Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
— 1 John 5:21
When the apostle John was on the island of Patmos, he received seven messages to the seven churches in Asia. His spirit had been pierced by Jesus’ words, and he vividly recalled the Lord’s loving rebuke concerning the sin that was trying to creep back into some of those congregations. John knew from Christ’s words that idolatry was trying to seep into the Church. The apostle understood that the willingness of believers to compromise jeopardized the Church’s holiness, weakened the power of the Holy Spirit among them, and nullified their witness for Christ. Thus, the apostle solemnly admonished them, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
This was a strong admonition for believers to guard their lives against evil that was looking for a way to get back into the mainstream of their lives. John instructed his readers to “keep” themselves from idols and the disastrous implications of idolatrous worship — which was connected with all types of sinful, sexual, riotous behavior. Since First John 5:21 is the living Word of God, it also speaks to you and me: We are to “keep” ourselves from insidious evil and sin that would try to creep back into our own lives.
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
The word “keep” in this verse is the Greek word phulasso, a word that occurs at least 400 times in the Old Testament Septuagint and 31 times in the New Testament. In each instance, the usage of this word is indisputable. It describes the guarding and protecting of a thing, such as the guarding of a house, property, possessions, or even graves, and it denotes the alertness and sleeplessness of the person who is on guard. The word phulasso could also imply the safekeeping of something entrusted to someone, and it was often used in a military sense to describe a garrison, a guard, or a sentinel. To “keep” (phulasso) something demanded that a person be loyal to the task — never lethargic or lackadaisical. If that individual “fell asleep on the job,” the consequences could be grave; therefore, he must be on full alert at all times.
The Greek word phulasso means we are to remain wide awake and stay on course to the very end. We are to defend ourselves against the evil just as a garrison defends a strategic position. We are to be the sentinels of our lives and of the Church.
When John commanded his readers to “…keep yourself from idols…,” he was urging them to stay on alert regarding the danger of idolatry and sin. The tense used in First John 5:21 stresses continuous responsibility, which indicates this vigilance must be constantly maintained. Idolatry and other sin — and all their insidious effects — were so close that the believers needed to continually stay alert in order to remain free from their contaminating effects. It was absolutely essential that they stood firm, steadfastly refusing to compromise in the face of worldly pressures.
The believers in the First Century were surrounded with temptation. Pagan temples abounded with perverse sexual practices connected with idolatry. Those pagan temples were hotbeds of demonic activity and sinful actions. In order for Christians to stay free, they had to decide to stay free — that meant deliberately avoiding contact with these places. If they didn’t maintain an alert attitude and stay continually alert, idolatry would creep back into their midst with devastating consequences. This is the reason why John called on believers to “keep” themselves from it — that is, to protect themselves from idols and to stay continuously alert about the need to be vigilant against idolatry’s temptations.
Likewise, we must take John’s words to our hearts and realize that it is our responsibility to protect ourselves from sin that would try to creep back into our lives. The world is full of sin — and as time progresses, the sin will get darker and more depraved. Society (without God) is gravitating toward normalizing even the most debased base instincts in order to make these things acceptable in society. Hence, it is essential that you and I stay fully alert to the creeping effects of sin.
We may not have actual idols to deal with in today’s modern world, but sin is still a reality — and believers must avoid the pull to compromise with a world that is drifting further and further from the absolute truths of God’s Word. Regardless of what the world says is acceptable, we still have an unchangeable compass — the Bible — which serves as our absolute and final authority in these last days until Jesus returns for His Church. Until then, we must hide the Word of God in our hearts so we do not sin against God (see Psalm 119:11).
You are the guardian and overseer over your heart, and it is up to you to make sure your heart stays sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to God’s Word by setting aside time each day to spend with Him. It is up to you to do all you can to “keep” yourself from the creeping effects of sin in this crucial hour. And here’s the good news: You are well able to remain steadfast and pure in every area of your life, because through Jesus, you have everything you need to hold on to that victorious testimony!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I hear what You are saying to me, and I take this responsibility deep into my heart. You have called me to be the guardian and sentinel of my life and to retain this vigilant position until the end of my spiritual journey. Forgive me for times when I have been spiritually slack. I pray for the Holy Spirit to empower me to remain alert and wide awake and to stay on track — completely unresponsive to and unaffected by sin and its creeping effects that are in the world. Regardless of what the world and society may say or do, I thank You for Your continual supply of supernatural strength to draw upon, Father, to keep myself from sin and to live my life according to Your Word.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am dedicated to obeying the Word of God and that I do not allow society or the world around me to dictate what is right or wrong. Sin is looking for a way to creep back into my life — and into the lives of all believers — but I have determined that I will remain on guard, as a sentinel of my life. God expects this of me and will hold me responsible for keeping my life free from the contaminant of sin and its creeping effects. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I will walk with God in a manner that is pleasing to Him and that is free of the sinful influence of the world.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Do you know any believers who have been morally compromised by the world and the thinking of society? As you consider their waywardness, what were the early signs that showed sin was creeping back into their minds and lives again?
- What do you need to do to “keep” yourself from the moral and spiritual contamination that is in the world? What steps do you need to take to build a strong spiritual barrier between you and the creeping effects of sin?
- Are there any areas where you’ve already been affected by the world? If so, what do you need to do to reverse this trend, to cleanse your life of it, and to get back on the straight and narrow path with the Lord?