Syncretism and Those “Functional Gods”

Text: Judges 6:25-40

“For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God.” ­­—Psalm 86:10

I’ve never been much of a chef. Yet in the honeymoon stage of our marriage I often tried to cook up something special to impress my wife. I mixed all kinds of seasonings and spices to try and harvest something delectable. But there was a common response that I often got from my wife at the dinner table: “Hmm, that tastes… interesting.” It was her polite way of saying, “It sure doesn’t taste like it is supposed to, but I greatly appreciate your effort.”

The religious culture we find in the sixth chapter of Judges reminds me of my culinary aspirations as a newlywed—often blending things together that don’t belong in the same mix! The Israelites had attempted to season their worship of Yahweh with the spice of Baal worship. This was a form of syncretism, when one tries to merge contradictory religious practices and beliefs in order to appease a cultural divide, or blend opposing worldviews. The intent might be to make our faith more “tasteful” to the world, or adaptable to society, when in reality it only robs the Christian message of its true potency.

Last week we saw that when God called Gideon to rise up and make a difference in his generation, He first spoke to Gideon’s identity over his circumstances. This young man needed to be reassured that God still had a plan for the future though the present had been very bleak. After God gave him a sign of confidence, Gideon built an altar to the Lord. In other words, worship became the catalyst for everything that happens next in this redemption story. When Gideon made himself responsive to God in wholehearted worship, the hand of the Almighty guided him through his next faith steps.

That same night the Lord gave Gideon his first missional assignment. The context was within his own household and the mission was to destroy the altar of Baal, a form of idolatry his father had propagated. In this syncretistic culture, the people worshiped Baal right along side of Yahweh. Confronting this idolatry, Gideon had to get his own house in order before he could lead a rescue mission to save others. Late into the night, Gideon and ten of his buddies cut down those idols and burned them in a sacrifice to the one true God. When the men of the town rose early in the morning and saw the altar of Baal broken down, they wanted to kill Gideon. But God knows how to defend those who defend His truth. Gideon still has his greatest conquests to come, but this brave confrontation with the idolatry in his own home is a very crucial faith step toward more epic heroics to come.

God’s response to religious syncretism is much more direct and candid than my wife’s response to culinary syncretism. His word blatantly commands that we have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3; 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:39, Isaiah 45:5-6). Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god, your functional savior.” Gideon’s father may have believed in Yahweh, but Baal had become his “functional” god.

Functional gods can be anything that competes with God at the center of our worship, misplaces our trust or misaligns our hope, or hijacks our sense of identity or our sense of security. They can be anything that we allow to control our emotions or fuel our anxieties, anything that robs us of our devotion to Kingdom priorities, or anything that steals our joy, fulfillment, and contentment in Christ. May we, like Gideon, have the humility and bravery to confront these functional gods and the syncretism in our own hearts as the Holy Spirit reveals them to us.


Heavenly Father, it is in you that we live and move and have our being. You alone are worthy of our utmost worship. Holy Spirit, confront places in our hearts where we tend to drift in serving those other little ‘functional’ gods that can never deliver what they promise. Only in YOU can we derive our true sense of security, salvation, peace, and contentment. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Questions for personal reflection, small group discussion, or dinner table conversations:

  1. When has God’s instruction necessitated a bold response on your part?
  2. What specific instructions did the Lord give to Gideon? (Judges 6:25-26)
  3. How did the Israelites react to what Gideon had done? (6:28-30) What do the Israelites’ actions reveal about their spiritual state? (6:28-30) What reasoning did Gideon’s father use to save Gideon’s life? (6:31)
  4. What further tests did Gideon put before the Lord? Why? (6:36-40) How did the Lord show His patience and love to Gideon? (6:38, 40)
  5. What can you learn from this story about God’s patience and love for you? What kind of “functional” gods may the Holy Spirit be confronting in your own life?

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