“I still prefer to believe that sex is a substitute for religion and that the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God,” Father Smith said.

– Bruce Marshall, The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith.

What Is Idolatry?

May 21, 2014

“Idolatry is not the ceasing of worship. Rather, it is misdirected worship, and at the core of idolatry is self-worship.”

– Justin Holcomb

“So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away”

2Kings 17:33

2Kings 17:35 says “The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, ‘You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them.'” It isn’t that we don’t worship God. We do. Our problem is that often we have a personal pantheon of gods. These pantheons are fluid. One day the primary god I worship might be my child’s health, the next day it could be getting a bill paid, and the third day it could be my marriage. These are good things but they are not God. Because they are worthy desires, we are tempted to worship them by believing that they will bring delight to our lives. This magnifies our idols and minimizes God.

While we’re bowing to these other gods, we are paying lip service to the LORD. Because of this intellectual commitment to God we often don’t sense the emotional commitment to our idols. So often our emotional misery in life is tied to the fact that we’re worshiping idols that either can’t do anything for us or gods that are evading us. You see, when God isn’t the only god of my life, when I’m not getting what I want, unhappiness and misery are sure to follow. Our idols are always cruel. Psalm 37:4 is truth we need to get into our hearts: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The LORD is our only sure thing in life. Because of this, anything else we delight in is sure to disappoint. What god are you running after today?

The Failure of Our Idols

December 14, 2013

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god . . . to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before [your loved ones] finally plant you. . . . Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

— David Foster Wallace


October 29, 2012

Tim Challies grapples with the seduction of our technology. It is no surprise that the issue ultimately is about idolatry. But, not just idolatry in the sense that the new device offers greater functionality, but idolatry because of how these new devices make us feel.

We begin to see that the iPad, the Surface, and all these other gizmos and gadgets, are a matter of the heart, a matter of our relationship with the God who created us.

The Gospel transforms our lives. It not only frees us from the penalty of sin but it also empowers us for selfless love, radical obedience, and cheerful generosity. Jared Wilson explains.

John Piper’s ebook on Martin Luther is available for free in Kindle, Nook, and PDF form.

Here Tullian explores the danger of grace (weird thought, huh?):

Counterfeit Gods

September 7, 2012

By Kevin DeYoung

Most Westerners have struggled at one time or another to understand the attraction of idolatry in the ancient world. What could be so compelling about an inanimate block of wood or chunk of stone? Hard core idolatry feels as tempting as beet juice. It’s likely someone out there loves a frothy glass of obscure vegetable extract, but the temptation doesn’t weigh heavily on our souls.

But idolatry made a lot of sense in the ancient world. And, had we lived two or three millennia ago, it almost certainly would have been tempting to each one of us. In his commentary on Exodus, Doug Stuart explains idolatry’s attraction with nine points. You’ll likely want to save this list and file it for future sermons or Bible studies.

1. Idolatry was guaranteed. The formula was simple. Carve a god out of wood or stone and the god would enter the icon. Now that you have a god in your midst, you can get his (or her) attention quickly. Your incantations, oaths, and offerings will always be noticed.

2. Idolatry was selfish. Scratch the gods backs and they’ll scratch yours. They need food and sacrifices; you need blessings. Do your stuff and they’ll be obliged to get you stuff.

3. Idolatry was easy. Ancient idolatry encouraged vain religious activity. Do what you like with your life. So long as you show up consistently with your sacrifices, you’ll be in good shape.

4. Idolatry was convenient. Gods in the ancient world were not hard to come by. Access was almost everywhere. Statues can be used in the home or on the go.

5. Idolatry was normal. Everyone did it. It’s how woman got pregnant, how crops grew, how armies conquered. Idolatry was like oil: nothing ran in the ancient world without it.

6. Idolatry was logical. Nations are different. People are different. Their needs and desires are different. Obviously, there must be different deities for different strokes. How could one god cover all of life? You don’t eat at one restaurant do you? The more options the better. They can all be right some of the time.

7. Idolatry was pleasing to the senses. If you are going to be especially religious, it helps to be able to see your god. It’s harder to impress people with an invisible deity.

8. Idolatry was indulgent. Sacrificing to the gods did not often require sacrifice for the worshiper. Leftover food could be eaten. Drink could be drunk. Generosity to the gods leads to feasting for you.

9. Idolatry was sensual. The whole system was marked by eroticism. Rituals could turn into orgies. Sex on earth often meant sex in heaven, and sex in heaven meant big rain, big harvests and multiplying herds.

Can you see the attraction of idolatry? “Let’s see I want a spirituality that gets me lots, costs me little, is easy to see, easy to do, has few ethical or doctrinal boundaries, guarantees me success, feels good, and doesn’t offend those around me.” That’ll preach. We want the same things they wanted.  We just go after them in different ways. We want a faith that gets us stuff and guarantees success (prosperity gospel). We want discipleship that is always convenient (virtual church). We want a religion that is ritualistic (nominal Christianity). Or a spirituality that no matter what encourages sexual expression (GLBTQ). We all want to follow God in a way that makes sense to others, feels good to us, and is easy to see and understand. From the garden to the Asherah pole to the imperial feasts, idolatry was the greatest temptation for God’s people in both testaments.

A look around and a look inside will tell you it still is.

“[Many] desires are normal and natural and become sinful only by abuse. Good and lawful desires become corrupted when they are desired inordinately. When you want something good (such as desiring your spouse to love you, or your children to honor you, or your boss to treat you with respect) so much that you are willing to sin in order to fulfill your desire (or to sin as a result of your desire not being fulfilled), your desire becomes idolatrous. Such desires are sinful not because some new verse suddenly appeared in your Bible that says, ‘You shall not want your spouse to love you,’ or ‘You shall not desire your children to honor you,’ or ‘You shall not try to please your boss.’ They are wrong because you have longed for them too intently. What may have begun as a legitimate God-given desire has now metastasized and mutated into an inordinate one.”

– Lou Priolo (Pleasing People p. 37)

(HT: Joe Crispin)

What Is An Idol?

November 9, 2011

From the book our men’s group is working through on Saturday mornings:

Behind everything you worship is some fear that, without this person or thing, you’d be lost. Life wouldn’t be worth living. Your fears cause you to attribute ultimate worth either to things such as success, reputation, family, relationships, or to God. Either you believe your life would be meaningless without your friends, or your career achievement, or your children, or your possessions, or your social status, or whatever, or you believe your life wouldn’t be worth living without God, because you know he alone can provide everything you need (and, in fact, long for)—justification, love, mercy, grace, cleansing, a new beginning, eternal approval and acceptance, righteousness, and rescue. We’re all worshipers—but God is the only reliable object of worship because nothing and no one extends these things like God does in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

According to the Bible, anything we worship—other than God himself—is an idol. Idolatry is centering our attention and affection on something, or someone, smaller than God. In fact, most idols are good things in our lives that we turn into ultimate things, things that take God’s place as we unconsciously depend on them to give our lives meaning and security. This is what John Calvin meant when he said that the human heart is an idol-making factory—taking good things and making them into idols that end up defining us. Tchividjian, Tullian (2010-05-31). Surprised by Grace (pp. 120-121). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.