The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is one of the most famous in the book of 1 Kings. Even though the direction of the book is generally downward, 1 Kings 18 contains a moment of spiritual triumph.
However, even before the triumph takes place, there are still lessons for us to learn. Particularly, in 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah says to the people, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal, follow him.”
At first glance, this is puzzling. Normally, we think of idolatry as an exclusive practice. The Israelites were idolatrous because they abandoned the worship of God and embraced the worship of Baal.
However, as Elijah’s words reveal, reality was more complicated than that. Yes, the people of Israel had become Baal-worshipers (with the enthusiastic sponsorship of Jezebel), but they remained God-worshipers too. They had adopted the polytheistic mindset that argued that two gods were better than one.
The problem was that in demoting God to the level of other gods, they dishonored Him. They thought that they could go on without making an exclusive choice between God and Baal. Elijah wanted them to understand that in worshiping Baal at all, they had already chosen against God.
Today, the non-exclusive nature of idolatry still gets God’s people in trouble. Like the Israelites of old, too many Christians try to get away with limping between two opinions. Our society doesn’t put too much pressure on us to worship Baal (although given its increasingly sensual nature, I wouldn’t be surprised to see fertility deities make a comeback), but there are plenty of modern idols clamoring for our attention.
One of the most prominent is the idol of sexual autonomy. If there is any truth that the world around us holds sacred, it is that people should be allowed to pursue sexual pleasure however and with whatever consenting partner they choose. There’s an awful lot of limping between two opinions here.
We see it in younger Christians who give themselves over to lust on Saturday night and show up for services the next Sunday morning. We see it as well in slightly older Christians who come up with a million and one justifications for their porn habit. People like this won’t acknowledge it, but they are really serving two gods instead of one. The world has corrupted them into believing that bad behavior is acceptable because it’s discreet.
At other times, brethren won’t bother to hide their pursuit of more traditionally acceptable idols. Our false gods, after all, don’t have to be black-letter sins. They can be anything that we put above God. Our children can be in that category. So too can be the good opinion of our neighbors (especially if we don’t invite them to our gospel meeting because we’re worried about offending them).
Make no mistake. Either God is first in our lives, or He isn’t, and if He isn’t, there is an idol involved. We may think that we have solved a Biblical either-or by changing it to a both-and, but in truth, we’ve only started limping. If we don’t resolve our limping in God’s favor, we can’t expect Him to resolve the question of our eternal destiny in ours.