Dealing With Idolatry


I am going to go in a slightly different direction this week. Mark dealt with the subject of idolatry quite a bit recently. So, I wanted to spend most of this post just talking about idolatry. Matt Chandler said: “It is easy to see that you and I have been created to worship. We’re flat-out desperate for it. From sports fanaticism to celebrity tabloids to all the other strange sorts of voyeurisms now normative in our culture, we evidence that we were created to look at something beyond ourselves and marvel at it, desire it, like it with zeal, and love it with affection. Our thoughts, our desires, and our behaviors are always oriented around something, which means we are always worshiping—ascribing worth to—something. If it’s not God, we are engaging in idolatry. But either way, there is no way to turn the worship switch in our hearts off.” Just think about what Chandler is saying: “Our thoughts, our desires, and our behaviors are always oriented around something,…we are always worshiping—ascribing worth to—something.” Our hearts are always oriented around something. John Piper says: “The human heart hates a vacuum. We never merely leave God because we value him little; we always exchange God for what we value more.” This is why we must watch over our hearts as Proverbs 4:23 says: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.”

C.J. Mahaney gives us some great questions that we would all do well to consider. These questions may help us expose and deal with idolatry in our lives: “Each of our lives is centered on something. What’s at the center of yours? Think about it for a moment. What’s really the main thing in your life? Only one thing can truly be first in priority; so what’s at the top of your list, second to none? Or let me put it this way: What are you most passionate about? What do you love to talk about? What do you think about most when your mind is free? Or try this: What is it that defines you? Is it your career? A relationship? Maybe it’s your family, or your ministry. It could be some cause or movement, or some political affiliation. Or perhaps your main thing is a hobby or a talent you have, or even your house and possessions. It could be any number of good things—but when it comes to centering our life, what really qualifies as the one thing God says should be the most important?…”

Jacob’s Idol

We looked at Genesis 29 last Sunday and we saw idolatry on full display in Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. Jacob was idolizing Rachel. Tim Keller says: “Jacob’s life was empty. He never had his father’s love. Now he didn’t even have his mother’s love, and he certainly had no sense of God’s love. He had lost everything—no family, no inheritance, no nothing. And then he saw Rachel, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, the most beautiful woman for miles around, and he said to himself, “If I had her, finally, something would be right in my lousy life. If I had her, life would have meaning. If I had her, it would fix things.” If he found his one true love, life would finally be okay.” Our culture to this day still believes the lie that Jacob was believing. The lie that says that our spouse will give our lives ultimate meaning and significance. Keller says: “And that is what people are doing all over the place. That is what our culture is begging us to do—to load all of the deepest needs of our hearts for significance, security, and transcendence into romance and love, into finding that one true love. That will fix my lousy life!”

An example of our culture promoting this idea that Keller is talking about is found in the movie Jerry Macguire. In that movie Tom Cruise’s character famously says to his girlfriend played by Renee Zellweger: “You complete me!” Scotty Smith says: “There is a problem,…if our primary commitment in life (and in marriage in particular) is to find someone to whom we can speak that memorialized line from the movie Jerry Macguire—”You complete me!” Or in other words, “I believe you are the one who can fill up this deep cavern in my soul!” As Tim Keller says: “If you get married as Jacob did, putting the weight of all your deepest hopes and longings on the person you are marrying, you are going to crush him or her with your expectations. It will distort your life and your spouse’s life in a hundred ways. No person, not even the best one, can give your soul all it needs.” Why is this? Blaise Pascal powerfully gives us the answer: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

Our Idols

So, what are some idols in our own lives? How can we determine what our idols are? Tim Keller helps us when he says: “We have an alternate or counterfeit god if we take anything in creation and begin to ‘bow down’ to it—that is, to love, serve, and derive meaning from it more than from God.”  So, what are we loving, serving, and deriving meaning from currently? 1 John 5:21 says: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1st Corinthians 10:14 says: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” How do we ‘keep ourselves from idols, and how do we flee from idolatry?’ I think the first step that we need to take is to try and discern idolatry in our own hearts. 

