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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
A few months ago, my middle daughter, Morgan, memorized the ten commandments. She wanted to say them to me and so, I laid down next to her in bed and she began to make her way through that list in Exodus chapter 20, “You shall have no other gods before you, you shall not make yourself an idol in the form of anything,” and on down the list she went.
And when she was finished telling me the Ten Commandments I thought, well, this is a pretty good teachable moment for me as a father to talk to her about sin, because really, this is why we have the law and the Ten Commandments is to reveal that we are sinners in need of a Savior.
And so, I said to Morgan, I said, “Honey, have you have ever broken one of the Ten Commandments?” She kind of gave me her shy smile, reluctant to answer that question. I kept probing. I said, “Honey, I have told some lies before. Have you ever told a lie?” She nodded. I said, “Have you ever not honored your mom and dad?” We both knew the answer to that question. It’s really more of a rhetorical question, actually.
And we just kind of made our way through the list. I said, “Morgan, have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever been jealous of what someone else had? You have coveted that?” And she could see that this was not going well for her, right? I said, “Morgan, I know you never murdered anyone, but have you ever hated someone because you were so angry with them?” And she was ready to put this trial to a stop.
And so, she said to me, “Dad, I know one commandment I have never broken. I have never made for myself an idol in the form of anything.” I resisted the temptation to explain to her that this is the one commandment that all of us have broken more than any of the others. I chose not to quote the words of Martin Luther who said, “You can’t break, you cannot break any of the other commandments without first breaking this one.”
Instead, I smiled and kissed her goodnight, deciding to save that conversation for another time. Though, as I walked down the steps, I began to wonder how many Christians, how many Christians would make the same assumption as my eight-year-old-daughter.
That if the Ten Commandments are a checklist for us, we tend to breathe a sigh of relief when we get to the one on idols. At least we don’t have to worry about that one! After all, we don’t worship idols in our modern-day civilization, do we?
And as a result, this is a topic you rarely hear talked about in church. 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, and 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.
There are many ways in which idolatry affects who we are. It affects our personalities, it determines whether or not we live a joyful life. But certainly, one of the areas it has the greatest impact on us is in our struggle with sin.
And as a pastor, as you might guess, I often times have people talk to me about the sin they are struggling with and I’m struggling with my own sins and here’s the temptation. The temptation is to see the sin in someone’s life and just kind of see it for what it is and say, “You shouldn’t do that, so stop sinning.”
But rarely do I talk to anyone who wants to be that person, who wants to sin. In fact, it’s the opposite. They tend to be quite frustrated over the fact that they are doing this. They don’t even want to do it. So, why are they doing it? Well, you scratch at that sin and you keep scratching it and you will find that underneath this sin is a false god.
Behind every sin in your life and my life is a god that is winning the war. And we see the sin as the fruit, but understand that the tree from which the fruit grows is always idolatry. And so, a man is caught cheating on his income taxes, he faces a number of charges; ironically, he doesn’t even need the money. He’s a millionaire many times over. As I talked to him about it, he’s confessional, he’s broken, he knows it’s a sin, he doesn’t even understand why he did it. He doesn’t need the money. Why is he doing that? Why did he make that choice? Why did he sin in that way?
It’s because of idolatry. He worships money. He worships status; he worships possessions. Now, he might not say that, but his actions give him a way. We become what we worship. It’s an issue of idolatry. Until he gets that, until he understands that this is a god that is winning the war in his life, he is going to continue to struggle with this issue in one way or another.
A man catches me, a young man catches me after the service, pulls me over to the side, and for the first time he confesses to another person out loud his addiction to pornography. And he explains that he saw these images for the first time when he was thirteen years old and he takes me on his downward spiral as now he spends countless hours and thousands of dollars to fulfill this desire.
And as he talks to me, it’s clear he doesn’t want to do these things, it’s not the person he wants to be, he has tried again and again to find victory in this area, he can’t find victory in this area. That’s what he would say.
