Why would John end his letter by writing, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”? (1 Jn. 5:21). Certainly his words do not apply to us, do they? We don’t have false gods in our living rooms, do we?

What exactly did John mean by “idols”?

It’s unlikely he was talking about the gods of metal and stone so prevalent in his time. Those kinds of idols were not as great a temptation to the people he was writing to as they had been to their ancestors.

An idol, however, can be any false idea about God or substitute for Him that turns us away from knowing His true character. John stated that Jesus Christ is the true God (v.20). To know Jesus is to know the Father. To be intimately related to His Son is to be forever related to the eternal God.

It is possible for me to worship an idol I call “Jesus” that leads me away from Him. Perhaps my Jesus resembles a teddy bear that lulls me to sleep, or an indulgent father, or a Santa Claus who doesn’t take my sin seriously. Such misconceptions are not the Jesus of the Bible but an idol. That’s the reason John warned us to keep ourselves from idols.

Be careful. Devotion to a false Jesus is idolatry. But knowing Jesus, the true God, brings us eternal life.