himself. The paradox of this comes about because He is the life and purpose of the entire creation - but separate and independent of the creation itself. Nevertheless that entire creation has its being and purpose in Him.
Should we become absorbed in the creation and mistake it and its elements for our source of life we will have attached ourselves to non-life and attempted union with something not God. Thus we have idolatry - the worship of the thing instead of the creator and the confusion of ends with means. This is how the church can become a thing in itself with Jesus tagging along somewhere near it as an also ran.
‘Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life’ 1 John 5.12 NIV.
Christian communities who do not experience Holy Spirit as a reality and a presence along with His signs of authority and power disadvantage themselves. Obscured for them is the reality of Jesus with a distinct personality who can be real and present with signs following and gifts manifesting in our daily situations. For those without this presence there is further confusion. All that remains is for them to confuse their own activity with the real presence of God. There is a similarity between attempting to create god in our own image and trying to work him up through our activity. The motions of church are not the presence of God. But sadly in those churches where the Spirit presence of Jesus is unknown this is the closest they get to the presence of God which, alas is not God, but themselves engaged in a religious routine. But when Holy Spirit is present an an objective entity as the Representative of Jesus, people exclaim, ‘God was there!’ There is a clear difference between the presence of God and the attempt to fill a time and a space with religion. The experience of His presence can change our lives.
‘And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them’ 1 John 4.16 NIV.
Life, love and righteousness have no independent existence apart from God. Such life can only be known in the kind relationship to God that is described as ‘in God.’ We were made to live in God and have been drawn once again into intimate union with the Holy Family. This union is the source of our ascribed righteousness and the righteousness that becomes ours because Christ lives in us to be our life.
Apart from the presence of Jesus in us we are totally incapable of being alive in the spirit and being righteous. This is why the attempt to be righteous by doing a list and keeping the law is a farce. Part of this farce for Adventism is Sabbath observance. As serious as many many be about it, the Sabbath as a behavior is a thing and incapable of imparting the life of God.
‘For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect’ Matt 24.24 NIV.
Sadly the Sabbath becomes as a proxy for keeping the law and a salve for the impossibility of living righteously in the knowledge of good and evil. Here we are talking of the Sabbath as a pseudo-christ. It becomes a ghastly and pathetic paradox of grace and it becomes something even more presumptions. Since it seeks to emulate grace it become a false christ. This ‘messiah’ binds people to the dullness of the law and at the same time separates them from spirit and life of Jesus. Anyone who lives under the law lives under a curse and experiences the withering of their soul and the quenching of their spirit. In Christ we are alive. In the law or anything not Jesus we are not alive but dead in soul, body and spirit.
‘Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ John 14.6 NIV.