And then he kind of tries to justify it and say, “Well, you know, here’s the thing. I’m following Jesus in every other area. I’m doing okay with every other issue. It’s just this one, it’s just this one issue.”
Well, what he has to understand is that this is the issue. Not the sexual sin per se, but it is the issue of who is really God in his life? And right now, he’s choosing, “Will I worship God, or will I worship sex – a physical feeling? Will I worship the Creator or will I worship the body He created?” And at this point, almost every day, God the Creator is being flicked off the throne of his heart so he can look at pictures of people without their clothes on. That’s the choice he is making. “I’m choosing to look at these images instead of choosing God. I want this more than I want that.”
And until he understands it’s idolatry, he will continue to struggle. Until he replaces the false god with the true God, he will not have victory in this area.
I talked to a young man on the phone, getting ready to move in with a girlfriend; she’s not a Christians, he is. I talked to him about this, he said, “Well, it’s not that big of a deal. God understands, He knows I am going to marry her, it’s not that big of a deal.”
And I tried to explain to him, “It is a big deal. And it’s not just because you’re breaking a rule. Please understand, it’s not the rule we are most concerned about. It’s that you’re choosing to worship something other than God. It’s that you’re saying, ‘She is my god instead of Yahweh is my God.’ It’s saying, ‘I’m going to worship this relationship instead of worship this relationship.’ It’s an issue of idolatry.”
Do you see why this is such a life changing truth? The Bible says the truth will set you free and I believe that for many people in their sin struggle, this is the truth that will free them. They have tried and tried and tried to be something, and they haven’t found victory, they don’t like who they are, they don’t want to do what they are doing, but until God alone sits on the throne of their heart, they will continue to struggle; I will continue to struggle. Idolatry is the issue.
It impacts not only who we are as sinners, but it impacts who we are as Christians who are joyful. If you meet someone who is in the depths of despair on a continual basis, it’s because they have allowed something to become more important to them than they should.
People say that money is the number one problem in marriage. No, it’s not. It’s idolatry. Idolatry is the number one problem in marriage. And so, we are going to be talking about that. Idolatry is the issue. And it was the issue in Joshua 24.
Let me kind of paint a picture of what is happening in this chapter. Joshua, at this point, is a hundred and ten years old, okay? You got the picture? He’s an elderly fella. And he has lived a pretty full and adventurous life! I mean, he was with Moses when they freed the people out of Egypt. He went through the Red Sea, he picked up the manna from heaven, and he ate it. He watched the walls of Jericho fall as the general for the nation of Israel. He had led that nation into countless battles and now as this hundred-and-ten-year-old man, he bears the scars. He stands in front of the nation of Israel, calls them together for what he assumes will be his final address to them.
And he stands in front of them, he clears his throat, and here’s what he says in Joshua 24, verses 14 and 15. “Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the river and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, well then, you choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua gives them basically four choices. You can worship the gods of your fathers from Mesopotamia, you can worship the gods of the Egyptians where you have been in slavery for four hundred years, you can worship the gods of those whose land you are now living, or option number four, you can worship the one true God.
Here’s the first thing I want you to see from our study. And that is we are all worshippers. And as we talk about idolatry, this is a foundational truth that we have to understand, that all of us are worshippers.
Joshua doesn’t give a fifth option. He doesn’t say, “Well, another choice would be that you don’t worship anything at all.” That’s not on the table. We are all worshippers. God hardwired it into our DNA and it’s the one thing that’s true of every culture and every civilization throughout all of history. If you were to visit, you would find that they worship a god or many gods.
If you were to parachute into the deepest jungles of Africa, you would find that a tribe that has never been exposed to outside civilization or influence, worships a god or many gods. And you could jet into New York or into Paris among the world’s elite and you would find that they worship a god. It might be the god of intellect or success or the god of power. But they worship.
And some of you are like, “Well, I’m not a Christian, so I’m not a worshipper. Yeah, you are. Everybody worships a god of some kind.
