RESISTING IDOLS LIKE JESUS
- Pastor Mark Driscoll
- 1 Corinthians 10:1-14
- June 18, 2006
Father God, we thank you that you are our father. We remember that you are our father here on this Father’s Day. You’re the father we all want. You’re the father we all need. You’re the perfect father. You’re even a father to the fatherless, as Scripture says. And Father, it is our desire today to be with You and to be like You. That’s the hope of every child – is to be with and like their father. And so God, for that to happen, we ask today that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be made clear to us from Scripture and for that to occur, we ask that You would send the Holy Spirit to lead us, guide us, convict us, comfort us, afflict us and instruction us as needed. And so, as we open the Bible, God, we want to hear from You and ultimately we want to repent of sin. We want to be near You and we want to be like You and so we ask for that in Jesus’ good name, amen.
Let’s go ahead and read. Normally, we read a verse, talk for an hour, read a verse talk for an hour. Today we’re going to do it a little different. We’ll just read the whole section. 1 Corinthians 10 Versus 1 through 14 and I believe herein Paul has one central concept that he’s trying to articulate and we’re going to work on that one concept together after I read.
Paul says, Chapter 10, Verse 1: For I do not want you to be ignorant. So first thing I’m going to say is this, is that the whole world lives, in large part, in a state of ignorance regarding what Paul is going to teach us today, even many Christians and some of you who are here today live in ignorance of some things he’s going to tell us and so I want you to pay careful and close attention. And even if you’ve been a Christian for perhaps a really long time and you think you’ve got it all figured out and there’s nothing you haven’t heard, let me assure you of this: There are many who are ignorant of the things he’s to share with us today.
“I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers, the generation prior, were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea.” He’s going, here, back to the days of Moses, back to the book of Exodus, when God’s people were liberated from slavery and bondage and tyranny in Egypt and they were brought through the Red Sea, led by the Lord, and he goes on to say, “They were all baptized in to Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them and that rock was Christ.”
Here’s what he’s saying, that in the Old Testament, there was this community of people much like our church. They, in fact, were the church of the Old Testament. They lived their life together that God blessed them, cared for them, was actively involved in their affairs, as he is ours, and that Jesus Christ was in their midst in a wonderful, glorious and mysterious way as Jesus Christ, our great God and savior, is in our midst in a wonderful, glorious, and good way. And God initiated and blessed and was kind to and present with this entire collective of people and then they had an opportunity to respond to God, either by trusting Him or distrusting Him; by either obeying Him or disobeying Him and he goes on to explain in Verse 5, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them.” Most of them didn’t really love God, didn’t really respond to God, didn’t really devote themselves to God. “Their bodies were scattered all over the desert.” Right, they died as a result of their sin. Now, these things occurred as an example to keep us from setting our hearts on evil as they do. You can be a spiritual, religious person. You can be even part of a church. You could be a person whom God has been very good to; whom Jesus Christ is present with. You can see others worshiping God, responding to Him rightly and you, yourself can have your heart set on evil, doing evil and loving evil.
It goes on to say, “Do not be idolators.” And I’d ask you to underline that in your Bible. That’s the primary theme that we will extract from this section of Scripture and we’ll spend the preponderance of our time discussing. “Do not be idolators,” Verse 7 says, “as some of them were. As it is written, the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to engage in pagan revelry.” All right, instead of just having a drink, they got drunk. Instead of just eating, they became gluttons. Instead of having chastity before marriage and fidelity in it, they had fornication, which is sex before marriage, homosexuality, bisexuality. They had all kinds of adultery, all kinds of sexual sin, lust and perversion. And again, this is among people who claim to be God’s people and for whom God has been very good to. “We,” he goes on to say, “should not commit sexual immorality.” That’s of every sort or kind. “We should not commit sexuality – sexual immorality – as some of them did and in one day, 23,000 of them died.” Twenty-three thousand died in one day. “We should not test the Lord as some of them did and were killed by snakes.” God isn’t paying attention. I’m a pretty good person, God doesn’t really care about me, he’s got bigger things to worry about. He’ll let me off on this.
“And do not grumble, complain, argue, murmur, yell, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel.” These thing happened to them as examples and were written down as a warning for us on whom fulfillment to the ages has come. Some of you say, “But I think I’m doing well. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not a pervert. I’m not a person who, you know, is unhappy with God. I think I’m doing well.” So if you think you were standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. Even those of us who are doing well one day, the next, we can take a tragic turn for the worse regarding our relationship with God. Some of you will say, “Yeah, but you don’t understand Pastor Mark, what I’m struggling with is so hard and so difficult and I feel like no one can understand me, no one can relate to me. I suffer alone because my struggles are so fiercely unusual and unique and individual.” Paul says, no. Not true.
“No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man.” Whatever you struggle with, there’s a bunch of other people struggling with the same thing. And God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. So you can’t say, “I’m a victim, I can’t help myself. I, you know, I just – I had no choice. I have to be like this or I had to do that because you know, what can I do? I had no choice.” But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out, so that you can stand up under Him. Whatever temptation comes, there’s always a way to get out of that possibility of sin and to continue to honor God in the decisions that we make.
