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About this series
Gods at War
Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart
When you hear the word idol… you probably picture those big stone figures that people worshipped centuries ago. But did you know that - while most people don’t bow down to man-made statues anymore - we all worship something? In this series, our guest teacher Kyle Idleman reveals the subtle nature of idolatry and just how rampant it is in our lives - oftentimes without us even realizing it! He unpacks the ways we’ve put money, pleasure, achievements, careers… even our families, in place of God….And how we’ve allowed those false gods to satisfy, control and define us. Stay with us, as Kyle exposes the idols we’re holding on to … and challenges us to take radical steps to get back to worshipping the one true God.More from this series
I was talking to a young mom this week and she told me that her children had become for her a false god. I said, “What do you mean? Do you mean you have just made them too high of a priority?” She said, “It’s not so much that,” she said, “it’s that I have given them control of my life. I have given the controls of my life over to my kids and they have the power to determine whether I have a good day or a bad day. I have given the controls of my life over to my children and they can determine whether I’m an angry person, whether I’m a depressed person, whether I’m a person who is in despair.”
And see, she is recognizing that the joy of the Lord isn’t her strength. The joy of her children had become her strength. And she wasn’t feeling very strong. Now, she’s right, by definition, whatever has control over you is your god. Is there a relationship that determines whether or not you’re a joyful person, whether or not you’re a content person?
And then she went on to explain that for her, she was living to please her kids. That in her life, everything revolved around making her children happy. Well, that, by definition is your god. What you live to please, that is your god. And so, maybe that’s true for you. Maybe it’s a child, maybe it’s a spouse that has replaced God as the controller of your life.
When we begin to ascribe divine attributes to something or someone, they become a false god for us.
So, when we look to a relationship as our source of satisfaction, our source of significance, our source of security; when we look to relationship for salvation, we are making that relationship a god. And God is jealous because He wants to do those things for us.
He wants to be our source of significance and security and satisfaction and He wants to be our salvation.
There’s some pretty graphic language in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel to help us understand how it feels to God when we are guilty of idolatry. The picture that is painted for us is one of us having an affair on God. That’s how He feels. When we make something more important to Him in the Old Testament, God sees it as spiritual adultery. And He is jealous. He is hurt. He is angry.
Some of you understand the pain of unfaithfulness, because the person who vowed their life to you, you found was sleeping with someone else. Your husband or your wife sharing intimate moments with another, giving their body to another person, and the pain that you felt, the anger that you felt, the hurt that you felt it’s hard to imagine anything worse. And God says, “This is what you have done to Me. This is how you have made Me feel by your disordered loves.”
An illustration I have used a few years ago I think helps paint the picture of how God feels. Imagine that you walk into a restaurant, nice candlelit, romantic-type restaurant, and you see me sitting at a table for two with a woman I’m not married to. We’re just imagining here. Just imagining.
So, I’m sitting there with someone who is not my wife having this date, this candlelit dinner, you come over, and you’re quick to be, to accuse me. Say, “This isn’t your wife. What are you doing? Where is your wife?” And I say, “Listen, my wife is at home. This is my date night with this lady. My wife and I have a date night on Tuesday night, just relax, everything is fine.” And you go away and you’re angry and you’re upset and so, you call my wife to tell her what has happened.
Let’s just imagine I go home and my wife meets me at the door, gives me a big hug, and she says, “Honey, did you have a nice time on your date?” Well, that’s just ridiculous. She would never say that, because the attention that was supposed to be hers I was giving to someone else. The affection that belonged to her I was giving to another. The money that should have been spent on her I was spending on someone else.
My wife would not say to me, “Honey, did you have a nice time on your date?” She wouldn’t say that. My wife would not, my wife would not say, “Hey, I don’t mind if you date other people as long as you love me the most. I don’t mind if you see others as long as I am first place in your life.” She wouldn’t say that.
And this is how God loves us. He says, “I’m not going to share you. I’m not going to share you.”
And so, it’s not enough just to have God in first place. He wants there to be no second place. Luke 14, Jesus has large crowds following Him. I think large crowds always made Him a little uncomfortable. He was never that concerned about the size of the crowd, He was much more concerned about the level of commitment in the crowd. And so, He would say things when the crowd would get big to make people go away.
Here’s what He says, Luke 14, verse 26, we read. Jesus says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brother and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” If you don’t hate your mom and your dad, your husband, your wife, your children, your brother – if you don’t hate them, you can’t follow Me. Don’t call yourself My follower.
What do you do with that? Hate? Really? I mean, the Bible consistently tells us that these are the people we should love. There are a few things you need to understand. One, the word that’s translated “hate” here, in Jewish culture was meant to communicate a lesser love. The New Living Translation puts it a little more accurately. It says, “You must hate everyone else by comparison.”
