Religious idolatry is characterized by hypocrisy and legalistic judgmentalism. The question arises, “What makes one unclean?” Jesus exposes hypocrisy in the hearts of the Jewish religious leaders of his day in his encounters with Pharisees and Sadducees. They were quick to condemn others who failed to perform ritual washing, keep the Sabbath, or pay tithes, and for their fraternizing with publicans and sinners. Jesus declared that they themselves were unclean due to their hypocrisy and evil hearts.
Matthew 15:11-20 New International Version (NIV)
11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Religious idolatry is significantly different from idolatry in the Ancient World. Instead of outward performance of rituals and sacrifices to statues and other physical objects, the idolater disguises his hatred of the One True God by pretending to love him.
The Fullness of Time Hypothesis (FTH) asserts that modern religions originated during (or after) the transition period (586 BC to 323 BC). As the world grew up and became more sophisticated, idolatry and true worship became personal and turned inward.
With the teachings of Jesus, we find that the only way to truly worship God is in Spirit and in truth. The inner life is the one that reflects eternity.
John 4:23-24 New International Version (NIV)
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The religious idolater is always unclean, unforgiven, and condemned to eternity in hell. He is separated from the grace of God and cannot even see the truth.
Romans 1:18-32 King James Version (KJV)
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Contemporary religious idolaters
Religious idolaters today are also subject to the above condemnations. Some brag about how many souls they saved by a count of hands raised and prayers said. Others pray loudly in public on Sunday and then commit adultery in secret on other days. Many hate and kill in the name of their God expecting to be rewarded for performance of their religious duty.
Matthew 23:15 King James Version (KJV)
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
Matthew 23:27-32 King James Version (KJV)
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Idolaters under the Old Covenant were superstitious and believed God would not allow his temple to be destroyed. Evil in their hearts would not go unpunished, even if God had to destroy his temple. Even today, no religious idolater will escape punishment no matter how much they pray, read the Bible, or do good works.
Jeremiah 7:4 New International Version (NIV)
4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”
Matthew 7:21-23 New International Version (NIV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’