And then he closes in Verse 14 with a very interesting statement, “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry,” which is a very curious statement. He says don’t get drunk. Don’t be a falsely religious person who worships false gods. Don’t get involved in pagan thinking and pagan practices. Don’t eat too much. Don’t drink too much. Don’t have sexual sin. And you say, “Well, how do we do that?” And then Paul says you do that by keeping yourself from idols. Now, for some of you, this may be confusing because you think, “Well, getting drunk is a sin and lying is a sin and arguing is, against God is a sin, grumbling and murmuring, and sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, pornography, perversion, those are all sins – and isn’t idolatry just another sin?” And let me tell you, here’s the secret that so many people are ignorant of. Idolatry is not just another sin. Idolatry is the underlying root cause of all the sins.
Let me explain it to you this way. The great reformer, Martin Luther, when he was commenting on the Ten Commandments, what he noticed was that the first two commandments referred to idolatry and then the other eight commandments were things like, sexual sin, stealing, lying, murder. And what he surmised was if you never broke the first two commandments, you wouldn’t break any of the others. If you’re a person who drinks too much. If you’re a person who does drugs, who lies, who gets violent, who murders, who is a pervert, your real issue is not that you have those sins – the underlying cause is the fact that you are an idolator.
Now, here’s what I want you to hear – that this changes everything. In some ways, the sin in your life is like fruit hanging off a bad tree. You say, “Man, I just need to get that bad fruit off my tree and bear good fruit for the Lord.” Well, the cause of that bad fruit, ultimately, is a root of idolatry. That’s what Luther was stating. That’s what Paul here is stating. He doesn’t just look at his people and say, “So don’t get drunk and don’t commit sexual sin, and stop yelling at God and being frustrated with him. Knock it off.” What he says is “Pay attention to the idolatry in your life that leads you into sin because idolatry is the underlying root cause of sin.”
Now some of you will be shocked to hear this. You say, “But I’m a Christian.” I intend to prove to you today that even if you are Christian, you probably still have other gods and saviors in whom your faith rests and in whom you devote your life of worship to in hopes that they will save you. And so, where he is going to go is saying this, that again, idolatry is not a sin among many, it is the sin that underlines all other sins. So we’ve got to talk about idolatry. Paul mentions it a few times here and he taps it s the root of all of our troubles. So let me tell you the story in the Bible and how we get to the position of being idolators. First, we’re made by God. God is our creator. God made us. He made you and me and he made the world as a gift that he gave us and the created things are to be enjoyed by us as we worship God.
So, here is how it is to work. Genesis 1, 26 through 28, says we were made in God’s image and likeness, male and female, with dignity, value and worth and we were made for this reason. We were made to worship, glorify, honor, adore, enjoy God. That’s why we were made. That’s why we were made. And as we do what God made us to do, God receives glory and we receive joy. It’s the taproot of all of God’s glory and it is the taproot for all of our enjoyment, is the worship, adoration, honoring, love, service of God. That’s what we were made for. And so we are made as worshipers. That’s what we are. And so, what happened, however, is that we sinned. Our first parents sinned against God and in so doing, what happened was we are now born as sinners and still worshipers; the result being that we keep worshiping but the problem being that we worship created things rather than the creator, God. That’s what Romans 1 says. That instead of worshiping God – and worship is this – worship is holding something in highest esteem and devoting the totality of your life to it. Worship comes, the English word, out of a Latin derivative which means, literally, to ascribe worth to. So whoever or whatever you hold at highest regard, highest esteem, highest honor. Whatever is most important to you. Whoever is most important to you, you give your time, your energy, your money, your love, your devotion, your hopes, your dreams, your fears to that person or thing. That, that is your functional God.
And it is supposed to be the creator God that we devote ourselves to in this way, but what we do as sinners as we continue to worship but we devote ourselves to created things. So all of a sudden, it’s a human being that we worship. It’s a job that we worship. It can be a silly little thing like a vintage car, to where you are going to restore a vehicle because you’re a dude who has decided that that is of highest value and worth to you. So, thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars go to your vehicle. They got to your hobby. They go to your season tickets. They go to your home improvement projects. They go to your flawless lawn. We worship created things. They go to your pet. They go to your education. They go to your appearance. That’s where your time, energy, money, all of those resources, that is where they go.
And the result is that we’re all worshipers. The philosopher Peter Kreeft says that the opposite of Christianity is not atheism, but idolatry. And some of you here today, you say, “I’m not an idolator, I’m an atheist.” You’re not an atheist. You’re someone who worships your own mind. You’re someone who worships your own experience. You’re someone who worships your own five senses. You’re someone who worships empirical scientific rationalism. You have given yourself to that as a god and you have devoted yourself to that god.
So my point in stating this is simply to say that every one of us is incredibly spiritual. That we are all constantly in the act of worship. That we are constantly giving ourselves to people and things that are created and that is, by definition, idolatry because we have taken a good thing, we’ve elevated it to the position of a god thing. And here’s why idolatry is so tricky: it is easy to see idols in the lives of other people and in other cultures, overlooking them in our own life and culture. I’ll give you a simple illustration of this. I went to India some years ago. I was on the board for an organization that plants churches and takes care of orphans and runs an orphanage in India. So I went there to teach and to visit and as I went through the villages, out into the rural areas, I saw these shrines on the side of the road, built to regional false over certain jurisdictions and in those little shrines were chicken feathers and blood and they would sacrifice animals in there and they would leave food and money for the little god of that neighborhood. There was idols everywhere. People were down at the beach, covered in paint, worshiping, literally, the ocean as the tide went in and out. I mean, there were festivals everywhere. People had idols in their homes. It was unbelievably clear to me that this was a culture so steeped in Hinduism that it was just filled with idolatry and I thought to myself, “How could anyone live in this culture so constantly surrounded by idolatry?”