The other thing for us is that we tend to equate words like “love” and “hate” with emotion, with feeling. “I love you,” “I hate you,” it’s full of emotion. Not true in the first century. These words were not meant to communicate an emotion or a feeling, they were meant to communicate a level of commitment.
And so, what Jesus is saying is, “Your commitment to Me, your level of commitment to Me should be such that there really is no other commitment.”
And here’s what we discover. When we get this commitment right, then all these other relationships start to be relationships that honor God, that they were meant to be when God gave them to us.
And so, here’s what I want you to see and we are going to kind of turn a corner here. I want you to see that when we put someone else in place of God, when we make a relationship our false God, it is the most destructive thing we can do to that person and to that relationship. I want to give you five things that happen when we make someone a false god in our life.
First, there is unrealistic pressure. Unrealistic pressure. When we turn a spouse into a God-substitute, we are putting incredible pressure on them because we are saying to them, “I want you to do for me what God wants to do for me.” And some of you feel this in your relationship right now. You are with someone who has made you feel incredible pressure, because when they are unhappy, they look to you to make them happy. When they are stressed out, they look to you or something you offer to give them peace. When their world is broken, they want you to fix it and to make everything okay. And you’re just feeling a lot of pressure.
It’s because you’re not God. They are asking you to be God. And that’s a lot of pressure to say to someone, “Listen, if – you are the key to my happiness. You are the key to my satisfaction. And if you would just be more encouraging to me, if you would just provide for me a little bit more, if we could just be physically intimate more often, then I would be happy; then I would be satisfied.”
See, you are looking to someone else to be your god. You are asking them to do for you what only God can do, and that is a lot of pressure. And given enough time, pressure will cause things to crack. It will cause things to break. Are you doing this to someone right now? Maybe it’s a spouse, a child, maybe it’s someone you’re dating. You’re saying to them, “I want you to do for me what only God can do.” It’s a lot of pressure to put on a person.
Another thing that happens when a person becomes the god of our life is there are unreachable expectations. We often do this to our children and we look to them as our source of significance. We allow the home to rotate around their activities and their success. And so, the children grow – we push and push them and they grow up thinking that they just cannot please us, as parents. And so, they have convinced themselves that no grades will be good enough, no trophy will be big enough.
And the problem is that what we do is we exchange our relationship with God with a relationship with our children. And instead of asking God to be the source of our significance as a person, we go to our children, our children and we say to them, “We want you to be the reason for my life.” “We want you to be the source of my significance, the source of my identity as a person.” And those are expectations they can’t meet.
Another thing that happens is there is unreasonable disappointment. Ultimately, any false god will disappoint you. We have talked about a number of them, it’s true of all, that whether it’s money, whether it’s physical pleasure, whether it’s success at work, or whether it’s a relationship – any false god will leave you disappointed. And if you find that you’re just kind of generally disappointed with life, chances are it’s because you have made something other than the Lord God your god. And it’s letting you down. Of course it’s letting you down. Only God can satisfy you.
A little while ago, I was driving in my car. My gas light came on and I had heard some rumors that the gas prices were going to drop and I said, “I’m just going to wait until they drop. I’m just going to wait until they drop.” And so, I just keep driving. And it had been on for, like, two days. And, like, this is crazy. I don’t care. I’m just going to keep going. It’s going to drop. Because as soon as I fill it up, I’m going to look up and that light is going to change and it’s going to be twenty cents a gallon cheaper.
So, I just keep driving. Eventually, I run out of gas. Funny how that happens. And so, I’m out of gas and I get out of my car and I’m mad. You know who I’m mad at? I’m not mad at myself for not putting gas in the car, I’m mad at my car for running out of gas. I’m mad at my car because it wouldn’t keep running after it had run out of gas. I was asking my car that was made to run on gas to keep running without gas. That’s pretty unreasonable, I think. Right? But this is what we do in our relationships.
We’re asking people to do what they were never created to do. We are asking someone to meet a need that they were never meant to meet. We are asking someone to fulfill us in a way that they can’t fulfill us. Only God can.
Here’s another thing that happens is that there is undeserved criticism in the relationship. See, whenever someone isn’t meeting your expectations, if you’re in a relationship with someone and they are just kind of letting you down, that relationship starts to be marked by criticism. And criticism is poison in a relationship. In any relationship, criticism is just poison.
And so, there’s this constant criticism because you want the person to fulfill you. You want them to meet your needs. And you show me a person who is constantly critical and always negative and always nagging and I will show you someone whose delight is not in the Lord. They are looking to someone else or something else to fulfill them or satisfy them and they complain and they whine and they are negative and they are critical because this won’t do it. But it’s not fair. It wouldn’t be fair for me to come over and start criticizing you because you can’t make yourself invisible. It wouldn’t be fair. It’s not fair to ask a human to be divine. Only God can fulfill these things.
