If the Old Testament had it’s own Twitter account, the trending topic every day would read #idolatry. In fact, I wager that if you were to crack open your Bible at any place you’d have a fair chance of finding a verse addressing this topic. It takes first and second place in the ever famous Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:3-4). We see the practice of idol worship crop up early on in the Scriptures, not just in foreign nations, but in the community of God’s chosen people, Israel. In fact, this particular sin would ultimately lead to the undoing and exile of the Jews at the hands of foreign powers. Author David Powlison once wrote, “Idolatry is by far the most frequently discussed problem in the Scriptures.” 

Pick a Calf, Any Calf

Despite the literary real estate given to the topic in our Bible, idolatry can still feel like an irrelevant word to our modern ears. When we hear the word our minds often fly to third world lands, accessible only by boat or oxcart. It feels primitive. The word calls to mind images of half-dressed tribesmen or ancient peasants gathering around a wood carved animal. One of the most familiar scenes in the Bible regarding idols is the golden calf fiasco with Israel at Mount Sinai. Moses went up on the mountain to receive the commandments of God, and apparently he lingered a bit too long. In their impatience and fear, Israel quickly procured for themselves new leadership, a golden calf who served as a replacement god they could look to for direction, something that could restore their hope (Exodus 32:4). In a single decision this tiny nation taught us something very valuable: We always need a god to worship.

The truth is you and I will most likely never smelt our jewelry down to craft a barnyard animal for our family to bow to, but we will always find something to serve, worship, and derive worth from. The Bible calls these things idols. 

What is Idolatry?

Simply put, an idol is anything that we make more important that God. We mistakenly assume that all idols are sinful things like pornography and drugs. It’s important to realize that it is not the type of object that makes something an idol, but the type of honor we give to that object. Therefore, even the best things, when given inordinate levels of affection, can be idols to us. A man’s job can be a very good thing for him and others. But if that man derives his identity and

worth from his job, he has given it a role it was never able to perform. Those are shoes only God can fill in a person’s life. Suppose now, that a recession hits our hard-working man and he gets laid off. If he only derived his worth from the status and lifestyle his job afforded him, losing his job would absolutely crush him. He has no stability when a job crisis hits. He is driven and tossed like a cork on the ocean surface.

It isn’t just career that runs the risk of becoming too important. Spouses, houses, children, schools, body image, food, sex, money, friendships, intelligence, talents all have the ability to take a higher place than God in our lives. The problem with placing our hope in anything other than Jesus to give our life meaning and value is that it will always eventually let us down. Jesus Christ is the only one who never changes, and therefore His love and promises toward us never change either. He knows that anything we replace Him with will fail, which is why God warns so frequently against it. 

What We Can Learn from a Sci-Fi Movie

All of our sins, from the greatest to the least, have their root in an idol. Pastor Tim Keller writes, “The Ten Commandments begin with two commandments against idolatry. Then come commandments 3 to 10. Why this order? It is because the fundamental problem is always idolatry. In other words, we never break commandments 3 – 10 without first breaking one and two.” Our idols are always the primary impetus for our sinning. Therefore, in order to beat any one of our sin struggles, we must target the source. I don’t say this often, but in this case, we should take a lesson from Hollywood.

Remember the 1996 summer blockbuster Independence Day? It’s your standard dilemma: Aliens attack earth. Earth responds with a counter attack. Aliens have force fields. What to do? Thanks to Jeff Goldblum, our planet was spared. He figured out that by introducing a computer virus into the mothership, the other smaller alien crafts would also be infected, thereby disabling their shields and making them susceptible to attack. Destroying the source problem destroyed the smaller problems as well. You remember how the story ends. Big explosion. Earth is saved. Will Smith catapults his acting career.

In our attempt to conquer our sin issues, we must attack the source idol that is prompting our actions, not simply the symptoms. For instance, you may struggle with pornography addiction, but don’t stop at simply putting internet blockers on your computer. Do the deeper work of exploring why you get tempted to run to porn every time you have a fight with your spouse. There is where you’ll find the source of your sin struggle. God’s Word demands that we dig below the surface and get to the root of the problem. This is the only way to see real lasting victory in our lives. 

Our Hope

As we seek to penetrate into the depths of our behaviors, to expose the tender nerve of our motivating idols, we can be confident of this: God is for us in our pursuit. His desire is for our greatest good and for His maximal glory, and restoring us to Himself accomplishes both. Call out to Him. Ask Him for grace to expose those ‘gods’ that have taken His place, and He will do it. In the end, God alone is our only hope for lasting change. Remember also that in the universe, there is only One worthy of your worship. God alone made us and deserves all our hearts’ affections. May He give you the grace to resist any lesser love that would steal your joy and His glory. 

“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8).

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