Idols

You Become What You Trust

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Humans have always loved idols. Israel’s history shows us that no matter how many miraculous wonders we witness, our hearts will always elevate the created before the Creator (Rom.1:25). What began as statues to Baal, Asherah poles, and Greek temples, continues to permeate our culture. These days, our idols look a bit nobler—a spouse, children, happiness, comfort, health—but they enslave us just like the idols of old.

Our idols don’t just settle for helping us break the second commandment, they permeate much deeper in our lives. The Psalms tell us that those who trust idols will become like them (Ps. 135:18). We may not turn into stone and wood, but eventually, the idols of our heart can chip away at significant areas in our spiritual lives.

The idols we create are blind, deaf, and mute, and if we continue serving them, we’ll eventually become the same. If left undisturbed and ignored, we may begin to lose our own sight, become deaf to others, and render our speech useless to the surrounding world.

Blind to Our Sin

One of the first ways we become like our idols is in becoming blind to our own sin. If we are in Christ, we have been given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26) and our eyes are opened to the gospel, yet the temptation to turn back towards darkness endures. It’s why the author of Hebrews exhorted the church to take care that no one has an unbelieving heart, “leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12-13).

Each person, feeling, circumstance, or dream we hold up as more important than God is ultimately a declaration of unbelief. Our idols make us believe that God won’t satisfy more than our they can. Our idols make us think that God’s grace isn’t enough, so we must make our own rules. They make us think that seeking our own comfort is more worthwhile than seeking the Lord’s glory.

We may not say these truths out loud, but the subtle deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) will continue to feed our idols of unbelief, make excuses, and harden us to the sin we harbor. Some of us may continue to idolize health, blind to the ways we are trusting in our workouts to give us the peace that only God can give. Others may cloak our approval-seeking in righteous words like service or encouragement, but in reality, our idols stay hidden behind the sin we can’t see.

The trouble is, we can’t crush what we can’t see. This is where the passage in Hebrews gives us great hope. We must “exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). Just as we could not open our eyes to Christ without his work, we need the Holy Spirit and Christ’s church to open our eyes to our blindness—even after salvation. It’s our brothers and sisters who can illuminate the darkness, and the Holy Spirit alone who can give us back our sight and put to death the idols of unbelief in our hearts.

Deaf to Our Brothers and Sisters

Our idols can make us become blind to our own sin, but they can also cause us to become deaf to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We see this played out in big and small ways in the church, whether it’s the prideful parent who refuses to seek any outside help, or the church member holding his politics so tightly that he can’t hear the concerns of a brother in Christ. Our strong opinions, steeped in the idolatry of self, can keep us so attuned to our own views that we can’t stop to give grace or charity to our dissenter.

But Christ calls us to something radical. He not only tells us to open our ears but to go even further by outdoing one another with honor (Rom. 12:10). We are told to bless those who hurt us, to be humble in our own eyes, and do what is honorable in the sight of all (Rom.12:14-17).

Beginning to knock down these idols begins by first finding the root. Where are we deaf to the concerns and wisdom of our brothers and sisters in Christ? What topics do we bristle at hearing a word of correction? Or what topics do we refuse to seek wisdom in?

You’ll likely have to ask a trusted brother or sister to help you see what you cannot. Of course, our brothers and sisters in these disagreements are sinners too, but Jesus tells us our first step is always to look upon our own sin (Matt. 7:3).

Mute to the World

Finally, our idols can mute our voice to the world around us, which fleshes out in two ways. The first is seen when our idols make us look exactly like the world around us. When we idolize comfort, a job, or happiness, we will inevitably be tossed into anxiety when these idols are not met. When the job is lost or life gets difficult, we will look no different than the unbeliever in the cubicle sitting right to us.

As Christians, however, our lives should look different because our hope is completely different. That doesn’t mean that we can’t feel stressed or experience difficulty, but it does mean that our priorities should look different than the unbelievers around us. When we continue to let the idols of our hearts take over, they rob us of the chance to preach a different and beautiful story to the world around us.

Secondly, our idols keep us from purposefully entering into the lives of those around us. Who has time to develop a relationship with a neighbor when we are too busy with our own projects? How do we encourage the woman behind us in the checkout when we are too concerned with our phone? The nature of man-made idols is that they must be maintained. We must keep feeding our need for approval, tone our body, multiply our entertainment—and when we do we are left with little time for else.

But again, Jesus calls us to something radical. We have a different mission than maintaining our idols. Instead, we are to give up our hold on everything in this world to gain everything in the beauty of Christ. We are to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) and to proclaim his name among the people God has put around us. And if we want to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pt. 3:15), we must first clear away the idols that rob us of that voice.

Good News for Idolaters

While it’s painful to see the grip of idolatry, the good news is that we worship the God who stands above every idol. Just as the ancient statue of Dagon fell to the ground before the Ark of the Covenant, our own idols will fall prostrate before the true God of heaven (1 Sam. 5:2).

We don’t have to feel defeat but can seek out our idols so we can destroy them. We can stop to see what has been keeping us from speaking the gospel to those around us. We can ask God to show us where our ears have been closed to our family in Christ. And we can ask from the Holy Spirit and our brothers and sisters to help show us the sin we can’t see.

We may start to become like our idols, but it’s the power of the cross—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead—that gives us the power to crush them. Each day we can lean on the God who continues to breathe life and hope into our blind, deaf, and mute hearts.


Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.