And I was talking to one of the pastors’ wives and they were both Hindu converts. She’s a very articulate, intelligent, very great woman and I said, “Well have you ever been to the United States?” She said, “Yes, but I don’t like to go, so I don’t go very often.” I said, “Well, why do you not like to go to the United States of America?” She says, “I can’t stomach the idolatry.” That’s what she tells me. And I said, “What do you mean, you can’t stomach the idolatry?” She says, “Americans worship their sports teams. They worship their bands. They worship their sex life. They worship their body. They worship their stomach. They worship their income. They worship their job. They worship their house. They worship their car. They worship their clothing.” I thought, “You know, she is absolutely right.” And maybe we can see idolatry in the lives of other people more clearly than ourselves and we could see idolatry in the cultures of other peoples more clearly than we can see it in our own culture.
I mean, we live in a city that spent $500 million for a stadium. We live in a city that spends untold numbers of dollars on food and entertainment and bands. I was thinking about it. Years ago, when they had the MTV Music Awards and Eminem was all of a sudden hot and hip, it was very interesting that in the awards show for the MTV Music Awards, the back doors in this huge auditorium opened and in walks Slim Shady wearing’ a white t-shirt, you know, bleach-blonde hair, jeans and behind him were hundreds of other kids walking’ down the aisle that looked exactly like him. I thought, “Oh, my gosh. Eminem’s a god. All the kids want to be just like him. He’s a god. They’re worshiping him. They’re literally following him, dressing like him, wanting to be like him, singing his lyrics. That’s their god.” And let me say this about idolatry: Idolatry is usually the pursuit of something that is otherwise good. That’s what makes it so tricky. Aldus Huxley and George Orwell, some years ago, they each wrote books, one saying, “You know, what’s going to kill us is we’re going to get enslaved by something we hate.” The other said, “No, we will get enslaved by something we love. That’s what will kill us.”
Idolatry is enslavement to something we love. To something we love. We love our spouse. We love our kids. We love our job. We love our health. We love our beauty. We love our pets. We love our furniture. We love our wardrobe, all of which is perfectly fine. It’s fine to get married and buy a house and have a dog and make some babies and drive a car and learn to read and get an education and watch television and listen to music and eat dinner. All of that’s fine but it’s good things who become for us, they become for us, elevated to the place where they’re gods who rule over us. And all of a sudden, the created order of creation being given to us by creator as a gift for us to rule over creation, now created things and creation rule over us and we have false little gods that we give ourselves and our time and our money and our life to.
Here’s the tricky part: Figuring out what your idols are. Let me give you an example. Let’s say for example, you define for yourself a little Hell. For you, Hell is being poor. For you, your definition of Hell is being ugly. For you, your definition of Hell is being fat. For you, your definition of Hell is being unloved. For you, your definition of Hell is being unappreciated. That fear of that Hell then compels you to choose for yourself a false savior god to save you from that Hell. And then you worship that false savior god in an effort to save yourself from your self-described Hell. So, some of you are single. Many of you are unmarried. For you, Hell is being unmarried and your savior will be a spouse. And so you keep looking for someone to worship, to give yourself to so that they will save you. For some of you, you are lonely and your Hell is loneliness, and so you choose for yourself a savior, a friend, a group of friends or a pet because you’ve tried the friends and they’re not dependable. And you worship that pet. You worship that friend. You worship that group of friends. You will do anything for them because they are your functional savior, saving you from your Hell. That is, by definition, idolatry. It is having created people and created things in the place of the creator God for ultimate allegiance, value and worth.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get incredibly personal. This will get painfully uncomfortable if I do my job well. I’m going to ask you some probing questions. We’re going to try to get to the root of your idols and mine and I am guilty, right?
So we’re going to look for your idols, too. Some questions. Think about it. Be honest with me. What are you most afraid of? What is your greatest fear? See, that probably tells you what your idol is. Sometimes your idol is the thing that you’re scared of not having, not being, not doing. What are you scared of? You scared that you’ll be alone? Are you scared that no one will ever love you? Are you scared that you will be found out that you’re not all that smart? Are you scared that you’ll be stuck in the same dead-end job forever? What are you afraid of?
How about this one? What do you long for most passionately? What do you care about? What do you think about? What are you motivated by? What do you give yourself to? You passionate about a band? You passionate about a sports team? You passionate about a relationship? You passionate about a hobby? You passionate about an education? You passionate about a raise? You passionate about your own beauty and attractiveness? What are you most passionate about? What drives you? What compels you? What motivates you?
