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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
We don’t worship idols in our modern-day civilization, do we? I mean, think back. When was the last time you heard a sermon on idolatry? I don’t know that I have ever really heard more than one or two, maybe around the Ten Commandments, but that’s about it. Maybe now and then you’ll hear that language when we talk about money. But it just doesn’t seem to be that relevant of an issue. Not for us today.
I mean, after all, we don’t worship images of stone and of wood. That was a primitive culture. Not in our modern-day civilization do we struggle with this. And yet, here’s what I want you to see. Today, and in this series, that for most of us, idolatry is the issue. It is the issue. It is the one thing that is keeping us from living the life God really wants us to live. We have these gods at war within us. And they are battling for who will sit on the throne of our heart.
Os Guinness explains it this way. He says, “Idolatry is the most discussed problem in the Bible and it’s one of the most powerful, spiritual, and intellectual concepts in a believer’s arsenal. Yet, for Christians today, it’s one of the least meaningful notions.” There’s more than a thousand references to idolatry in the Bible but we kind of skip over it.
But let me tell you something. In these last few months as I have studied this from Scripture, it has changed my faith. As I have begun to see my life and look at my things through the lens of idolatry, God has been, He has been changing my heart.
And I hope that happens for some of you in this series, that as you become aware of the gods at war within you, that it will lead you to a deeper and fuller commitment in your relationship with Christ.
My concern is that you will hear this and quickly dismiss it. I’m just somewhat amazed that I could be a Christian for several decades and never understand the significance of this. So, I want to spend a few minutes on it.
If you ask most people, “What is the definition of success for you,” the word happiness would show up. Aristotle called happiness the chief good. It is the ultimate purpose, he would say, for existence is to be happy.
And when you talk to people about, “Well, what is it going to take to be happy for you?” It doesn’t take long for them to start speaking in terms of dollars and cents. Eventually, money becomes the symbol for our happiness. And so, when we see money as something that has the ability to satisfy us, we are giving it a divine attribute.
And we decide, we choose who will sit on the throne of our hearts.
And here’s what God will do, and we will see it as we study this subject is that He will oftentimes put Himself in direct competition with something that we love or care about a great deal. And He will say to us, “You choose. You choose between this and that. You choose between Me and them. You choose.”
And if you read through the Scriptures, when we hear about God’s emotion, how He feels about idolatry, there’s a surprising emotion that is ascribed to God on this subject and it is that He is jealous. You just don’t expect that, right? That God would be jealous of something in our lives. But He refuses, He refuses to share that seat of glory.
Until we understand who or what is sitting on the throne of our hearts, we will not experience victory. Instead, we will continue to experience frustration and we will continue to experience defeat.
Maybe you say, At least it’s not alcohol or drugs or pornography or sex. At least it’s not some blatant sin that I’m bowing down to.
But we have to understand that our gods can be just as dangerous, even more destructive because they are often scarcely recognizable as gods. We take the very good things that God has given us and we turn them into false gods, but we don’t even realize that’s what they are. We don’t realize that they have replaced the Lord God on the throne of our hearts, because they seem fine and they seem good.
And we are constantly, in our lives, displacing one god with another. And so, maybe a young person has the god of a gaming system in their life. I mean, practically speaking, that’s what is most important to them. And then that god is displaced by the god of a car, and then that god is displaced by a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and then it’s college, and then it’s the god of career, and then it’s the god of a husband or a wife, and then it’s the god of your home, and then it’s the god of your children, and then it’s the god of financial status, and then it’s the god of retirement, and then it’s the god of grandchildren. And we are constantly filling this throne in our hearts with different gods.
John Calvin put it this way. He says, “The human heart is a factory of idols.” We are always creating these different things, we are always putting people in our place of worship. And until we identify those and remove them from the throne of our hearts, we will miss out on the life that God wants us to live.
We must experience the expulsive power of a new affection. Because what cannot be defeated can be dispossessed. What cannot simply be resisted must be replaced. And so, we replace our false gods with an affection for the one true God and they begin to lose their grip on our hearts.
And so, there is this choosing that must happen in our lives. And often in church, we focus on a choice that is made on the day of your salvation, but truly being a Christian is much more than a choice, it is a continual choosing. It is not just once a day, it’s many times a day where you are choosing who or what you will worship.
And many times a day, you have a choice where you will worship the Lord God or you will worship something else. Will you worship the Lord God or will you worship your spouse? Will you worship the Lord God or will you worship food or will your worship sex or some physical pleasure? Will you worship the Lord God or will you worship your career or what other people think of you?
And the list is long, but every day, we have this choice. And when we start to see life through that lens of, “Will I worship the Lord or will I worship something else?” then things just become very clear.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Luke chapter 18. In the next few minutes, we are going to study a man who faces this choice in a very direct and a very specific way. Luke chapter 18. There are three words in the Bible used to describe this man. And the rich young ruler. Two adjectives then a noun, all of which point to the fact that he was a successful person.
What God is going to do in this story, what Jesus is going to do, is He is going to put Himself in direct competition with what this man loves so much, and He is going to say to the man, “You choose.”
And in doing so, I think all of us will be challenged. This man has accumulated, he had achieved, he had accomplished.
He was worshipping the gods of success. Luke chapter 18, we are going to start in verse 18. It says, “A certain ruler,” a certain ruler – now, Matthew’s account, Matthew also tells the story and his account points out that he was a young ruler. A young ruler.
Now, in the Bible, “young” means forty and under, okay? And I understand that some of you who are forty and older like to call yourself young, and think of yourself as young, and while that is sweet, it’s not biblical. Alright? It’s not what the Bible teaches. And the Bible teaches forty and under, that’s – we know this man was at least under forty. He’s a young ruler, we also read later that he had great wealth.
