Why does the Bible talk so much about idolatry? I don’t know anyone who worships idols.
Psalm 24.4 says that the one who can approach God is the one “who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” When we hear the Bible talk about idolatry we tend to think of figures or statues or idols carved out of stone. But this is only one form of idolatry the Bible addresses. In the most general sense, idolatry is when people ascribe their love and allegiance to objects, images, ideas, or anything else, in place of the one true God.
Psalm 24 establishes God as the one true God, and the reason it gives for God’s preeminence is that he is the Creator God. Only the Creator God can be the one true God and have all power and authority in the universe. If we acknowledge this reality (whether we acknowledge it or not, it is still reality), then God is due our allegiance, respect, honor, devotion, worship, etc., simply be default. If he is the one true God, then to give our allegiance, respect, honor, devotion, worship, etc., would be the ultimate treason of the universe.
If we are not honoring God for who he is (the one true, Creator God), then we are, by necessity, giving that allegiance to something or someone else. That thing or person to whom we give our allegiance instead of God is, according to the Bible, an idol. It may not be carved like a statue or look like anything physical, but if it consumes our thoughts and time and attention more than God, then we are giving it a place of honor above God. God will not tolerate this, because to worship something or someone other than him is a lie. This is why it says in Psalm 24 that those who approach God must not lift up their souls to what is false (something other than God), or swear deceitfully (give their allegiance to something or someone other than God). Thankfully, Jesus never did either of those things, but instead regarded and honored God perfectly on behalf of those who will trust in him for salvation.
A good practice for all Christians would be to, on a regular basis, sit down and examine your heart and your desires: is there anything you’re loving and valuing above God? What in your life consumes your time and thoughts? If there is anything that occupies your time and attention more than God, it has become an idol. But take heart in this: God loves to save idolaters.
So no, you may not know anyone who bows down to a carved image or an idol, but you (and everyone else) still struggles with the sin of idolatry.
If the Israelites had the same problem that we do (sin), how is it that they could go before God in worship? Didn’t they need a Savior too?
By establishing God as the Creator God, Psalm 24 also points to our hopelessness of coming before him on our own merit. But, as the question states, God’s people came before him in the Old Testament, so how did they do it?
God established a means by which his people could approach him through the sacrificial system. God told his people that they had to sacrifice animals – blood had to be spilt – before they could come before him. If they did not sacrifice animals, their sin would have caused God to destroy them. The sacrificing of animals, however, temporarily put off God’s wrath toward their sin, making them able to come before him in worship. But these sacrifices were not permanent, and were never meant to be permanent. God had a plan to solve the sin problem once and for all through is Son, Jesus. Jesus became the perfect sacrifice, having obeyed God perfectly in his life. Through his perfect, the sacrifice of his life was the perfect (and permanent) sacrifice. This is why there is no need to sacrifice animals anymore in order to come before God – the perfect sacrifice has already been offered through Jesus.
The Israelites came before God on the basis of spilt animal blood. Christians come before God on the foundation of the spilt blood of the perfect Savior.