How about this one? Where do run for comfort? You have a hard day. Where do you go for comfort? Say, I go to the fridge. Paul says in the New Testament, for some people, their stomach is their god. Do you run to alcohol? Do you run to drugs? Do you run to sex? Do you run to anger? Do you run to violence? Do you run to despair? Do you run to medication? I’m not saying all medication is bad, but it can serve for us as a false god. I dare you to watch the direct advertising on TV and not ask yourself, “Man, they are giving me a false god.” Are you depressed? Are you sad? Are you unhappy? Do you feel alone? We have a savior for you. Now, some people need that savior. Some people, first though, they need to meet the other savior. Their real problem is spiritual. Their real problem is emotional. Their real problem is that their life is filled with idols and they’re despairing over it. We live in this peculiar world that offers all of these false salvations and false saviors. Just watch marketing. Watch advertising. Watch media. They’re telling you that there’s a Hell and you’re going to live in it unless you buy their product. Unless you consume their goods. And what they want you to do is they want you to run to those people and things for comfort. We even have something called comfort food. Right? Right, you run to Cinnabon because that is your temporary functional savior that will get you out of your despairing Hell until you’re fat and then you find yourself in fat Hell. Right? And then to get out of fat Hell, you go to the diet savior and you try the diet savior and then you’re in hungry Hell.
And this is the way idolatry works. It doesn’t work. That’s the problem. What are you most afraid of? What do you long for most passionately? Where do you run for comfort? What do you complain about most? See, what is frustrating in your life that you complain about? It probably is indicative of where your idolatry lies. If you’re always complaining about your family, maybe your family’s your idol. If you’re always complaining about your spouse, maybe your spouse is your idol. If you’re always complaining about your kids or your job or your boss, maybe those are your idols. You want your boss to affirm you. You want your kids to obey you. You want your spouse to adore you and it’s not happening and it’s frustrating. And so you complain about it and in complaining, you are tipping your hand. You’re showing your idol.
How about this? What angers you most? What makes you most frustrated? It’s probably indicative, again, of your idol. You’re in traffic. Someone cuts you off and you hit the horn, flip them off, yell at them – hypothetically, of course. That happens. You say, “Why am I so angry?” Because your idol is respect and they just disrespected you, and that has made you very angry because they have robbed you of your idol, which is respect. What angers you? Does it anger you when someone says a bad thing about you because your idol is having people like you and everyone say nice things about you? And it makes you angry when they don’t say something nice because they are undoing your idol, which is a good image?
How about this? What makes you happiest? What are your happiest memories? Was it success, because your idol is success? Was it love, because your idol is love? Was it pleasure, because your idol is pleasure? Was it relationship, because your idol is connectedness and community? What makes you happiest? Again, idols tend not to be bad things that enslave us against our will. Idols tend to be good things that we gladly give ourselves to because we like them. What makes you happiest?
How about this? How do you explain yourself to other people? This is very curious. I meet a lot of people and I always find it curious how people introduce themselves. “Hi. I live in this neighborhood.” Which is their way of saying, “I’m very important and I live in a special place that only special people can live.” Right? Or they say, “My name is so-and-so and I do such and such for a living.” Which means, “My idol is tied to my role and my title. I’m very important and I have a very important job and I have a very important title.” Or, “My name is so-and-so and I’m married and I have so many kids,” because marriage and family is the idol. And I know I’m not supposed to say this on father’s day, but family can be the great idol. You know, it’s easy to love your kids more than God. It’s easy to love your spouse more than God. It’s easy to work and read your Bible and pray and be a Christian for the benefit of your spouse and your kids and in so doing, making them an idol doing thing to their glory instead of God worshiping created things, rather than creator God. Happens all the time. Happens all the time. Happens all the time. Things that we love we gladly select to enslave us as idols.
Another question. What has caused you to be angry with God? What are you mad at God about? Some of you say, “I’m not mad at God.” Sure you are. “Well, maybe a little bit.” There you go. Thanks for being honest. What are you mad at God about? You ever been mad at God? Angry. Frustrated. Why? “Because He didn’t do His job.” Really? He failed you? God sinned against you? “Well I wouldn’t say it like that.” Well, okay, let’s say it like that. God sinned against you and he made you angry. Okay, let’s say it that way. “Okay. He did sin against me and made me very mad.” How did he sin against you? “Well, I have this thing that I wanted. I wanted to be prestigious, or famous, or attractive, or loved, or rich, or promoted, or educated, and he failed me. See, I have chosen for myself this idol that matters to me and I told God to do what I need Him to do so I could get my idol and He won’t do it and He’s frustrating me and so I’m mad at him because I have a great idol that will save me and He won’t let me have the idol and so now I’m doomed.” Does this sound familiar to anyone? Am I all by myself in this? Am I getting through to anybody? Anybody ticked at God today? “God, I want to be married. That’s my idol. Where’s my spouse? What kind of God are you?” “God, I wanted to be a parent. Where’s my kids?” “God, I wanted to be rich. Where’s my money?” God, I wanted to be famous. Where’s my fame?” “God, I wanted to be affirmed and loved and appreciated and adored and no one does. God, you failed me.” “God, you really stink at being God.” “You really stink at taking orders. You really stink at doing your job. You really stink at answering my demands. Don’t you know who I am?”