And should you choose not to worship the one true God, then you, by default, by default, will worship what Tim Keller calls a “God substitute”. You will put in your life some substitute for God and that is what you will worship. And that’s what will have control over you. That’s what will rule over you. That’s what will have power over you.
Philosopher, Peter Kreeft, explains it this way. He says, “The opposite of theism,” or the opposite of belief and faith in God, “is not atheism, it is idolatry.” There are only two choices. You either worship God or you worship a god, a false god.
And understand this, and it’s important as we study this is that a false god doesn’t have to be something wrong or evil. In fact, often times, we turn God’s good gifts to us into idols, but when a good thing becomes a god thing, then it’s idolatry. And so, Joshua points this out. All of us, all of us are worshippers.
The second thing that you notice in this is he gives them choices. And I want you to think through this for yourself. He says, “You know, your choices are to worship, essentially, the gods of the Egyptians or the Ammorites, the gods of the culture.”
Here’s what society values. That’s one choice for your worship. A second choice, he says, “You can worship the gods of your fathers.” And that’s what many of us do. We worship the gods, the idols that our parents have handed down to us, right?
I mean, that’s why you worship what you worship. You worship work, success, or power because your dad worshipped work, success, and power. You worship sports because your dad worshipped sports. You worship alcohol because your dad worshipped alcohol. You worship what other people think of you because your mom worshipped what other people thought of her. You worship your kids because your mom worshipped you when you were a kid. This is what we do.
How about this one? You worship spiritual rules, religious rules and traditions, which can definitely be a false god, because your parents worshipped religious rules and traditions. So, that’s what many of us choose to do. We just accept the idols that have been handed down to us from previous generations.
And what I want to do is just to spend a few minutes and together identify: what are the gods at war within us? Because most of us do a pretty poor job of diagnosing this. We tend to think and say what we know we should think and say, that God is the one true God.
But I want us to identify just some gods that are warring within us, wanting to have the seat of glory in our lives.
And understand this: I’m going to ask you some questions and these questions I think will reveal some things that will surprise you. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve made them idols, but these gods certainly have the most potential in your life to become an idol.
And I want to ask you some questions, some personal questions. You think through these. I’ve adapted these questions from Dr. David Paulsen’s work on the motivations of human behavior. So, these questions, I think, will help reveal some of the gods in our lives.
Question number one: what are you disappointed with? What are you disappointed with? Whenever we experience ongoing and overwhelming disappointment, it reveals that there is something in our life that is more important to us than it should be.
And what are you disappointed with right now? Are you disappointed with your financial status? Is that what it is? Are you disappointed with your marriage? Are you disappointed with your sex life? Are you disappointed with the home you live in? Are you disappointed with your children? Are you disappointed with your career? What are you disappointed with? Because that often reveals something that has become too important to us.
Let me ask you this way: What do you complain about? If I were to ask your spouse, your siblings, your parents, whatever, “What does this person complain about?” Whatever answer they give back to me tells me something about a god that is at war within you.
Question number two: What do you sacrifice your time and money for? In our text here, the word “serve” is used seven times in two verses. And in Joshua’s day, the word “serve” carried with it the idea of sacrifice, of sacrificing time and sacrificing money. Or for them, farm products and animal sacrifices. What does your day calendar and what does your checkbook say you worship? Because it’s often very revealing. That’s why we consider offering here at church an act of worship. In some ways, it’s the most tangible worship that we have in the service is when we say, “God, I have got this value, I have this money that is of value to me. I’d like to do this with it and this with it and this with it. And I could do this with it, but instead I give it to You, because You are what matters most.”
Question number three: What do you worry about? Let me put it this way: What are you most afraid of? Psychologist Alfred Adler who is not a Christian, he says, “If you want to understand what someone is living for, don’t ask them, because people don’t give you the straight answer, because oftentimes they don’t even realize it.” He said, “If you want to know what someone is living for, ask them: ‘What is your nightmare?’”
What’s your nightmare? What are you most afraid of? And I will show you something that has the potential to be a god in your life.