Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Idols of the Heart

Little children, keep yourself from idols (I John 5:21)

Idolatry goes much deeper than those things that primitive people make with their hands; it also pertains to those things erected in the heart (see Ezekiel 14:3-4). When a Christian commits habitual sin or embraces sinful practices, they are giving their worship or allegiance to idols of the heart. In effect, their worship is transferred from the Creator and given to created things.

Because we worship our way into sin, ultimately we need to worship our way out. Repentance is the act of turning from idols and returning to God by trusting in Jesus Christ. This fact helps idolaters become transformed into worshipers. John had just this in mind when he summarized his entire epistle with the closing line, “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

Know Your Idol

Several years ago following a sermon in which I talked about adultery, a man in our church who gave all appearances of being a Christian who was sleeping with and living with a woman out of wedlock, came to me for prayer and counseling. He told me about his situation and asked me what he should do. I quoted to him Romans 12:1 which states: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” I explained to him that his bed had become like a pagan altar, because when he laid down upon it with this woman he was presenting his body as a living sacrifice to her instead of God, and that his fornication was like an act of idolatrous worship because he was choosing her over Jesus as the most important person in his life. Very soon thereafter, he and she both corrected the situation.

Idols come in many forms: materialism, greed, self-centeredness, pornography, drugs, drunkenness, pride, self-beauty, astrology, love of money, covetousness, sex, gluttony, self indulgence, hobbies, habits, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, careers, self-righteousness, or anything else that we give our affections to in place of God. We have a tendency to see these things, not as idols that we worship, but rather as normal human behavior. Yet, in God’s eyes, that’s exactly what they are.

You Must Smash Your Idols, Not Simply Modify Your Behavior

It’s not enough that you summon up willpower, resolve to do better, and modify your behavior by going to new places, disconnecting from the internet, and start hanging out with new friends. To be sure, distancing yourself from the people, places, or things that entice you to sin is a good way to avoid some temptations. But it’s not enough. The idols in your heart must be destroyed. If you don’t smash them, your heart will always lust after these things like long lost lovers. Eventually you will return to them.

If you simply treat the symptoms of your behavior without addressing your heart as the source of those problems, you’ll never see sin mortified in your life. If you want to get well, recover, overcome sin, and live a victorious life, start by looking deep within yourself. That’s where the problem is. That’s where your idols are located. Dethrone them. Smash them to pieces. Crucify the flesh and nail it to the cross.

The Human Heart is an Idol Factory

Every one of us is skilled at inventing and setting up idols in the heart. The examples are endless. None of us are immune. To be cured, we must be re-awakened to the fact that we are made for God. The restlessness in your heart can only find rest in God. Your idols leave you empty. God does not. Your idols suck the life out of you. God pours life into you.

Thankfully, as we identify and smash our idols by the grace of God, our lives are transformed into acts of worship for God’s glory, our joy, and for the good of others as we properly manage created things while truly worshipping the Creator.

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