In Exodus 32 we are given one of the most glaring offenses of idolatry in the early account of God’s people as they formed a golden calf to worship, despite all that God had done for then and the fact that He commanded them not to worship anything but Him. Many people, when they think of idolatry, think only of images that are formed by man like the golden calf. But idols that we often worship are so much more than formed figures; they can be just about anything God has made, which we over-elevate in our hearts and minds.
John Calvin, the 17th century Reformer, made this memorable point:
“Our hearts are ‘idol factories’, and our words and actions are shaped by the pursuit of things our heart craves.”
Because God made us to worship and be satisfied, in our sin we have taken those two God-given longings and wrongly placed them on things God has created and not God Himself. Because our hearts long to be satisfied, they will always venture to be satisfied by something.
We see Paul speak to this well in Romans 1:18-25:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 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. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Man’s very rebellion is grounded in our worshiping things that are not God.
I believe this is why idolatry is the foundation of the 10 Commandments.
The first is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” - Exodus 20:3
Then the last talks about covetousness, which is craving something more than one should; this is a form of idolatry. So, God bookends the 10 Commandments with a focus on idolatry.
What you must understand is that the commands to avoid idolatry are not just confined to the Old Testament:
1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 John 5:21 “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
When someone says idol-worship or idolatry, what do we commonly think of?
Maybe what you picture is someone prostrate on the ground before an object for religious devotion or magical power. Or we might use “idolatry” to describe someone’s obsession with money or someone we “idolize,” like Michael Jordan.
Author Richard Keyes says, “We have, in effect, distanced ourselves from the whole idea of idolatry by pushing it out to the extreme cultural and psychological margins of life. “
We don’t see idolatry in our modern culture, because we only think of it in this tribal extreme way.
Or we don’t concern ourselves with idolatry as anything worth worrying about anymore.
But idolatry is very present in our lives. It is real. If not rightly understood and addressed, it will wreck us.
You and I are made to worship of the living God.
But this worship is not meant to be a stale and distant exultation but from the overflow of our satisfied hearts in our relationship with God.
What this means for us is we have a rightly prioritized relationship with God out of which we have a proper mode in which to live life.
To live life in response to Him. To know God and be known by God.
Because of our right relationship with Him, we then understand who we are and arrive at our identity, personal significance, sense of security, purpose for living, and we constantly find in Him our happiness and joy.
When sin came into play, we tragically altered our relationship with God; instead of turning GODWARD and finding in Him all that we need in life, we turned away and to other things to try to discover those things God designed in us to be fulfilled by Him.
The way the Apostle Paul put it in our passage today is that instead of turning Godward, we turned away from God. We did not honor him as God!
Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him
We ceased to see God as fundamental and essential for the existence and fulfillment of our lives.
Because we are made to have relationship with God in which we are fulfilled and purposed and secure and with clear identity, when we no longer seek Him to be those things for us, we now have an active vacuum in our hearts that looks to find that fulfillment in other things.
So, we do not simply turn away from God; we actually have to find something to put in His place.
So, what Paul says is that people embrace a lie to exchange the Creator for the created.
Romans 1:25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Because we are wired for worship, we will worship!
So, hear this: →When we turn from God, we find a substitute on whom we heap our worship.
We look to something else to give us identity, meaning, significance, purpose, security, and joy!
When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we will worship anything.
So, it is these substitutes that become our idols.
The Word of Truth Catechism says this:
Idolatry is worshiping or finding hope, identity, significance, purpose, or security in anything other than in God, our Creator.
In other words, your idols are anything that have become more fundamental than God in your life for your hope, identity, significance, purpose, security, joy, and on and on.
So, likely, your idol is not a carved block of wood or shiny metal or formed stone, but a person, a place, a house, a car, a team, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, or a political party.
In fact, it’s not idol singular; it’s idols--plural. We have several things we seek for hope, identity, significance, purpose, or security.
In them you are putting your hope and your trust; you’re trying to learn from them. And you are trying to find from them your identity, personal significance, sense of security, purpose for living, happiness, and joy.
When we begin to understand this, we begin to really understand what God was asking for in the first commandment: “Do not have any other gods before me.”
He is saying, “Do not make anything more necessary, fundamental, or valuable than Me. Keep Me as your hope, identity, significance, purpose, and security.”
