Acts 19 gives an interesting account of the Ephesian people going berserk over their neighborhood idol, Artemis (aka-Diana). An idol-maker named Demetrius stirs up a crowd to oppose Paul and the Christians because they were teaching that idols are all phony and that people need to turn to Christ. Demetrius and many others were motivated by money. They made silver statues of Artemis and made a fortune peddling them. But why would people buy them? Isn’t it obvious that a “god” made by a man’s hands is not a real “God?” God makes men…Men don’t make God. So why worship an idol? Or why worship at all?
I want to try and answer two primary questions: First--why do people worship? Second, why DON’T they worship the REAL God?
People are born with a desire to worship SOMETHING. Even a casual read of the book of Romans bears this out. Paul writes: That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20 NASB, also see Rom. 2:14-15) In other words, there is enough evidence of God from creation and from an internal stamp of the Creator that ALL people, deep down, know there is a God, that He should be worshipped, and they are accountable to Him. Man was created in the garden of Eden to worship and glorify God…and this desire to worship exists even after the fall of man. But when Adam fell in sin, and the world became “sin cursed,” something else happened too. Man in his sinful depravity KEEPS the desire to worship, but SHUNS the worship of the One, True, GOD. So here’s the short answer to the questions: Why do people worship? Because they were designed to. Why don’t they worship God? Because they’re too sinful to. Now if you want the longer version…keep reading.
Ultimately, the reason people don’t worship God is because of sin. That shouldn’t be a surprise to you. But you may be surprised to know how far reaching the effects of sin are. Sin doesn’t just make you “less than perfect.” Sin SEPARATES you from God in a devastating kind of way. Sinners don’t have a relationship with God, and what’s worse, they (you) don’t DESIRE a relationship with God. So don’t buy into the lie that the world is full of sinners who LONG to be saved and know God, but can’t because God’s too mean to let them. Sinners want nothing to do with the worship of Jesus Christ….unless they are “born again” sinners (see John 3). So what makes a sinner NOT want to become a Christian? Sin…right. But what kind of sin?
For some it may just be laziness. You share the gospel and the demands of Christ to turn from sin, deny yourself and follow Him….and people say NO WAY. Following Christ is hard. Living for my own desires is easy. So people choose self over salvation. But some religions DO call people to self-denial, yet are still false. For example, Islam calls people to fast and deny themselves and to pray in a very disciplined manner. If a person is willing to do all of that “hard stuff” why don’t they just turn to Christ? Again, the short answer is sin. The long answer is that they take that longing to worship SOMETHING and they perceive that true worship must take work….so they buy into a “works salvation” in a false god. Out of all the various “religions” they choose the one that seems right to them. They can remain a hardened sinner and follow Mohammed, or Buddha, or anyone else for that matter. Why? Because their sin doesn’t separate them from Mohammed…in fact it unites them because Mohammed was a sinner too. Their sin separates them from Christ. And they have no desire to turn to Christ because of that sin nature. This leads to another reason people don’t worship the true God----their culture.
Go to a “Muslim country” and most people will be Muslim. The same is true of any other religion. This is because people are not JUST sinners….they are also “cliquish” sinners. They want to be like everyone else….and in some countries they HAVE to be or they’ll be disowned. But let's be sure to stay off our American high horse and not pretend our country isn’t the same. Americans are probably more cliquish than any country. We clique up over everything (religion, politics, sports, etc.). Of course we don’t “clique up” over Jesus, because contrary to 3rd world opinion, America is NOT a Christian country….and it hasn’t been for a LONG time. But that’s a blog for another day.
One final reason I’ll mention for why people don’t worship the Real God. Some people drop out of religion all together. They are secular and say either: all religious are wrong or all religions are the same, therefore it doesn’t matter what I do. They’re ALMOST right. All religious are wrong (except Christianity) and all religions are the same (except Christianity). They’re all the same in the sense that they’re all wrong about Christ and thus all lead to the same eternal damnation. The last couple of sentences sound extremely arrogant to our 21st century ears. But, like it or not,…..that is the ESSENCE of the teaching of Jesus Christ. He preached a gospel that is as exclusive as it gets. “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, except by me.” (John 14:6)
When you read Acts 19 and see the riot that occurred over Artemis the false god, it is somewhat fascinating. These lunatics paraded through town and then gathered at a stadium and shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for 2 hours. That’s what religions do. They are excited about their god. Is it hard for you to imagine someone being excited and shouting for 2 hours? How about 4 hours? In hard stadium seats? Ever seen a Chiefs game? By the way….I’m NOT joking. The Ephesians were fanatics (fans) of Artemis. They yelled for Artemis. They packed a stadium for Artemis. They were willing to fight for Artemis. Does this type of religious zeal exist in America? Yes….its just NOT over religions that are spiritual…its over religions that are “American.” How many people in this country worship athletes, or singers, or movie-stars? The passion for false religion is alive and well in America….its just not always what we think of as “religious idols.” There’s nothing wrong with being a fan…but is your greatest passion the Chiefs, or the Christ?
All people worship something. Some won’t admit it…but their life bears it out. Some worship “false gods” in the form of another religion (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., etc.) Some worship false “Christs” (Mormon, Jehovah Witness, Liberal Christianity, etc., etc.). Some worship other things (money, self, people, possessions). Few…very few…truly know and worship Jesus Christ the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We CAN’T change their sinful hearts…but we can mourn over them. We CAN’T argue them into the kingdom…but we CAN (and are commanded to) tell them how to get there. But realize this…Christianity, the REAL Christianity, not the one of American “ear-ticklers”…REAL Christianity is a HARD message. It won’t “sell.” That’s why GOD gives it as a “free gift.” And ultimately, its only GOD that can change their heart. Everybody’s going to worship something or someone…..WHO will YOU worship?