|Linden Avenue Baptist Church, Dayton|
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
- 1 John 5:21
A main theme of the biblical book of 1 John is about the importance of identity. The followers of Jesus must remember who they are. This will protect and preserve them from falling away when hard times come.
For example, a Jesus-follower is “beloved.” We are agape-loved by God. Agape love is love without conditions. Conditional love is “if-then” love, hence conditional love is demanding “love.”
Jesus-followers are “children of God” (1 John 5:19). We are born of God, therefore we are sons and daughters of God. We belong to God.
This emphasis on our true identity is huge in the letters of Paul. Paul is constantly writing to the various churches reminding them of who they are “in Christ.”
As one of Jesus’ followers I constantly keep the nature of my true identity before me. This frees me and protects me and orients me as to my purpose in life.
John’s counsel in 1 John’s last sentence is to refrain from worshiping idols. To do so will be to return to a false identity. Idols are false things. Idols are also punishing things because they hierarchize.
The Big Three Idols of today are what they have always been: money, sex, and power. For example, Jesus spoke of money (“mammon”) as an alternative god to be worshiped. Money, sex, and power are “if-then” idols. “If” you have much money then you will be above those who lack money; “if” you are sexy than you are more attractive than those who are not sexy; and “if” you have power it is over people with less power. If-then idols are demanding, guilt-producing, and shame-based.
All these idols – money, sex, power – hierarchize by rank-ordering the “haves” and the “have nots.” To worship them (= to live for them; to submit to them as life’s meaning) is to exist on their relative honor-shame hierarchies. Honor-shame hierarchies are by nature punishing, leaving people as both punisher and punished, as both having and not having.
Honor-shame hierarchies measure people. Honor-shame hierarchies create insecure, false identities and cause striving to move “upward.” Honor-shame hierarchies promote nihilism as fatalism regarding one’s low position. (On this see Louis Brogdon, Hope on the Brink: Understanding the Emergence of Nihilism in Black America.)
Our identity in Christ is non-hierarchical and thereby freeing. I am still in the process of understanding my true identity. When I embraced Jesus and the meaning of the cross and resurrection 45 years ago I was rescued off the ladders of money, sex, and power and placed on level ground where there is, in Christ, neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female. Such is the revolutionary nature of real Christianity in comparison to the other religions and various world-systems.