The Danger of Idolatry

I’d be willing to bet that no one I know bows down to a bronze statue in the morning.  I think it’s safe to assume that none of my Facebook friends go out in the backyard and sing praises or offer prayers and/or sacrifices to animals.

So when we read the command to not have idols (Ex. 20:3), we think we’re good on that one.  We may admit that we screwed up the other ones, but we don’t have a golden calf or bronze Buddha, so we’re okay.

But are we?  Do we really not have ANY idols in our lives?

If we want to discover the answer to that question, we have to first understand what an idol is.

Here’s how the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines an idol: “Man-made images or representations worshiped as deities; any natural or manufactured objects worshiped as deity; anything receiving worship other than the one true God.”

Read that last phrase again: “anything receiving worship other than the one true God.”

You may still be thinking, “Well, I don’t worship anything else.  I worship on Sunday mornings, so I’m safe here.”  But what do you worship Sunday afternoon, or Monday morning, or Friday night?  Worship, to use the cliche phrase, is more than the songs we sing and more about the life we live.  We worship when we ascribe worth to something or someone.  We worship when we find our joy in something or someone.

Now, it’s certainly not wrong to enjoy football, food, or good music.  I hope you enjoy your job, and that you love your family.  But, in 2015, especially in a materialistic culture like America, we are in big danger of letting good things become “god things.”

I really enjoy sports.  They’re a good thing.  They help create friendships, heal wounds, and provide everyone with a place to learn and grow physically, emotionally and mentally.  And they’re a whole lot of fun to watch and discuss.  But when my entire disposition depends on my favorite team’s performance….there’s a big problem.  I have an idol.  It has become the center of my life, directing my every move.

What does your life center around?  Sports, work, school, family?  What or who do you love the most?  What could you not bear to live without?  Because if the answer is anything other than Jesus Christ, there’s a problem.  I hope that you love your spouse and your children, and that you love your friends, and that you are an example to those in your church and community of love and devotion to your family.  But Jesus says we ought to love Him in a way that makes the love for our families and friends look like hate (Luke 14:26).  He certainly doesn’t call us to actually hate them, but that our love for Him is preeminent and defining in all of our other relationships.

Because our idols tend to be “good things,” we find it easier to justify the decision to create them.  It doesn’t take long to convince a Christian that gambling is wrong, or that lust is bad, or that not trusting God is sinful.  We read that, we get that, and we strive to follow Christ in that.  But when we get into deeper, more subtle sin issues, issues that involve our deepest affections and attitudes, we put our defenses up.

“It’s not like I’m committing (fill in the blank) sin.”  “It’s not in the Bible.”  “Don’t judge me.”  “I give plenty of time to God, I can do (fill in the blank).”

The problem is, in trying to justify these sins, we show that we’d rather hold on to them than hold on to God.  We’ve put our hope in these worldly things to satisfy us, to give us a good life, rather than find our joy in God.

And on the day of judgment, they will fail to deliver us from God’s wrath if we do not repent.

“They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing.  Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord.  They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it.  For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity.”–Ezekiel 7:19.

Our idols are worthless and meaningless.  If you are hoping in them to give you life, you will only find condemnation.  And when that condemnation comes, your idols will be unable to save you.  Don’t forget Christ’s words in Luke 16:13: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Love for the world, for the things of the world, is hatred for God.  When the Bible says that, it certainly doesn’t call for us to be ascetic and never go to the movies, never play a game, never watch a baseball game, and abstain from anything that isn’t water and bread.  But there’s a difference between enjoying the things of this world and thanking God for them and even finding some redeeming value in them, and allowing them to become the center of our life, allowing them to influence our decision making more than God, and giving them more of our time and our affection than God.

Don’t allow the good things of this world to become your god.  Let God be God, and give thanks to Him for His common grace, and more importantly, His saving grace.

I went to a Braves game last summer with one of my best friends.  We got fantastic seats, great food, and got to hang out in the really neat 755 club at Turner Field.  It was, without a doubt, one of the better experiences I’ve had in a while.  I remember as we waited to get seated at dinner thinking, “God, this is awesome.  Thank you for this, for allowing us to enjoy this.  But thank you even more for allowing me to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Thank you that you don’t stop at common grace, but give me saving grace to trust your Son.”  The Braves lost that night, blowing (if I remember correctly) a three-run lead.  But I still walked away thankful for common grace, and even more for saving grace.

There’s some helpful questions we can ask to determine whether or not we have an idol:

1) Can I, and do I, thank God for this, remembering that the giver is always greater than the gift?

2) Do I rejoice in this more than I rejoice that God gave me Jesus?

3) Do I boast in this and seek to talk more of this than I do Jesus Christ?

4) Do I think of this more than I think of God?

5) Does this control my decision making, my emotions, my finances, more than God?

6) If God told me to give this up, would I do it?

7) Is having this in my life hindering my obedience to Jesus Christ?

8) Do people know me more for this than they do for my relationship with Jesus?

Tim Keller says that whatever your mind goes to when you’re not thinking about anything in particular…that is your God.

These are hard questions.  This is a hard, and a heart, issue.  Idolatry removes God from His rightful place as the God of our lives and puts a fraud in His place.  It is cosmic treason, we have all committed, and we are all worthy of hell because of it.

But Jesus Christ has died in our place.  He has lived the life that we cannot, and He has died to take the punishment not just for our idolatry, but for all our sins, past, present and future.  He has taken the wrath of God, nailed our sin debt to the cross, and has risen from the grave to be our Lord and to reconcile us to God by His grace through faith in Him.  And one day, the struggle with idolatry will be over for all those who trust in Him.

So what do we do in response to this love?  We repent.  We don’t change ourselves.  We don’t attempt to do better on our own.  And we don’t run away from God in fear.  But we draw near to Him in faith, believing that He is telling the truth when He says that He loves us.  We confess that we have sinned, that we have idols, and we take them off the throne, allowing God to be back on that throne, as the rightful God of our lives, trusting Him to lead us to trust, love and honor Him as our God.  And we trust in the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and in His life for our righteousness before God.

And then we set out to murder our idols so that we may love God more and more here, as we look forward to the day where we are completely free from sin, and nothing hinders us from loving God as we want to, as we ought to.

Lord, may we repent of our idols.  May we enjoy good things, thanking you for them.  May we never let them become our God.  May you show us grace, forgiving us of our idols.  May you teach us to love and treasure you.

God bless,

Neal E.


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