Lastly, here’s what happens, there’s unfair comparisons. And ultimately, this is what will destroy relationship. You look to a person to do these things for you. They are not doing it. And so, you start to see these divine attributes in someone else. And you think, Well, if I was with this person, then I would be satisfied. If I was with this person who is more encouraging, then I would have my needs met. And so, we compare and we start to become vulnerable to an affair.
Ultimately, even if you exchange this relationship for that, you would still, you would still go unsatisfied. Why? Because what you are doing unconsciously is you are comparing a person to God. And that person is falling short. You may look to another person, but they are going to fall short as well.
I wish I had a little more time to talk about this. I don’t. But if I did, here’s what I would say. I would say that part of the problem, part of the problem isn’t just that we look to our spouse to be God for us, but that we, some of us, try to be God to our spouse. That’s just as dangerous. Where you say, “I’m going to be responsible for this person’s happiness.” I’m going to be responsible for satisfying this person.” Well, good luck with that.
Or we see a problem in their life or an area that they need to change and we say to ourselves, I think I can change that person. I’ll tell you what’s really fun is when you have two spouses trying to be God. And the husband looks at the wife and says, “I think I can change you.” And the wife looks at the husband and says, “I think I can change you.” And you can almost hear a little guy in the middle say, “Let’s get ready to rumble.” It just doesn’t work.
Or maybe you’re trying to be God because you want that person to find their satisfaction, you want to be their everything. And it just, it’s not the way God designed it, it’s not how He ordained it.
I remember Bob Russell talking about what he would call a top-button truth. The idea being that if you get the top button wrong when you’re buttoning a shirt, that none of the other buttons will line up. They are – all of them are off. But if you get that top button right, then the rest of them just sort of fall into place. And this is true with what we are speaking of today in our relationship with God. When He is the top button and we get that one right, then our relationship with our kids, our relationship with our spouse, our relationship with friends, the person we are dating, whoever it is, that just begins to fall into place. And until we get this right, the rest of it won’t work. And so, here’s what I’m saying.
If you have a relationship right now that is causing you disappointment and frustration, instead of giving more and more attention to that relationship, instead of tuning in Dr. Phil to see what you need to do differently, instead of buying the latest self-help book, even before you go see a counselor, take your focus on that – off that relationship, put it on your relationship with Christ. You make Him your greatest affection. And just kind of see the impact it has on all your other relationships.
I was on the Internet the other day, I came across this website that had the top ten most romantic lines in movies. Top ten most romantic lines in a move. Number one line came from a movie called Jerry Maguire.
And in the movie, it ends with Tom Cruise giving this impassioned speech to Renée Zellweger. And at the end of his speech is the number one, according to this website, most romantic line of all time. And he says to her just three words. He says, “You complete me.” That’s what he says. “You complete me.”
I’m telling you, if there was a Jerry Maguire 2, may it never be, here’s what would happen. You would find that Renée Zellweger would crumble under such pressure. And she would get upset with him for making statements like, “You complete me.” How can you ask a person to complete you? And the relationship wouldn’t work. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but that’s what happens in their relationship. They break up, because another person can’t complete you.
But Jesus can. Jesus wants to. When you wake up in the morning, He is there. When you want to talk to someone about your day at breakfast, He is listening. When you feel frustrated and you’re discouraged, He understands. He knows how you feel. The Bible says He keeps track of your tears in a bottle.
He laughs with you, He cries with you, He will never leave you, He will never forsake you. Only He completes you. And so, is He your primary affection?
Is there a relationship in your life where you need to say to the person, “You are no longer going to be what is most important to me.” I know that seems like a step back, but the truth is, when Jesus is truly the Lord of my life, I am at my best as a husband. I am at my best as a father. I’m at my best as a friend. When Jesus is truly the Lord of my life, that I put all those other relationships in a position to be blessed by God.
Well, Abraham has his son bound on the altar; his knife is raised. Verse 10 says, “Then he reached out his hand and he took the knife to slay his son, but the Angel of the Lord called out, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear, that you honor God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.’
Abraham looked up and there in the thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and he took the ram and he sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So, Abraham called the place The-Lord-Will-Provide; and to this day it is said, ‘On the Mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” God says: Listen, now I know. You had your son on one side, you had Me on the other side, and you chose Me.
God, You are the Lord Most High. And we confess, God, that we have exchanged You, our glorious God, for gods that do not respond. In this moment, we come to you as a people and we repent. We repent of our sin of idolatry. Maybe it’s a person, maybe it’s a possession, maybe it’s a passion of some kind that has become too important to us. God, no longer will we ask You to share our affection, our attention with another. And so, we confess to You our idols. We smash our false gods before You. You are our one true God. We invite You and You alone to reign on the throne of our hearts.