God would say, “In fact, I do. That whole murmuring, wicked people, 23,000 dead in the desert?” Read that again. And see what happens is some of you are frustrated with God because you believe God is bad because you have chosen for yourself an idol and God won’t give you your idol and you’re frustrated with Him. Assume that God is good, God does love you, and God isn’t giving you your idol because it’s not good for you. You’ll be doing Romans 1: You’ll be worshiping created things rather than creator God and it may not be that God isn’t willing to give you a spouse, or kids, or a house, or a job, or whatever it is because none of those things are in and of themselves bad, God may be withholding them because your heart is evil and you’re looking for a little god and He’s not going to give away the golden calf. He’s not going to make that for you.
Couple other questions. What do you brag about? “I’m really good at this.” “I did that.” “I’ve succeeded at this.” “I got a promotion.” “I got a raise.” “I memorized a verse.” “I mowed my grass.” What do you brag about? Usually bragging is connected to your idol. “This is the thing I value and I have done good toward that thing. That’s what I brag about.”
How about this? What do you want to have more than anything else? If I told you right now, one thing you can have, what would you choose? Righteousness? Holiness? Godliness? Contentment? Not a one. Would you want to be beautiful? Would you want to be rich? Would you want a new house? Would you want a spouse? Would you want a different spouse? Would you want a TV? Would you want a bigger TV? Would you want a bigger TV than the bigger TV? What do you want? If I told you you could put on your mirror something – a picture of anything you can have – and every morning you get up and look at it and if you look at it at every day, every morning, for 100 days, it’ll come, what would you put up to look at every day? “Almost there. Can’t wait. That’s what I want the most.” How many of you have tried that, already gotten that thing, and now you’re bored with it and put something else in its place because idols never satisfy?
How about this? What do you sacrifice the most for in your life? See, worship and sacrifice, in the Bible, are synonymous terms. Say, “Sacrifice? I didn’t kill any goat.” I’m not talking about that. Sacrifice money. You give money to it. Sacrifice time. You give time to it. Sacrifice energy. You give energy to it. Sacrifice thought. You’re thinking about it all the time. You’re kind of obsessed about it. What are you worshiping? What are you sacrificing for? You’re saving all your money to get what? You’re working extra hours to do what? What is your little god that you’re worshiping?
How about this one? If I could change one thing in my life, that would be blank. One thing. One thing. There are women in this room that would choose beauty. “I just wish I was skinny. I wish I was pretty. That would fix everything.” There are men who think, “I just wish I was smarter and I could make more money. That’s all I wish.” There are people who think, “I wish I could get married.” There are other people think, “I wish I could have kids.” “I wish I could just buy a house.” “I wish I could just be debt free.” “I wish I could just finish college and be done with it and move on with my life.”
How about this one? Whose approval are you seeking? Just waiting for your dad to say, “I’m proud of you.” You’re waiting for your mom to say, “I can’t believe how good you’re doing.” You’re waiting for your boss to give you a performance review and say, “You are a winner and we’re going to promote you.” You’re waiting for your teacher to give you a good grade. You’re waiting for your friends to say, “You look great. You sound great. You’re doing great. We’re proud of you.” Whose approval are you seeking? Just yearning and dying and longing for their approval?
How about this? What do you want to control or master? What do you want to obey you? What do you want to do what you tell it to do? Friends? Family? Boss? Kids? House? What is it? Car? What do you want to be under your dominion, under your control, under your sovereign lordship that functions like you want it to? Probably indicative of where your idol lies.
And lastly, what comfort do you treasure the most? If I said, “You have to get rid of everything in your life. All the people have to go. You can keep one. Which person do you choose?” I got five kids and a wife. That’s a tough question. If I said, “You have to get rid of all your earthly possessions but you can keep one thing.” What do you keep? You have to get rid of all your roles, relationships, responsibilities, except for one. What do you keep? What do you treasure the most? See, these are all questions to help you discover where your idols lie. You may have sin in your life and we all do, but I assure you of this, just looking at the sin won’t take away the sin. You’ve got to trace it back to the root and find the idol. Paul says that so many people are ignorant of this, even people that are in the church that have Jesus and other Christians around them. Even Christians around them, he says, who are following and loving and serving the Lord. The multitudes are still ignorant of idolatry. Seeing it in other people and other cultures, not seeing it in themselves and in their own culture.
Let me tell you how this works. Okay, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The first thing you do – this is how false gospel, false religion works, every time. First, you define for yourself a Hell. Now, it’s not the real Hell where you’re separated from God in eternal torment, you come up with your own concept of Hell. So for you, Hell is being single. Hell is being fat. Hell is being ugly. Hell is being lonely. Hell is being poor. Hell is being stupid. Hell is being unappreciated. Right? Hell is having no pleasure. Hell is not having a lot of free time. Hell is having a lot of duties and obligations and burdens and you have to get up in the morning and go to work. Hell is not owning your own home. Hell is driving a beater car back and forth to work, in traffic, cursing all the way. That’s your Hell. So you define for yourself your Hell. The Hell you cannot live in, the Hell you have to get delivered from.