Martin Luther has said it this way:
Every breaking of the commandments is at its core a breaking of the first commandment …
Here is why breaking any commandment is really breaking the first:
Why do we lie? Because we want the approval or the thing that lie gets us to fulfill us … replacing God.
Why do we steal? Because we think we NEED that thing to fulfill us … replacing God.
Why do we covet or envy? Because we think, “If I had that, I would be happy. It would satisfy me.” ... replacing God.
An idol is not simply a statue of wood, stone, or metal; it is anything we love and pursue in place of God!
This brings to light a key thing to understand: An idol, in its essence, isn’t necessarily something evil; it commonly is something very good.
Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
He says these things to point to idolatry in our lives. We get how covetousness is, but often we overlook the term “evil desires.”
The phrase “evil desires” here is an effort of the English translators to get across a single Greek word, which is Epithumia. Epithumia is both an evil desire and an over desire--an excessive desire.
It is desiring something evil OR it is an over or misplaced desire for what it good.
In this way, it is essentially addiction or lust for something God has made.
John Calvin clearly says:
“The evil in our desire typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much.”
So often the object of desire is good, and the evil lies in the lordship of the desire.
So, the good thing of “caring for your body” can become an ultimate thing (an idol) in your life in an effort to find your personal significance.
So, the good thing of your “career” can become an ultimate thing (an idol) in your life in an effort to find your sense of security.
So, the good thing of “raising your kids” can become an ultimate thing (an idol) in your life in an effort to find your purpose for living.
Idolatry happens when you and I try to find our identity, personal significance, sense of security, purpose for living, happiness, and joy in these things or people or status INSTEAD OF IN GOD!
So, how do we restore what is broken in our relationship with God and remove idols from our lives?
James 4:6-8 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
--God gives us undeserved grace!
Ohhh, how we need a Savior--One who can set us free, so we might truly be satisfied in the only One who can satisfy and who is worthy of our eternal praise.
Realize religion is lying to you when it says, “You can save yourself by trying really hard to shut the idol factory down yourself!” Only One can do this for us: the God of grace!
Turn with me to Isaiah 42:5: “Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it”
Who is the One who puts air in our lungs?
Who is the One who sets us in motion and numbers our days?
Who made everything around us so that it might all point to us to Him and cause us to revel in and worship Him? God.
The answer to, “Who can set us free and satisfy our deepest longing to worship?” is God, and not only can He, but He has! Now, read verse 6-8:
Isaiah 42:6-8 “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”
The Idol Factory must be closed, and the good news we read here today is it can be, for He declares, “I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
How does Jesus do this?
Be giving us Himself. By giving us the expulsive power of a greater affection!
Thomas Chalmers said, “There is not one personal transformation in which the heart is left without an object of ultimate beauty and joy. The heart’s desire for one particular object can be conquered, but it’s desire to have some object is unconquerable. The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.”
→You might be able to temporarily remove one idol, but your heart still must cast its affections on something. So, you will simply pick up another to fill its place.
Chalmers is saying idols of the heart cannot be removed; they can only be replaced.
So, the question then is replaced with what? The only thing that can ultimately satisfy and bring joy and life and identity and security and purpose: JESUS!
Temporary fixes and/or helpful habits do not cure the deepest disease and self-inflicted pain we struggle with in life: our idolatry.
Only the expulsive power of a bigger and better target for our affections can eliminate the failed idols the heart has tried to cling to.
This is why we are mainly focused on stirring your affections toward the gospel: THE GOOD NEWS! To understand the fullness of the beauty and wonder of Christ, to fall deeply in love with Jesus alone--above all else.
The key to being rid of the idols we worship is not really to love them less but to love Christ more. And in doing so, if the heart truly is that taken by Jesus, our clinch to over-elevate God’s created things is rightfully adjusted. In treasuring Jesus above all else, we can spot idolatry temptations and make war with them, we can joyfully hear from our brothers and sisters in Christ’s concern over idol temptations in our lives, and be thankful for their help to avoid idolatry, and so on. Treasuring Christ above all else is the key; the gospel is the key.
If my children are my idols, He is not calling me to love them less; He is calling me to love them rightly.
The only way I can do that:
is to be satisfied in the one thing that can truly satisfy;
is to be saved by the one and only thing that can save me;
is to be secured by the one and only person who can keep me secure;
is to be purposed by the only one who can give me eternal purpose--Jesus!