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Idols of the heart

February 16, 2009

by Tom Starkjohn, Harvest Community Church, Winsted

Idol.

Maybe this word creates images of statues in your mind. The Bible certainly talks about those kinds of idols, but are there other kinds?

What would worshipping idols look like in 21st century midwest America?

Let me start by asking the question, “Are people fundamentally good or bad?” It is a loaded question, and I surely affirm that people do many good things, at least by our standards. But the Bible doesn’t have a positive view of natural human nature.

Most everybody will admit to some sort of sin, that something they do is less than perfect. But people do not see their sin, their blasphemous evil, in their worship. They do not see how they worship a false god, and that this, in itself, is the greatest of sins.

Remember what the first commandment is? “Thou shalt not have any other gods before me.” The Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That is, no one treats God the way he should be treated. Everyone has somehow created a god in his own image that he or she can love, manipulate, or satisfy.

Going after false gods is doubly evil because it turns from what truly satisfies (the true God) and seeks satisfaction in what amounts to dirt (idols). If you imagine a weary traveler in the desert dying of thirst, and you point him towards the clear spring, but he turns away to dig a hole in the parched sand, you can see the utter vileness of idolatry.

Now, I can just imagine many of you saying something like, “I don’t worship idols. This is not a problem for me. Maybe for some pagan in rural Papa New Guinea or somewhere in India it is a problem, but not here.”

Yes, it’s true that there are still those kinds of ‘typical’ idols in the world, but that’s not the only kind of idol. There are innumerable idols of the heart, as the Apostle Paul so clearly points out.

This is not just a problem for people who have never heard of Jesus or followed him. This is a problem for those of us in the church, those of us who call ourselves Christians, those of us who claim to follow Jesus.

The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (See also Ephesians 5:5 and 1 Corinthians 10).

Idols are anything that compete with our hearts for the place God alone deserves. It is building your identity (your self-worth and happiness) on anything other than the true God so clearly revealed in the Bible.

The Apostle Paul says idolatry is coveting – wanting something you do not have and being discontent with what you do have. Our American culture (human culture, really) is based upon fostering coveting within our hearts.

Look at your own heart – are sports your god, with temple-stadiums and athletic deities?

Is your car your god, with a promise of the freedom of the road?

Is your home your god, with most of your money made in “offerings” to make your god more comfortable and better furnished?

Is your job your god, with your identity wrapped up in making yourself more important and better paid?

Is retirement your god, with all your thoughts centered on how to retire and stay retired, living a life of ease?

Is sex your god, with the promise of happiness in what you see and do?

Is education your god, with an insatiable desire to know more, a belief that knowledge brings satisfaction and some sort of salvation?

Are politics your god, that somehow the right laws or people will bring peace and prosperity?

Is the television or Internet your god, with countless hours spent in worship before the screen which promises to satisfy you?

Idols are very deceptive. People can think they are worshiping the true God, but are actually worshipping a god they have created. They are finding their identity and happiness in someone or something other than the true God, and by that they are “sharing” their worship.

The true God will not share the love and honor due him with another, no more than a kind, strong, and loving husband will share his wife with another man.

So what is the answer? It is not by self effort. No one in his own power can turn from his own self-deception.

We need a savior who can rescue us from our own prison of idolatry and take us into the presence of the true God. This is what Jesus can do – rescue us from our rightful condemnation before the Holy God and give us hearts to serve the living God.

God, alone, needs to give us a new heart so that we are not captivated by false idols. If God is stirring up your heart, convicting you of any idols you have in your heart, cry out to him for help to follow him alone, and not the things of this world.

God does not reject the one who in humility, is convicted of his sin and reaches out to the only One who can and will rescue him.