Sacrificing for Our Idols

IDOLATRY: AGAIN

In his early years, Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Europe with his family. On one trip, they went hunting for a few days, but Roosevelt couldn’t hit a thing. He later wrote:

One day they read aloud an advertisement in huge letters on a distant billboard, and I then realized that something was the matter, for not only was I unable to read the sign but I could not even see the letters. I spoke of this to my father, and soon afterwards got my first pair of spectacles, which literally opened an entirely new world to me. I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles. I had been a clumsy and awkward little boy, and while much of my clumsiness and awkwardness was doubtless due to general characteristics, a good deal of it was due to the fact that I could not see and yet was wholly ignorant that I was not seeing1

Idols make us blind. They not only make us blind, but also make us blind to our blindness. As many have noted, idolatry often turns good things into god things, where we seek ultimate satisfaction or security. I am not saying that every pastor who reads this is, right now, committing idolatry. I am saying, alongside men like Calvin, who said that our hearts are idol-making factories, that ministry idols can be and are a regular temptation for those in vocational ministry.

Colossians 3:1–10 is a great passage of Scripture to give us new “spectacles” to understand what is going on inside our hearts. To the extent that Christ is not supreme and preeminent in our hearts and lives, and to the extent that we are not seeking the things that are above, something else will be preeminent and our hearts will seek things here below. This is why it is so crucial for ministry leaders not only to feed others with the glory of Christ and the wonder of grace, but also to nourish their own souls at the feet of him who is the fountain of life. This is one of the reasons why Paul says that covetousness is idolatry (3:5). We are seeking life and fullness in someone or something other than God.

Keep this in mind: covetousness always says “more!” and never says “enough!” However, when the gospel of Christ and the glory of God capture our hearts, and when we see the supremacy of Christ and rest in his sufficiency, hearts that are content in the gospel will always say “enough!” and never say “more!”

Because I struggle with this idolatry in my heart, and I venture you do too, I am often tempted and often succumb to thinking like this: “I know I have Jesus, but I’d be happier if more people were sitting in the pews, if more people were grateful for what I do, if more people gave so we could have a larger budget or build a larger building, so that I could have more of a reputation and be known and admired by more people.” More. More. More. During the times when I am not sinking my heart deep into the “It is finished” of the gospel, I long for more, am never satisfied, and never say “enough.” What is the “I’d be happier if . . .” of your heart? Seriously. Take a moment and reflect on that question.

Partner—GCD—450x300Reflection is important because ministry leaders make such enormous sacrifices for their idols, whatever they may be. All idols demand that we sacrifice in order that they will bless us, so in order to experience the blessing of recognition, power, comfort, control, acceptance, or any other idol, we sacrifice our health, our families, our relationships, and even our own walk with Christ. This is why, I believe, when we are pursuing the idols that promise more and always deliver less, we will be filled with the anger and lying and bad-mouthing of others that Paul describes in verses 8–9.

The consequences of this idol worship are that, deep down, leaders may be filled with anger or constant disappointment with others because they are not able to deliver what the leader is looking for. The consequences for the leader are a dry and hard heart toward the Lord and often wrecked health and strained relationships with other leaders, with other people in the congregation or ministry, and even with his own wife and children. Idols subtly bring death into practically every sphere of life.

If the idols we are pursuing are blessing us, we will feel alive and successful—and prideful. If the idols we are pursuing are cursing us, we will feel despair and death. In the moments (and there have been way too many) when I have thought about leaving the ministry, the Lord has usually been quick to point out that I have been building my own kingdom and pursuing false gods. The disappointment and discouragement that I have felt has been more about my reputation being hurt and my selfish kingdom being crushed than about genuinely feeling I wasn’t called to ministry. I have realized that I have needed to repent for acting like some kind of Pharaoh and forcing the lambs under my watch and care to work hard to build Clay Werner’s kingdom, rather than prayerfully advance God’s. It’s as if God has been saying, “Clay, let my people go!”

Here’s what I want to say: when you realize that your internal idolatry is driving your heart and ministry, you don’t change by mere willpower. Moving forward isn’t about sin management, but about worship realignment. Deep down, at your core, Christ must become more satisfying than anything and everything else. Thankfully, the Spirit is eager and willing to help reveal Christ to your heart in such a way that you’ll treasure Christ above all things and endure even when the kingdom of God around you seems so weak and slow.2

THE KINGDOM OF GOD REMAINS FOREVER

Kingdoms come and kingdoms go, but the kingdom of God will remain forever. The danger of ministry is that pursuing our own kingdom can be easily disguised by using language from the kingdom of God.3 Too often, leaders themselves are blind to the reality that they are making ministry “their world” rather than a place of nourishment for God’s people and equipping for God’s mission. However, once the little kingdom is forsaken and repented of, the kingdom of God that is invisible yet inevitable, seemingly insignificant but yet incomprehensible in its power and breadth, will provide the deepest joy and the greatest security, especially as the eyes of our hearts remain fixed on its King.

1. Quoted by Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 2001), 34 (emphasis added). 2. Some helpful material for diagnosing idolatry are David Powlison’s “X-Ray Questions” in Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 129–44; Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman, The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994). I have also found John Owen’s books Communion with God, Meditations on the Glory of Christ, and On Being Spiritually Minded very helpful in cultivating a heart of worship and adoration. 3. See Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 72–82.

Clay Werner (MDiv, Westminster Seminary in California) is senior pastor at Lexington Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Liz, and their five children.

From On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor by Clay Werner. Used by permission of P&R Publishing, http://www.prpbooks.com/.