John Piper gives several ways that we can discern idolatry in our own hearts: “Great desire for non-great things is a sign that we are beginning to make those things idols.”  “When our enjoyment of something tends to make us not think of God, it is moving toward idolatry.”  He then adds this which is helpful: “But if the enjoyment gives rise to the feeling of gratefulness to God, we are being protected from idolatry.” So, during the enjoyment of things like TV shows, movies, food, or sports are we finding ourselves thinking of God less? If so, that is a sign that we may be making an idol of that particular thing. We should ask ourselves often if the ‘enjoyment gives rise to the feeling of gratefulness to God?’

Piper continues his list: “When we find ourselves spending time pursuing an enjoyment, knowing that other things, or people, should be getting our attention, we are moving into idolatry.”  “Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it does not desire that Christ be magnified as supremely desirable through the enjoyment. Enjoying anything but Christ (like his good gifts) runs the inevitable risk of magnifying the gift over the Giver. One evidence that idolatry is not happening is the earnest desire that this not happen.”

“Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is not working a deeper capacity for holy delight. We are sinners still. It is idolatrous to be content with sin. So we desire transformation. Some enjoyments shrink our capacities of holy joy. Others enlarge them. Some go either way, depending on how we think about them. When we don’t care if an enjoyment is making us more holy, we are moving into idolatry.”

Uprooting Our Idols

So, after we have gone through Piper’s questions and we begin to discern some idolatry in our hearts, how do we get rid of those idols? Tim Keller interestingly ties this in with repentance. He says: “repentance is identifying and removing the idols of the heart. Now the reason we’re doing that is because if you don’t understand the idols of the heart, you can still think of repentance as just basically stopping certain kinds of superficial, external behavioral sins.” So, once we identify the idols of our heart, which Keller says that is half the battle, we next need to take that idolatry to the cross.

When we take our idolatry to the cross, Keller warns us against self-pity. He talks about the difference between self-pity and true repentance. “Self-pity and repentance are two different things. I came to a place in my life where I realized 90 percent of what I thought I had been doing as repentance throughout most of my life was really just self-pity. The difference between self-pity and repentance is this: Self-pity is thinking about what a mess your sin got you into…What you’re really doing is saying, “I hate the consequences of this sin,” but you haven’t learned to hate the sin. What is happening is instead of hating the sin, you’re hating the consequences of the sin, and you’re hating yourself for being so stupid. Self-pity leads to continuing to love the sin so it still has power over you but hating yourself. Real repentance is when you say, “What has this sin done to God? What has it cost God? What does God feel about it?…When you see what effect it has had on the loving God who died so you wouldn’t do it, who died for your holiness, when you begin to see that it melts you, and it makes you begin to hate the sin. It begins to lose its attractive power over you. Instead of making you hate yourself, you find you hate it, and so the idol begins to get crushed bit by bit.”

So, we uproot our idols by taking them to the cross. Keller then tells us how to destroy the power of a sin: “The way to destroy the power of a sin in your life is to take it to the cross where, you see, Jesus Christ died so you wouldn’t do it. Jesus Christ died out of a commitment to your holiness. When you see that and realize this sin is an insult to him because it’s putting something as more important than him in your life, yes, that will make you feel bad, but it’s not a pathological kind of bad feeling. Instead, it actually frees you, because instead of making you hate yourself, it makes you say, “I don’t want this. I know what he wants for me. This thing I can do without,” and you’re free. You have to look and see what Jesus has done.”

When we see all that Christ has done for us in giving his life for us, we begin to hate our sin. As we dwell at the cross we will see that Jesus is infinitely more valuable than whatever idol we have pursued. As Beau Hughes says: “The…way we can displace these idols is if we come to see Jesus Christ as infinitely more beautiful, infinitely more valuable, infinitely more hope giving and worthy of our affections than whatever it is right now for you that’s your savior that you’re looking to to give you only what Jesus Christ could do. So it’s only when Jesus Christ becomes the predominant affection of your heart that the other things that your hearts are giving affection and attention to will be uprooted and replaced. So whatever you’ve been looking to for significance, whatever you’ve been trusting in to make you somebody, whoever you’ve been depending on to make life worth living, look away from that this morning and look to Jesus Christ.”

Picture from here



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