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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
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.
What is it that if you lost it, life would not continue to hold meaning for you? And some of you are afraid of losing something. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s a house, maybe what you’re afraid of is not reaching a certain level of success at work. Maybe you fear that you’re not going to be liked by other people. Other people won’t be impressed by you.
Maybe you’re just kind of overwhelmed with anxiety because of the rising gas prices. Well, why is that? It’s because we make comfort and we make security a god! And we think if someone comes along in the United States and they somehow remove our comfort and security then, man, I don’t know if I would want to keep living.
Some of you are afraid of being all alone. And your fears reveal what can become a god in your life.
Question number four: Where do you go when you hurt? Where do you go when you really need comfort? Long day at work, you come home, you head for the refrigerator for what we call “comfort food”? It works; it helps a little, doesn’t it?
You turn on the TV, you go to the TV to feel better about life. Or do you get into a fight with your spouse and you feel rejected and you feel angry and you feel hurt, what do you do? Do you go to the computer and enter the pagan temple of a pornographic website to find comfort? Or let’s say you lose your job and you’re devastated. Who do you run to? Maybe you run to a person, and that’s not a bad thing, but God wants to be the first person you run to.
Henry Blackaby defines an idol this way, as anything you turn to for help when God told you to turn to Him for help.
Question number five: What makes you mad? For me, this is revealing. I don’t get angry easily. But there are a few things that make me mad. One thing that makes me mad is losing. And so, some of you like this, let’s just say hypothetically you’re playing a pickup game and your team is losing and a teammate turns the ball over and you get angry. Why? Well, because you have made winning really important. Maybe too important.
Another thing that can make me mad is when I feel disrespected by someone. I’ve always been this way. It has gotten me into a certain amount of trouble. When someone is disrespectful, I feel like I’m being disrespectful – disrespected makes me angry. Why? Because I can make people’s respect an idol, a false god.
Number six: What do you dream of? What do you dream of? Or what gets you really excited and make – what are you passionate about?
Like last month, my daughter came in, my oldest daughter came in and I was watching the US Open and she said, “Dad, I have never seen you so excited in my life!” How pathetic is that? I’m watching golf on TV and I’m as excited as she has ever seen me? I mean, she has seen me at the birth of her siblings, she has seen me worship in church, and this is it.
And what is it? Maybe it’s for you, it’s remodeling a car. Maybe it’s decorating. Maybe it is your work. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s your physical appearance and exercise. See, all these things have a potential to essentially become for us a mistress.
And God is jealous because of the passion and the time and the effort and the energy we give these things.
Number seven: What brings you the most joy? I have to be careful with this as we talk about it in this series. Many things God gives us He wants us to be – experience joy from these gifts that he has given us as a Father. But these things should cause us to find increased joy in Him, they should not become competition for Him. They shouldn’t become gods that war with Him.
And so, where do you find the most, where do you find the most joy? What is on your screensaver? And maybe it’s a vacation home picture. Maybe it’s your house, maybe it’s a car, maybe it’s your family, whatever it is and it has the potential, though it is a good thing to become a god thing. And, therefore, to become idolatry.
Last question: Whose applause do you long for? Maybe this is – what you’re living for is for your boss to call you in to his or her office and say, “We couldn’t run this company without you; you’re getting the next promotion.” That’s what you’re living for.
Or maybe it’s you’re living for your spouse to say, “You are the husband,” or, “You are the wife of my dreams,” or you’re living for your dad to say, “I’m proud of you and I love you.” You’re living for your mom to say, “Hey, honey, you’re doing a great job with your kids.” I mean, you’re living for someone else’s applause primarily other than God. And that’s idolatry.
And so, you know, I find this convicting in my life of how easy it is to allow some false God to win the war and to find the position of glory within me. And so, what is it for you? Can you identify it in your head? What is it that is warring within you?
So, Joshua, he identifies these gods and then here’s what he does next. He basically throws down a challenge and he says to them, “You choose this day. You choose. You’ve got to choose.” And that’s what I hope will happen for us, that we will just make a choice.