So, what do we know about him already? Well, we know that he a person who is driven. We know that he is a person who wants to be at the top, who wants to succeed. And it says, “A certain ruler,” the word for “ruler” is basically, it’s the Greek word is “a recognized official”. He would have been recognized as a person of authority in the culture. “…asked Jesus, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”
Now, you’ve got to give him credit for this, because if you have one question to ask Jesus, right? this is the question. “What must I do to live forever?” But even the way he asks the question reveals the god that he worships, because how does he phrase the question?
“What must I do?” I do. And those of us who struggle with the gods of success are continually wanting to be the source of our own salvation. And then the word he uses here for “inherit” could just as easily be translated as “acquire” or “to earn”.
And this is one of the reasons we are drawn to the gods of success, because it allows us to put hope in our own accomplishments. To put hope in our own achievements.
And Jesus doesn’t seem necessary because look at everything we have been able to accomplish. This is one of the reasons why the most successful people are some of the hardest to reach with the gospel.
In order for them to respond to Christ and to become a Christian, they have to take the god off the throne of their heart, but the god that sits on the throne of their heart is in fact themselves.
It’s very hard to take yourself off the throne of your heart. And it’s hard to admit weakness. It’s hard to admit that you are unable, especially for a highly driven, successful person.
This is why TV personality Bill Maher, when he was talking about the crucifixion, he said, “I just don’t get the thought of someone else cleansing me of my sins. It’s ridiculous. I don’t need anyone to cleanse me; I can cleanse myself.” I can earn it.
That’s why when Warren Buffet donated eighty-five percent of his forty-four-billion-dollar fortune to charity, he said, “There’s a lot of ways to get to heaven, but this is a pretty great way.” What’s he saying? I can do it. I’m successful enough. I can earn it on my own.
And so, this is very difficult. The only way to have victory over this god is to admit defeat, but it is this god, the god of success, that keeps you from admitting defeat. And so, these gods are at war within us, verse 19, Jesus goes right to what this man’s question is.
He says, “Why do you call Me good? Why do you call Me good? No one is good—except God alone.” Verse 20, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony,” don’t lie, “honor your father and mother.’” And verse 21, here is how the man responds. Jesus says, Jesus says, “No one is good but God alone.” You’ve got to follow all these commands.
And the man says, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” See, Jesus tries to help him with the appropriate response. The man should have said, “I’m not good. I haven’t kept all those commands. I can’t do it.” He doesn’t say that. Instead, he says, “Oh yeah, I’ve done all those things since I was a boy.”
And what he is doing is what many of us in the Church can get caught up in, especially for those of us who have grown up in the Church. And while success for you may not be something you feel too caught up in, in that you’re not worried about job titles and you’re not worried about financial status.
It is very possible for you to make spiritual success a false god. And like the man in our text, when you keep all the religious rules, it makes it very difficult to see that you are in fact in need of a Savior.
And so, you can make your religious rule-keeping a functional savior where you say, “Look, I can be so spiritually successful that this is where my confidence is. This is where my security is found. This is my savior.”
And so, maybe you keep all the rules and you’re at church every time the doors are open and you read your Bible and memorize Scripture and you pray and you fast and you have even come up with your own set of rules. And so, you don’t go to the movie theatre and you don’t listen to secular music, and you don’t just give ten percent, you give fifteen percent.
And you’re doing all these things, which are all well and good, until they become your god. Until somehow, they have replaced Jesus as your security and as the source of your salvation. And so, this man has great confidence in his spiritual success: “I have kept all these since I was a boy.”
Verse 22, Jesus takes aim at the god, the primary god that sits on the throne of this man’s heart. “When Jesus heard this He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ When he heard this, the man became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.”
Now, the adjective that is used here to describe this man’s wealth would have put him above pretty much everyone else at that time and in that geographical area. He was towards the very top. And as you read this story, here’s what often is done, and this is how we often read this story is we see, we see this as a story about money.
This is not a story about money. This is a story about idolatry. The problem with this man is not that he had a lot of money. The problem is that the money had him. The Bible does not say that money is the root of all kinds of evil. It says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And you may be rich, or you may be poor – that’s really not the issue. It’s not about whether or not you have money. It’s whether or not money has you.
And he has turned it into a false god. And the reason Jesus talks so much about money in Scripture is because money has for us the most potential, I think, of any false god, to become a god substitute.
And so, Jesus talked more about money than He talked about heaven and hell, than He talked about sin and judgment. He talked more about money than He talked about prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount, He mentions idolatry only briefly, but when He speaks of idolatry, the only application He gives is that of money.
Listen to what He says in Matthew 6:24. Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
And so, money in the Bible is consistently portrayed as God’s chief competition. Now, here’s why. And this was very helpful to me personally when I understood this. The things in our life that have the most ability, the most potential to become a false god are the things that promise to do for us what only God can do.
The things that have the most potential to become a false god are the things that carry with them a false promise that they can do for us what only God can do.
Uh, a woman by the name of Simone Weil. She says this was the issue for her in her life. “One has only the choice between God and idolatry.” It’s your only choice. “If one denies God, one is worshipping some things of this world in the belief that one sees them only as such.” You are worshipping these things thinking, These are just things. I’m worshipping the things of this world thinking they are just the things of this world, “…but in fact,” she says, “though unknown to one’s self, though you don’t even realize it, you are in fact imagining the attributes of divinity in them.”
You are imagining the attributes of divinity in them. You are ascribing to them things that are only true of God. Now, think how we do this when it comes to money. What do we say about money? Well, one thing we say is that money will satisfy me. We give money this divine attribute that it has the power to satisfy our souls. And in doing so, we make it a god in our lives.