A guest blog by Brad Bigney
What am I talking about? Idolatry. Yes, idolatry. So why do we live blind to it so often? Here’s why: idolatry doesn’t operate out in the open; that’s not how it happens. It’s elusive and often flies under the radar undetected. And this is compounded by the fact you can struggle to even know your own heart, because the human heart is so deceptive.
Jeremiah tells us:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds’ (Jer 17:9–10).
Your heart and my heart are deceitful and desperately sick so we can’t trust them. It’ll lead you into back alleys, one-way streets and dead-ends; all the while promising you life, joy, peace and purpose, but it’s a lie. It always promises more than it can deliver.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
Nobody wakes up on any given day and says, “I think today I’m going to start living for the approval and affection of my husband.” Nobody says that out loud or types it up and hands it out to friends and co-workers so people will know what in the world’s wrong with you or what’s going on. Nobody consciously says, “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make winning the approval and affection of my husband my #1 ruling passion and I’m going to let everything else go. I’m going to refuse to find comfort in God, His Word, or His people until I get this, because this is what I’m going to live for now. In fact, I don’t think I can live without this. I want it so badly, so I’m going to make this my new standard of measurement regarding a ‘good day’ or a ‘bad day’ in my life. I’m going to let this one ruling desire determine my level of joy, peace and purpose on any given day.” Nobody says that! But millions live it every day!
Do you see what just happened? Do you see the train-wreck that’s ahead for this relationship?
Because you just stepped into the ugly trap of idolatry and you’ve exalted another person, object, idea or a desire ahead of Jesus Christ, that person now rules you and serves as your ‘functional god,’ determining your level of happiness and peace. It’s a recipe for relational misery and chaos every time because it almost always ends in bitterness and massive fallout.
Here’s one of the things that makes idolatry so very destructive. Idolatry doesn’t just alienate you from the God of the universe, it also sucks the very life out of your human relationships around you and crushes them, because in your idolatrous craving you end up placing demands on other people around you that they simply cannot bear because they are sinful, finite, and in most cases busy chasing their own idols! You’ve turned from God to the created being. No wonder you’re so disappointed, so bitter and so disillusioned.
Romans chapter 1 describes this destructive pattern.
Because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man… they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator… (Rom 1:21–23, 25).
Idolatry wreaks havoc on two levels because two things inevitably start to happen whenever idolatry kicks into gear:
- Your human relationships will start to heat up in a most unhealthy way because of all the friction created by your unspoken demands and expectations that you’ve heaped onto the people around you.
- Your most important relationship with the God of the universe gets pushed over into deep freeze all the while you’re praying and begging God to make this human relationship what you need it to be and you keep wondering why He’s not answering!
Let me help you out here. God doesn’t answer idolatrous prayers and He will not assist you in putting something or someone else before Him! In other words, God won’t help you chase your idols. You’re going to have to do that alone because He’s a jealous God. That’s why He says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.”
Now before we go any further let’s stop and get a good working definition of idolatry. You won’t find this definition spelled out in the Bible anywhere, but I do think it’s consistent with and supported by what you see in Scripture.
An idol is anything or anyone that begins to capture our hearts, minds and affections more than God. It’s living on substitutes and exchanging the glory of the one true living God for something else in this created universe.
And so you ask, “What could potentially be an idol in my life?” Anything! That’s right. That’s why we’re in such trouble when it comes to idolatry, because absolutely anything can become an idol when we shift from simply enjoying it and recognizing it for what it is, a gift from a loving God, and instead we start living for it, chasing after it and falling apart if we don’t have it.
You can even take a good thing like wanting to have godly children, wanting a godly marriage, wanting to be debt-free and build your whole world around it in such a way that it has now become your functional ‘god.’ It’s what you live for; it’s why you get up in the morning, and it’s your greatest motivation in life. Because, as John Calvin said, ‘The heart is a factory of idols,’ we are constantly in danger of taking even good things and turning them into ‘god’ things, which will always lead to destruction and heartache for us, as well as the people closest to us.
What about you? Where are you most worried? Angry? Fearful? Disappointed? Could it be that someone or someone other than Jesus Christ has become your functional ‘god’ so that you are fearful whenever it’s threatened, angry when anyone blocks you from it, excessively worried about it, even prone to depression if you think you might not accomplish it?
Do a heart-check. Pray Psalm 139:23-24, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ He might just show you something you’re not seeing that is contributing to the level of anger, fear, worry or depression you’re experiencing. We pray a lot of prayers but I believe this prayer is one that God is ready and willing to answer for us.
Brad Bigney is senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Evangelical Free Church in Florence, Kentucky. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Free Church of America. He is also a member and certified counselor of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors and a member of the Association of Biblical Counselors.
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Gospel Treason: Betraying The Gospel With Hidden Idols