A few months ago I posted a blog titled Identifying Your Idols, which was mostly an excerpt from Tim Keller‘s The Gospel In Life Study Guide. It seemed to be received well and I hope it was a true joy and blessing for those that read it and passed it along for others to read. This post is a kind of “part two” to Identifying Your Idols, so if you didn’t read that, you may want to do so before going any further here. Click here to view Identifying Your Idols.
I hope this post will help you see that at the heart of idolatry is a disbelief in the gospel. I hope you see that sin at it’s core is looking to and trying to get from creation only what you can truly get from the creator- Jesus. Grace and peace to you as you read this.
What are idols?
An idol is anything in your life, other than Jesus Christ, that if you lost it you would lose personal worth and identity; an idol is anything, other than Jesus Christ, that if you lost it it would utterly destroy your life. On the other hand, an idol is anything you’re looking to in your life, other than Jesus Christ, that if you received it it would give you personal worth and identity; an idol is anything you’re looking to in your life, other than Jesus Christ, that if you received it it would make your life complete. Idols are often not inherently bad things, but rather good things that we turn into ultimate things. Idols are often things that should be received and used in such a way to worship Jesus, but we receive them and use them in such a way as to worship them instead of Jesus. This is one of the points that the Apostle Paul is driving home in Romans chapter 1 as he says, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:22-25).
(The following is from Tim Keller’s The Gospel In Life Study Guide).
There are basically three approaches to personal change
The “Moralizing” Approach
Basic analysis: Your problem is that you are doing wrong. Repent!
This approach focuses on your behavior, but doesn’t go deeply enough. We must find out the why of our behavior. Why do I find I want to do the wrong things? What inordinate desires are drawing me to do so? What are the idols and false beliefs behind them?
Telling someone (or yourself) to “Repent and change your behavior” is insufficient, because you still hold a belief that says, “Even if you live up to moral standards but don’t have this particular thing that you treasure, you are still a failure.” You must replace this belief by repenting of the sin beneath it all- your particular idolatry.
The “Psychologizing” Approach
Basic analysis: Your problem is that you don’t see that God loves you as you are. Rejoice!
This approach focuses on feelings, which seems to be “deeper” than behaviors, but it also fails to go deeply enough. We must also find out the why of our feelings. Why do I have such strong feelings of despair (or fear, or anger) when this or that happens? What are the inordinate desires that are being frustrated? What are the idols and false beliefs behind them?
Telling someone (or yourself) that “God loves you, so rejoice!” is insufficient, because you still hold a belief that says, “Even if God loves you but you don’t have this particular thing that you treasure, you are still a failure.” You must replace this belief by repenting for the sin beneath it all- your particular idolatry.
The “Gospel” Approach
Basic analysis: Your problem is that you are looking to something besides Jesus for your happiness. You have been worshiping an idol and rejecting the true God. Repent and Rejoice!
This approach confronts a person with the real sin underlying the particular sins and behind the bad feelings. Our problem is that we have given ourselves over to idols. Every idol-system is a way of our-works-salvation, and thus it keeps us “under the law.”
Paul tells us that bondage of sin is broken when we come out from under the law- when we begin to believe the gospel of Christ’s-work-salvation. Only when we realize in a new way that we are righteous in Christ does the idols power over us break. “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). You will only be “under grace” and free from the controlling effects of idols to the degree that you have both 1) repented of your idols and 2) rested and rejoiced in the saving work of Christ instead.
To replace idols, you must learn to rejoice in the particular thing that Jesus provides that replaces that particular idol of your heart. Whenever you see your heart in the grip of some kind of disobedience or misery, some temptation, anxiety, anger, etc., always ask, 1) How are these effects being caused by an inordinate hope for someone or something to give me what only Jesus can really give me? and 2) How does Christ give me so much more fully and graciously and suitably the very things I am looking for elsewhere? Next, rejoice and consider what he has done and what he has given you in the gospel. Thomas Chalmers understood this when he wrote in The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,
“It is seldom that any of our bad habits or flaws are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…or by the mere force of mental determination. But what cannot be thus destroyed can thus be dispossessed- and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose it’s power entirely as the reigning affection of the mind. The hearts desire for having some one object or other, this is unconquerable. The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one. It is…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through faith that is in Jesus Christ, that the spirit of adoption is poured upon us- it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of it’s former desires, and is the only way in which deliverance is possible.” (END OF EXCERPT FROM THE GOSPEL IN LIFE)
Pray that you would be able to repent (repent = turn) from your idols and rejoice in the saving love of Jesus. Pray for God to bring a change inside of your heart, by his grace, that would enable you to look only to Christ for your salvation, identity, hope, joy, and delight, and that you would be able to break the power your idols hold over you.
O that God would give us grace, making sin more bitter and Jesus more sweet. That is my utmost prayer for us all!
Grace and peace to you,