Francis Schaeffer talks about how many Christians think about their choice for God as a choice that was made, past tense. In other words, I chose God on this date. I chose God at church camp, I chose God when I walked forward, I chose God when I said a prayer, I chose God when I was baptized. We think of this time when we chose God.
But he points out that in this text, Schaeffer points out that the word “choose” here is not this once-and-for-all choice. Instead, it is this continuous action. It’s this ongoing choosing that is to take place for us. It’s as if Joshua is saying to the people, “As for me and my family, we chose the Lord, we are choosing the Lord, we are going to keep choosing the Lord until the very end.”
And what we have to understand as followers of Christ is it’s not just this choice we made on the day of our salvation, but it is an ongoing choice where every day there is this battle being waged, there’s this war being fought, 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. In fact, Exodus chapter 20, verses 4 and 5, and we read about this commandment about idolatry. It says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything, you shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am,” what? “I am a jealous God.”
And so, He won’t share. He won’t share you anymore than your spouse would be okay if you went to your husband or wife and said, “You know, I think I’m going to start dating other people, but you’ll always be in first place.” Now, let me know how that goes, right? I mean, good luck with that. It doesn’t work. Why? Because true love doesn’t share.
When I was in high school, some close friends of my parents were going through a divorce. And she had been unfaithful, the affair had been ongoing. And he was devastated and he – just broken. But he loved his wife and he wanted to make it work.
He wanted to stay married. But the other man in the picture, he wanted her too. So, neither of them are going to share, obviously. She has got to make a choice. And so, one night, I’m praying with – I’m in high school – my dad comes up to pray with me. And we prayed about this, but before we prayed, we are talking about this situation and I said to my dad, I said, “What would you do? What would you do if you were the husband? What would you do?”
And I’ll never forget his response. He said, “Well, I’d go downstairs, I’d get your wooden baseball bat, I’d drill a hole through the handle, I’d tie a leather strap to that bat, I’d put that strap around my wrist, I’d go over to the man’s house, I would beat down his door, and I would tell him if he got within a hundred yards of my wife, he would never walk again.” And then he’s like, “Let’s pray.”
And I just remember being a little surprised at the response. I mean, my dad is going all Tonya Harding on me and I don’t understand it, I don’t get it. I understand now. Right? I mean, that’s the way I love my wife with a jealous love. True love doesn’t share. And God says, “I’m not going to share, so you’re going to have to choose. And this whole idea of Me sharing the throne in your heart with something or someone else, I’m not up for that.” See, you’ve got to make a choice here.
And if you’re like me, that’s what you want, you want to make that choice, you want to choose God. And Joshua gives us just a few things I want to finish with that I think will help us.
First thing is that you appreciate what God has done for you. Verses 2 through 13, read them sometimes, but here’s what he does. He just goes through and he reminds all the people, “God has done this, and He has done this, and He has done this. And as we remember what God has done for us, it puts Him back on the position of glory in our lives.”
That’s why we do what we do here. We get together and we celebrate who God is and what He has done for us, how He has delivered us from hell, that He has filled us with the Holy Spirit and given us the promise of salvation. And as we do that, He becomes what is most important.
The other thing he does is He challenges the people to recognize who God is. You appreciate what God has done, you recognize who He is. Verse 19, he speaks of God as being holy and God as being jealous. And as you recognize who God is, then He becomes the One you worship. I rather like that, in fact, as a definition of worship. Worship is our response to God for who He is and what He has done for us.
The third thing Joshua does is he challenges the people to smash all other gods. And if you look at verse 23, he says, “Throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” He calls the people to complete surrender.
He says, “You just need to turn your lives completely over to God.”
We are going to worship and we are going to praise God for who He is and for what He has done for us. And this time of worship, I hope will be a way of you smashing some other gods and putting the Lord God on the throne of your heart.
Please understand that when we worship, this is something that we give to God. It’s our response to Him. This is not for you. It concerns me when I hear people talk about worship as something done for their pleasure and their enjoyment.
And quite frankly, that attitude is offensive to God. And so, we will worship Him, we will give Him our glory. But I want to do, I do want to say something to those of you who are maybe like some of the Israelites. You’ve got these false gods that you have held onto.
You need to choose. Who is it that you will worship? Who really is your God?