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In talking about Allah as an idol the question comes 'If Allah is a false god, does that make him nothing? something? a demon?'  I think Paul might say yes to all three questions:

"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (1 Cor 8:4-6)

Idols are nothing says Paul.  But then he goes on to say they are not just called 'gods' but are gods. And then in chapter 10 he says pagan sacrifices are offered to 'demons'. (1 Cor 10:20).

So are idols nothing? something? or demons?  It seems like Paul is saying 'all three.'  How can that be?  Well it's important that we take seriously the language of 'gods' (little 'g') and 'demons'.  (Ex 15:11, 1 Kings 8:25, Deut 10:17, Ps 82:1; Deut 32:16-21 - thanks Otepoti for these).

I think false gods are demonic. Their 'nothingness' is not a non-existence but rather an ontological lack. They are like a gaping hole - a nothing where there should be a something. A hole is not non-existent but it does have its existence in being a deficiency, a denigration. They are not unreal or non-existent. They are just 'nothing.' Their whole power and being is in being a negation.

Think of how John describes light and darkness. Light is something.  Darkness is not something - certainly not like Light is something.  Darkness is not unreal or non-existent but it still depends on being not light. On one hand it is a terrible power (a fearful something). But in another sense it is nothing - its whole existence is an existence in negation. I think idols are like this.

But again this is not to say the forces behind these dumb idols are impotent. Far from it - they have a fearsome dark power. Think of Deut 32

"16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. 17 They sacrificed to demons, which are not God--gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. 18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. 20 "I will hide my face from them," he said, "and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful. 21 They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols."

Here these gods 'recently appear'.  They are 'no god' and 'worthless idols' but nonetheless they are 'gods' - 'demons' even.  Can we say then that objects of worship that are not God are nothing in themselves but become spiritual realities when worshipped.  Demonic forces (which, again, are 'dark' forces - having their being in negating what is True) inhabit dumb idols when we invest them with power.  When we seek life in what is dead it is not a neutral spiritual issue - the powers of darkness are involved.

 So yes, idols are nothing.  And something.  And demons. 

What say you?

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In thinking of Substitutes for the Spirit I was surprised at how many I came up with.  But then again, we all know what the Scripture says is the antithesis to the Spirit. Therefore we know that susbtitutes for the Spirit can be summed up in one word - flesh.  Thus we know

  1. These substitutes will be with us from cradle to grave
  2. They will stick to us like skin to our bones
  3. They will pervade every area of life
  4. They will be selfish alternatives to everything the Spirit is trying to lead us to
  5. They will seem far more natural than the Spirit-led path
  6. They will appear as a counterfeit Spirit-led path - (not every spirit is from God!)

In fact they will appear as the seemingly harmless desire to serve myself - whether in moral or immoral ways.  And so they are at war with my soul. (1 Pet 2:11).  It's often occured to me that maturity in the Christian life consists largely of identifying these desires of the flesh as precisely that. 

We can identify Spirit-led passions.  They will be:

  • Christ-centred
  • Word-based
  • other-focussed
  • cross-shaped

 How are we to identify fleshly thinking?  Ephesians 4:22 is interesting:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires

Three questions occur to me regarding the 'old self' / flesh:

  1. What are the desires of your flesh?  What exactly is the 'old self' telling you about what you need / what you should pursue?
  2. How is this old self deceiving you?  Phrase the desire as a blatant lie: e.g. "Your identity/worth/righteousness lies in people thinking you're funny/attractive/clever/'helpful'."
  3. How has this fleshly existence corrupted you?  Think how ugly it has made you.

Always, though, the underlying pursuit/lie/corruption of the flesh is my attempt to establish a righteousness of my own. (Phil 3:1-11).  Ultimately the flesh tells me to be justified before heaven and earth on my own account.  Therefore the power which alone is able to mortify my flesh is the gospel.  Because the gospel tells me 'Before and apart from any works, I am clothed in Christ.  My whole identity, status, reputation, past, present and future is taken out of my hands and hidden entirely in Christ.' 

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

 To live by this gospel word is to live by the Spirit.  And it is to crucify the flesh.

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