And so then what you decide is “To get me out of my Hell, I need a what? I need a savior. I need a savior. False, functional god” If I’m lonely, I need a friend. That’s my savior. If I’m broke, I need money. That’s my savior. Or a credit card. That’s my savior. If, if it’s pleasure that I worship, then I need to find someone to have sex with me or look at porno or something else because that will be my savior. If I want to have kids, then kids will be my savior and they’ll get me out of my childless Hell. I’ll go buy a new car because that will get me out of my vehicular Hell and get me into my vehicular Heaven. I need to own my own house and get me out of my apartment Hell and I want to move into my house Heaven and as soon as I get that, here’s what it promises. Your savior will get you out of your Hell and put you in your Heaven and then you’ll be happy. See that’s why we choose idols. We choose idols that we think will make us happy, give us some self-worth, and make our lives a little more heavenly. And then what we do is we choose a savior to get us out of our hell and then we give our life worshiping our savior. I’m going to give time to it. I’m going to give money to it. I’m going to give energy to it. I’m going to devote myself to it. So I’ll worship my husband because I, I worship marriage and singleness is my Hell. I’ll worship my kids because not having kids is my Hell and being a dad is my Heaven and I worship my kids. I’m always working on my house, because my house is my little piece of Heaven and I love my little Heaven and as long as the house is nice, I don’t have to live in some Hell.
Does this make sense to anyone? Or is this just me? It’s real quiet, because now I’m meddling, right? You’re going, where’s the Father’s Day message. Well here it is. Maybe for some of you, your father is your idol. You long for his approval, his love, his blessing, his affection, your whole life is about him saving you. Your whole life has been about pleasing him, living for his honor and his glory and his satisfaction and the reason that so many of you are so frustrated is you found that your father is a god that does not bless. He is a god who does sin. He is a god who does fail and you’re angry because that god has let you down. It’s true, right? It’s real quiet, now. Lonely up here today. You choose for yourself a Hell. You choose for yourself a false, functional savior god to get you out and you give your life to worshiping that person or that thing. You don’t want to be lonely, that’s Hell. So you get a dog or a cat. That’s your savior and you worship it.
All right. Here’s the sickness in us, right? I think it was John Calvin said that the human heart is an idol factory. We can take anything, most of which are good things, perfectly good gifts that God gave us to enjoy – pleasure and friends and houses and real estate and marriage and sex and kids and ministry and jobs and all good gifts that God gives – and we turn them into idols. And we get so frustrated because those idols don’t bless us and they don’t satisfy us and they don’t do what we need them to do to save us. And I dare you – next time you’re watching TV, listen to the radio, reading a magazine or, or flipping through the newspaper, look at advertising and marketing. This is exactly how it works.
Here’s how it works. There’s a Hell. You don’t want to be in it. There’s a savior. You need that savior. And all you need to do is just give your time, your energy, your money, your devotion, your life, your schedule, your heart to the savior, and it will save you from that hell. You’re fat? We have a savior. Personal trainer and gym. Devote yourself to it and you’ll be out of fat Hell. You’re ugly? That’s okay, we have plastic surgeons and we have fashion and makeup and stylists and consultants. We’ll change your diet. We’ll change your looks and we’ll save you from ugly Hell. That’s your savior. All you need to do is sacrifice to that savior. Worship that savior. Give all you’ve got to that savior and they’ll save you from ugly Hell. The whole world is built, our whole economy is built on you being a fearful people, afraid of a false Hell, being offered a false savior and then worshiping, sacrificing, giving all you’ve got to the false savior, to worship you from the false Hell. That’s your world. You’ll be happy if you get season tickets. You’ll be happy if you get new clothes. You’ll be happy if you drive a new car. You’ll be happy if you eat good food. You’ll be happy if you have nice furniture. You’ll be happy if you’re skinny. You’ll be happy if you are smart. You’ll be happy if you are cool. And the world is filled with things to get you there as functional saviors.
Now let me tell you the sickness about idolatry, and this is exactly what idolatry is. The sickness with idolatry is that it is not about Grace. It is not about a God who loves you, who adores you, who serves you, who embraces you, not because of who you are but in spite of who you are. Not because you’re good, but to make you good. Not because you’re lovely, but to make you lovely. See, that’s the real Gospel of Grace. That’s salvation through Grace. The problem with idolatry is it’s always a functional works righteousness. Which means, if you try harder. If you were prettier, if you were skinnier, if you were smarter, if you were richer, if you were tougher, if you were cooler, than you could be saved. So all you’ve got to do is work really hard to be smarter and cooler and richer and tougher and more capable and more competent and more dependable and more attractive and more winsome and more lovely and if you would just get there, then you could be saved. So you work very, very hard. You work very, very hard. And you get on this treadmill of performance. And religion is the worst treadmill of performance. If you stop smoking, if you stop drinking, if you stop cussing, if you stop lying then God will love you and God will save you, so get yourself in that place where you’re the kind of person that God wants. That’s religion at its worst.
We are justified, the Bible says, by Grace. We are loved by God in spite of who we are. God adores us for no good reason, other than He’s loving and then once we meet God through Jesus Christ, we live our lives in a relationship with God called justification. Where we continually grow by empowering Grace and the enablement of the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus. The problem with idolatry is this: It always supplants our justification for our sanctification. It always tells us if we tried harder and got better, then God would love us more and it’s a sickness. It’s a horrendous sickness and it leads to one of two devastating results. You define your Hell, you choose your savior, you work really hard to worship your false savior, to save you from your Hell and one of two things happen. You either do what you thought needed to be done and you become very proud and self-righteous and arrogant – and those are the worst kinds of church people – or you fall short. You can’t white-knuckle it. You’re not self-disciplined. You can’t get your life under control. You’ve tried really hard and you can’t make it, so you’re depressed and the performance treadmill of idolatry and works righteousness cannot deal with sin because even if you do good things, be a good person, and achieve all of your intended results, you’re left with pride or depression. You still lack the one thing that you sought to obtain through the whole pursuit of idolatry, that being a happy contentment.
