All followers of Jesus struggle with idolatry. John Calvin was right when he wrote that “the human heart is an idol factory.” In the foolish economy of idolatry, we create “God-replacements” to worship. Just as the Israelites had to melt their earrings in order to fashion a Golden Calf, we sacrificially offer up what God has graciously given (time, treasure, talents) in order to create new idols to bow down to.
Idolatry is always costly.
Eventually, these idols, particularly the “good ones” (family, romantic love, success, money) enslave us to their anti-Gospel power. It’s always a short walk back to the slavery of Egypt.
Tim Keller’s book “Counterfeit God’s” is one of the most powerful, soul-stirring, utterly convicting books I have ever read. It is also the most Gospel-saturated work I have ever come across on the issue of idolatry. Keller writes vividly on the dangerous, enslaving power of idols when he writes:
“An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave.”
Leaders are uniquely venerable to idolatry. We plant church’s, create businesses, lead organizations and start families that can quickly become, not the means by which we bring worship to God, but the very objects of that worship. God-replacements. Golden Calfs.
Keller is wise to point out in his book that they way we fight idolatry in our lives is not by ceasing to worship, but by ceasing to worship that which is not worthy of worship: namely, anything or anyone other than God.
How do we do this?
- Remove Idols
Anything keeping you from Jesus is a thing not worth keeping. In order for us to remove the idols, we must remove that object or person from its preeminent position. How much of your time, energy, money, thoughts etc is focused on that idol? Often we idolize things that are good (family, friends, recreation etc). Removing these idols looks different. We do not destroy these idols per se, we must demote them to their God-ordained position in our life. Not as objects of worship but as means to worship the One True and Living God.
2. Refocus Worship
When an idol has been removed from its central place in your heart and affections something or someone will take its place. We are made to worship after all. Removing idols is not enough. We must cease worshipping false gods and start worshipping Christ. It is only when Jesus’ centrality in our hearts is secure that we are beginning to put idolatry to death. Refocused worship can only occur when a clear view of God’s love for us in the death of Jesus is restored.
As Keller points out rightly:
“If we are deeply moved by the sight of his love for us, it detaches our hearts from other would-be saviors.”
Only the Gospel can do this by the power of the Holy Spirit. And when this happens our heart’s affection align with Heaven’s praise.