Religious idolatry is worshiping a false god instead of the one true God. One of the most glaring cases of religious idolatry is found in Acts 17:16-34. Verse 16 reads, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that THE CITY WAS GIVEN OVER TO IDOLS” (NKJV). Paul was burdened for these souls, for he knew that idols are “false gods” that men invent to take the place of the “true God.” As Paul continued in the city he preached Christ and in verse 18 we read, “Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of FOREIGN GODS,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” As we read on in verses 19-21 we see that they were willing to listen to what he had to say. Paul started his address to them with these words, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (verse 22). It has been said that there were more IDOLS in the city of Athens than men and it would seem that this altar “to the unknown god” was put up just in case they missed one! Yet in wisdom Paul used this altar as his text and said, “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.” In verses 24-29 he faithfully proclaimed to them the One true God, “who made the world and everything in it” (verse 24). Paul knew that these religious pagans were guilty of refusing the light of creation and they “worshipped the creature more than the Creator” (see Romans 1:18-25). So he began with the basic truth of God as the Creator of all things and how all other gods are “something shaped by art and man’s devising” (verse 29). He ends his message with these solemn words, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (verses 30-31).

How did these “religious idol worshipers” respond to Paul’s message? Verse 32 tells us, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, SOME MOCKED, while OTHERS SAID, ‘We will hear you again on this matter’.” So, there was a mixed reaction, with some rejecting the truth of Christ and others being willing to hear Paul again. In verses 33-34 we hear of another reaction, “So Paul departed from among them. However, SOME MEN JOINED HIM AND BELIEVED.”

In light of what we’ve just read, it seems clear to me that UNBELIEF is worse than RELIGIOUS IDOLATRY. We saw that those in Athens had been living “in times of ignorance”; that is, they were ignorant of the truth of the One true God and the result was IDOLATRY. Now here they are faced not only with the truth that God is the Creator, but with the truth of Jesus Christ who had been raised from the dead and who will judge the world in a future day. And yet “some mocked”; they refused to believe on Christ! This SIN OF UNBELIEF is the “crowning sin” that will damn men to hell. We read in John 3:18, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Jesus reinforced this truth in John 8:24, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” If one does NOT BELIEVE IN CHRIST he is condemned and he will die with his sins unforgiven, meaning he will suffer God’s wrath against those sins for all eternity. John 3:36 declares, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and HE WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE THE SON shall not see life, but THE WRATH OF GOD ABIDES ON HIM.” What we are really stressing is “there is FORGIVENESS for those who are engaged in religious idolatry but there is NO FORGIVENESS for those who refuse to believe on Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. UNBELIEF is clearly the worst sin of all! (292.5) (DO)