My heart, an idol factory
April 02, 2014Have you ever wondered why you struggle with a particular habit or behavior that is not good, one you have made hundreds of promises to not do again? Why do we lie, fail to love, break promises, live selfishly, get angry, try to control, so desire the approval of others that we'll compromise what we know is right or go to great lengths to look "just right?" The list is endless!
The answer is we're weak, selfish and yes sinful. When we dig deeper, we discover the reason we do these things is because there is something more important to us than God. Something we believe will bring greater satisfaction than Jesus Christ. We feel we must have such and such in order to be happy. What is interesting is that the Bible calls those things "idols".
Idols? You say, I thought idols were something found deep in the jungle where primitive people worship some kind of carved image as God. Yes, that is true, but Scripture calls idols anything that replaces God or becomes more important to us than God. You see, we gravitate towards whatever we believe makes us happy. In fact, the first two of the Ten Commandments address this very inclination of the heart (Ex. 20:3-6).
So, our sinful acts aren't our problem, the problem is the idol that is captivating our hearts by promising to make us happy. And, we fall for it! We tell ourselves that our joy and freedom requires something more than Christ. We run from Him to counterfeit pleasures and empty salvations. As John Calvin wrote in the 1500's, "The human heart is an idol factory … every one of us from our mother's womb is an expert in inventing idols." He got this idea from the Bible (Ezekiel 14:1-11)!
Each of us have invented and worshiped false, failing Saviors. Some of the things that we elevate to God are sex, food, comfort, approval, success, or control. As someone has said, "When created things subvert our worship of the Creator we have a worship problem with cosmic implications."
By the way, what we turn into an idol is not a bad thing in itself. An idol is some good, God created thing, some gift of God that we use to substitute for Himself. For example, acceptance is a good thing. With my wife, it is a good thing that we feel acceptance between each other. If it were missing, that would be a bad thing. But what if I long for the acceptance so much in my relationship with others that I will lie to get your approval, or the teenager succumbs to peer pressure (adults do this too) and compromises her values, this has taken something good and turned it into an idol.
What about security? It is good to provide for the family and be secure. But we can become workaholics and neglect family and other important things if this becomes my idol. Comfort can become an idol. It is a blessed gift from God to have comfort and rest. But, if it slips into idolatry, I get upset when my privacy is invaded, or when the kids are noisy and after a couple of times of correction, I become angry and yell and storm into the family room because they have invaded my comfort. What happened was I wanted comfort too much and I responded in anger. You see, in each of these cases, my idol (god) has failed and I'm not satisfied, so I respond in a sinful way. As Christopher Wright says, "false gods never fail to fail".
Unfortunately, our hearts can take any God given gift and turn it into an idol. The problem is we have a hard time believing that we have a comfort idol, work idol, family idol, being well liked idol, control idol, image idol, power idol, etc.
So what do we do? Let me suggest three things:
(1) Identify the idol(s) in your life. What is at the root of this sin or bad behavior? Author Tim Keller suggests we ask, What is my greatest nightmare? What do I worry about most? What if I failed or lost it, what would cause me to feel I did not want to live? What keeps me going? What do I rely on or comfort myself with when things go badly or become difficult? What do I think most easily about? What makes me feel the most self worth? What do I really want and expect out of life. What would really make me happy?
(2) Repent! Acknowledge these idols are weak. Confess they are good, but finite and poor. Praise God that He is the only Source of what you need.
(3) Rejoice in Christ! This is a topic all by itself. But, how does Christ fill that void? For example when I struggle with acceptance or approval, because I have believed and trusted in Christ, He has given me His righteousness and perfection and when God looks at me, He sees me in Christ and accepts me. It doesn't matter what others think; He accepts me!
There is no one who can satisfy like Christ! What He said is true, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
John Sale is the Lead Pastor of Valley Center Community Church.