Does this make sense to anybody? I tell you, people that are into idolatry, works-based performance, religiosity, and spirituality – and I’m telling you, most of us are ignorant and that’s how we live – they end up arrogant because they’ve done it and saved themselves from their self-defined Hell. Or they are depressed, possibly to the point of suicidal because they just can’t do it and it’s their fault. Here, I have good news. You’re saved by Jesus, not yourself. You’re saved by His works – sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection – not your own. That salvation is through Jesus, not you. It’s not through a false functional savior god, it’s through the creator God, Jesus Christ, and part of what Jesus saves us from is this idolatrous works-based performance treadmill that leads to arrogance or depression that is known as religion. Jesus saves us from that, yes, and Hell and death and God and Satan but also saves us from ourselves because our hearts are deceitful and wicked and we’re just insane and we make no sense at all and we remain worshipers but we worship everything and anything but the creator God Jesus Christ and we settle for trivial little created people and things that cannot bless, cannot help, cannot serve, cannot save us. And we get so frustrated and some of you are just so tired. Some of you are going to get up tomorrow and you’re going to go to work and you’re going to do everything you can so that your boss will like you because he’s your little god and he sits on a little throne and you want him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And you long for that.
Again, idolatry is rarely a bad thing, it’s usually a good thing elevated to a God thing which is an evil. There’s nothing wrong with getting married. There’s nothing wrong with having kids. There’s nothing wrong with buying a house. There’s nothing wrong with working a job. There’s nothing wrong in learning an idea. There’s nothing wrong with serving a human being. There’s nothing wrong with caring and devoting and pouring yourself out for the good of others. The question is why. Is it because you worship the creator God and you love and serve created things or because you worship created things and people instead of God?
Here’s how we get out of this, this tremendous sickness that Paul says so many are ignorant of. The first thing is simply a recognition that our heart is prone toward idolatry. We just go there, right, that’s just the, that’s just the ditch that was dug from Eden forward. We just go to self-righteousness, works-based religion, idolatry, false saviors, crazy concepts of false Hell and we worship created things. It’s an acknowledgment. It’s a recognition that this is the default mode of the human heart is idolatry. That’s what Luther said and he’s right. It’s recognizing that and then naming your idols. Man, I can’t say no to anybody because my idol is everybody saying nice things about me. That’s why I’m a people pleaser. Or, my idol is feeling good. That’s why I keep getting drunk and high. My idolatry is comfort, ease, relaxation, time off. That’s why I sleep in, can’t hold a job and I’m a total sluggard. My idol is marriage. That’s why I keep going out with losers because I idolize marriage and I just have to be married, no matter what. That’s why I idolize kids. Every time I see somebody with a kid, I’m jealous and frustrated and angry and bitter because why wouldn’t God give me a baby, God gave them a baby. Doesn’t God know that I worship babies? Isn’t God supposed to help me worship things other than Him? It’s recognizing there’s a sickness in us and naming it.
What’s your idolatry? What is your idol? What do you love? What do you get up in the morning for? What do you think about at night when you go to bed? Open up your checkbook and say, “Where is my money going?” Open up your Day Runner, “Where is my time going?” And track down your idols. Second thing, once you have recognized them, then you repent of them. In the Old Testament, they would break their idols, right? We need to break idols. Just acknowledge, “I can’t live for the glory, fame, adoration, satisfaction of this person or this thing. That’s idolatry. I need to break that. And again, I’m not saying that most of the things that you would consider idols are bad things. They’re good things elevated to god things, and so they must be broken. You can’t have them anymore. It needs to go away. Your heart, your mind needs to change. Your motives, even for some of the good things you do, need to be called into question. You recognize your sickness. You repent of it. You acknowledge it. You break the idols in your life and then thirdly, you replace. You can’t just stop committing idolatry because you’re a what? A worshiper. So you can get rid of an idol and you’ll worship what? Another idol. Right, some of you worship marriage. You got your savior. You got your spouse. Then you decided to worship kids. So then, you got your kids. Then you decide to worship a house and you got your house. Then you decided to worship grandkids. I mean, it goes on forever, right? You get an idol and then it doesn’t satisfy, so you get another idol. Say, I just want to graduate from college, that’s my idol. I graduated. Now, I need a job. Now I need a spouse. Now I need kids. Now I need a raise. Now I need a car. Now I need another car. Now I need a bigger car. Now I need a vacation now, and this is life on the earth. Just one thing for the next.
So when you get rid of your idols and you break them, you can’t just substitute them with another idol. I’ve seen Christians do this all time. “I used to get drunk. I used to fight. I used to smoke. I used to do drugs. I used to have sex and now I don’t.” What have you replaced it with? Self-righteousness, pharasaicalism. Great. So you worship yourself and your own good deeds and your own performance and you’re still on the performance treadmill. And now you look down on other people. “Oh, look at them! They’re drinking. I used to, ‘til I saved myself.” You lose weight, then you start making fun of fat people. “Look at them, they’re fat!” “You used to be fat.” “Yes, but I saved myself. Those dumb people, they can’t save themselves. They’re not good people, like me.” See, this is the sickness. So what we do, we replace the worship of idols with the worship of our creator God, the Lord Jesus Christ and then we can rightly enjoy created things without inordinately elevating good things to god things.
