"Little children, keep yourselves from idols." 1 John 5:21
When you hear the term "idol", most likely you picture some statue in a far-away land. We tend to think of idolatry as a sin that only someone else could possibly commit. After all, when is the last time you knelt down in front of some trinket, pole, or statue?
So, are we off the hook? Is idolatry really a sin only someone else, in some far-away part of the world commits? In the words of Lee Corso from ESPN College Football Gameday, "Not so fast my friend."
Anything in our life that brings us more joy than Christ is an idol. Martyn Lloyd-Jones defines idolatry as "anything in life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone." When we think of idols this way, it quickly becomes apparent that the sin of idolatry is not reserved for people in a distant land. In fact, it is found very close to home -- perhaps, too close. The objects of idolatry may actually be much closer than they appear.
The most common way we fall prey to idolatry is when we allow good things to simply be elevated in our hearts to the place that should be rightly reserved for God. We are not likely to bow the knee to statues but are quite susceptible to valuing sports more than our relationship to God. We are probably able to avoid praying to icons or images but can quickly slip into caring more about our careers, income, or retirement accounts than we care about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
A.W. Tozer said it well when he states, "An idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand." William Tyndale declares, "To have a faith, therefore, or a trust in anything, where God hath not promised, is plain idolatry, and a worshipping of thine own imagination instead of God."
Idols have a way of consuming our minds until it reaches the point they control our lives. In fact, idolatry is so subtle, chances are you do not even realize there may be idols in your life. And I bet the idols that would be exposed in your heart are not evil things at all. If they are there, my guess is they are good things that have simply become more important to you than the Lord. I doubt you would say it like that, but if you were honest, maybe there are some things in your life that have so consumed you, that they now control you even without you realizing it.
John Piper writes of idolatry saying, "It is the thing loved or the person loved more than God, wanted more than God, desired more than God, treasured more than God, enjoyed more than God. It could be a girlfriend. It could be good grades. It could be the approval of other people. It could be success in business." Notice that none of the things mentioned above are sinful -- they just aren't worthy of being first place in your heart.
When Scripture warns us to keep ourselves from idols, it does so because the Lord knows they are all around us. We must be on guard and remain vigilant.
So, what do you do if you evaluate your life and recognize that you do indeed -- if you are completely honest and transparent -- find greater joy in something or someone other than God?
The answer is NOT to love your children less. The solution is not to try to love your spouse less. The Lord would not want us to no longer care about our work or cease to enjoy our friendships. No -- the answer is not found in loving good things less, it is found in loving Christ MORE.
We must cultivate a deeper love for Christ day by day. We must ensure that Christ is our greatest treasure and the true chief concern of our heart. Spend time today doing the things that will help you grow deeper in your love of the Lord. Then, as the hymn writer penned, "the things of the earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace."
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