The Apostle John says,
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
~1 John 5:21 (NIV).
This single verse I could audaciously say summarises John’s whole approach; to the end of the gospel of God I might add. Where we keep ourselves from idols and the practice of any form of idolatry, we necessarily have to have chosen and clung to that right path of God. It’s the only way.
We see here that there, simplistically, are only two ways—with God all the way, or without him; even as that is relevant to the temporary setting.
The latter, of course, describes still many of us struggling with our faith—believing, yes, but otherwise caught still by some of the trappings of this world. And yet, God is graceful toward us, especially in our struggles to get closer to him; no one knows our hearts (and our efforts) quite as God does.
John – The Apostle of Contrasts
John is a black ‘n’ white sort of guy in his approach to theology. There is much we can learn in this way, without being exclusivist—for exclusivity fits only in the genre of comparison, totally out of the God-intended realm, so far as our personal relationships with God are concerned. That’s got to be our focus; the personal relationship we have with God.
We see right here how we fit the black ‘n’ white genre into our theology—it works fundamentally at the personal level where we make comparisons—safely and best—only with ourselves, on our path to the true knowledge of God.
The mightiest contrast is the finishing point. In verse 20, John has catapulted forth the positive contrast—verse 21 is the negative. “Don’t fall,” the elderly apostle of the faith is saying to his “dear children [of the faith].”
Negating Everyday Idolatry
By using the term ‘Everyday Idolatry’ I’m not in any way referring to the worship of material possessions and other typical things that spring to mind in the believer rejecting known things of the world.
What I refer to is the very premise of our faith. What we actually believe about Jesus Christ, as certainly manifest via our thoughts and then our actions.
When we allow God to search us pertaining to such rudimentary questions he quickly highlights our idolatry—or unbelief; an unbelief he caters for via grace, but an unbelief he wishes us to work upon. This is not something that some of us are immune to. We all engage in it. We call it ‘sin’. This is proven via the way John finishes his letter, propelling us toward a command.
John’s saying, “Keep yourself from it,” as a continual imperative “emphasizing the duty of personal effort” required in keeping ourselves spiritually-clean to God via conformation of our beliefs that inform our heart, which then informs our thinking and then our acting.
Let’s not focus so much on object of our idolatry, but on the non-God-conformed belief systems that promulgate such practices.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
 Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976, 1980), p. 796.