And then, so the last thing is we rejoice and we worship God. You are a worshiper. I am a worshiper. We are worshipers. We will worship, right, if we don’t raise our hands to Jesus, we’ll raise them to our favorite band or sports team. If we don’t cheer the goodness of Jesus, we’ll cheer our favorite hobby, our favorite hero, our favorite rock star, our favorite actor or actress. We just will worship. We just will, and then worshiping Jesus Christ, our creator God, who alone is our savior, what that enables us to do is rightly relate to all created things. Now I can drink. I don’t need to get drunk, because I don’t worship alcohol and it doesn’t rule over me, I rule over it. I can eat without becoming a glutton because food doesn’t rule over me, I rule over it. And I can have friends without worshiping their approval because I worship Jesus and I have my love and my relationship and my stability from Jesus, which means now I can enjoy my friends but I don’t elevate them to the point of gods, where I seek their approval at every turn. I can work my job without it becoming my god, for whom I take my wife and my kids and my life and I slay it on the altar and I lay it all down for the job, because I worship; the job. I can work the job because I worship Jesus and that allows the job to remain in its proper perspective. See, the job, the wife, the kids, the house, the car, the friends, the ministry. Those are all opportunities to worship God. To use created things appropriately, not making them into functional saviors, saving us from self-defined Hells. Letting creator Jesus be creator. Let savior Jesus be savior and let life be life and an opportunity by which to enjoy the created things. To serve, to steward as I was made to, the gifts that God gives on the earth. This is why I get so frustrated when people say, “All religions are basically the same.” No they’re not. Every religion is idolatry, except for Christianity. And even some Christians are idolators, it’s only the worship of Jesus that really gets us out of this excruciatingly frustrating cul-de-sac of life where we just drive ‘round and around and around and continually find disappointment and no progress.
So for those of you who are here today, you may have come in thinking, “I have a drug, an alcohol, a pride, an anger, a coveting, a gossiping, a lust problem. You do, but that’s fruit on your tree. Just picking off that fruit won’t do anything because more fruit will grow. You trace it back, you find your idol. You break your idol. You replace it with the worship of Jesus Christ. You are then free to enjoy your life and to bear good fruit in all aspects of your life as worship to God. We invite you all to Jesus today. We invite you all to the breaking of idols. We invite you all to looking not just at the fruit of your problem, but the root of your problem and I want none of you to leave here today thinking, “I’m not a spiritual person. I’m not a religious person. I’m not sure this is for me.” You are a spiritual person. You are a religious person. You are a worshiper. The only difference when we leave is who or what your god and savior is. That’s it. We would invite you to Jesus and Jesus Christ alone.
You can become Christian today, giving yourself to Jesus and busting your idols, being saved from this performance-based arrogant or despairing self-righteous treadmill of works religion and false religion and idolatry. For those of you who are Christians, we want you, too, to break your idols. So many are ignorant of this. When you’re ready, you can partake of communion, which is celebrating Jesus, body and blood, for sin. We’re going to sing songs of celebration. We’re going to raise our hands in enthusiasm and repentance to Jesus and we’re going to live here and you can go live your life. Work your job. Love your friends. Fall in love. Make some kids. Mow your grass. Change your oil. Not, not to save you from your self-appointed Hell but because Jesus Christ, through Grace alone, has already saved you from Hell and he has now given you life to serve, to enjoy, to steward as worship to Him, enjoying and stewarding created things, while you worship creator God.
Does this make any sense to anyone? I’ll pray for you. I love you guys. I hope this, I hope this makes sense. Father God, thank you for the truth. God, I thank you that you are not a God who sits in Heaven and just says, “Stop drinking and stop having sex and stop arguing,” as if we could. As if we just needed to jump on the treadmill and run faster toward holiness. God, I thank you that you don’t want us to be ignorant. That the real problem is not just sin, but it’s idolatry, which is the root of all sin. God, we acknowledge that that we’re worshipers. We worship, we give ourselves away. We pour ourselves out. We empty our bank accounts, we exhaust ourselves. We labor for little false gods and little false saviors that we think will deliver us from our self-conceived Hell. God, thank you for sending Jesus to be our savior, our only savior, who saves us from ourselves and the sickness that is in us and the idolatry that we are prone for and the pride and the despair that otherwise are inevitable. Jesus, I pray for my friends. That not only would be worshipers, but that we would be worshipers of You as creator God, as Lord, as Savior. That we would find our satisfaction in You. That through worshiping You, Jesus, we would be rightly related to created things, to people and things. That we would enjoy them and serve them and steward them but we wouldn’t worship them. We wouldn’t find ourselves arrogant. We wouldn’t find ourselves depressed. That we would find ourselves content and happy. For that is what we seek. Amen.
Paul connects idolatry and sin in a way that shows the sin in our life proceeds from our idols. That which we hold in highest esteem and devote our time and energy to is our idol(s). The human heart is an ‘idol factory’ capable of turning anything good (children, important work, sex, etc…) into idolatry.