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Our Common Bond: The Presence of Idolatry and the Hope to Overcome

“It is impossible to understand your heart or your culture if you do not discern the counterfeit gods that influence them.” 1

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator who is forever praised. Amen.” Romans 1:21, 25

Wow! These assertions cut me to the quick and if I’m really honest about them, they challenge me to go beyond mere superficial reflection. What relevance do they have to my life, to my journey of faith as one who proclaims Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Counterfeit gods? Me? To answer “yes” seems appalling, but still the question remains. Do I truly know what the primary influences are that shape the desires of my heart or do I simply take the comfortable path of denial and reject any possibility that I could be enslaved to such an abominable thing as idolatry? Is my thinking really futile? Is my heart actually foolish and darkened? How have I exchanged the truth of God for a lie? Do I dare ask?

First Stone Ministries states that the focus of its ministry is to walk beside the church with individuals to help people find freedom and healing from relational and sexual brokenness. While that description of First Stone is very true, I think the core of its ministry runs much deeper and much broader.

FSM bravely attempts to address the root cause of all human brokenness, the insidious nature of counterfeit gods. The undeniable and pervasive presence of these life-altering deceptions, idols of the heart, are the cornerstone for the construction of a radically false understanding of self which leads lives into disillusionment and destruction. While FSM spearheads this frontal attack on the ultimate deception, it also encourages individuals every step of the way with the power of the Holy Spirit, faithfully trusting in the reality of meaningful encounters with the ultimate hope of Jesus Christ.

Those of us who live in contemporary America have a tendency to minimize the presence and impact of idolatry. We learn to compartmentalize it in such a way that it is safely disconnected from our lives. We often view it only as it affects those “other people” who participate in abhorrent behaviors such as personal addictions with sex or drugs, or perhaps those who engage in practices of the occult. Sadly, we mistakenly relegate idolatry only to those who are involved in grotesque outward expressions of clear evil. We take great comfort in embracing the false understanding that idols are always these kinds of “bad” things and essentially someone else’s issue.

However, The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks very differently when it addresses idolatry. The foundational biblical understanding of idolatry is that its presence lies deep within the heart and its reality is universal to the human condition. In Ezekiel 14:3, God says about the elders of Israel, “These men have set up their idols in their hearts.” G.K. Beale, in his book titled We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, describes the human heart as an “idol factory.” 2 Idolatry is not just failing to obey God, but it is setting our hearts on something other than God.

So I’m compelled to ask a few questions. What is it that my idol factory is manufacturing? What does idolatry look like in my life? What exactly is an idol? Tim Keller defines an idol in this way:

“…anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” 3

Could I be so blind as to be seduced by something “counterfeit”, something “idolatrous”? Have I fallen into spiritual adultery by giving something other than God the Creator the ultimate place of supremacy in my heart? What life experiences have made me vulnerable to such deceptions?

The sinister nature of idolatry is that it always promises more than it can ever deliver and relentlessly shows up in those places where we are most vulnerable. Somehow, ever so subtly, those idols worm their way into such a position in our hearts that we find ourselves giving them more and more of our passion and energy.

“An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’” 4

“If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, your meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol.” 5

Scripture paints a clear picture of the nature and character of God and then continuously contrasts it with the fallen condition of humanity and the human dilemma. The resulting sin from the broken, darkened human heart creates endless expressions of evil leading to untold miseries, but they all find their roots in the inexorable human drive for “god-making.” 6

It’s no coincidence that The Ten Commandments begin with a commandment against idolatry. It is the central human issue — the raging battle for our heart’s ultimate affection. The nine commandments that follow are never broken unless the first commandment is broken first.

“In other words, idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong.” 7

David Powlison asks these penetrating questions for Disciples of Christ as we explore this issue of idolatry.

“Has something or someone taken title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?”

“To what or to whom do you look for life-sustaining stability, security and acceptance?”

“What do you really want out of life? What would really make you happy? What would make you an acceptable person?”

“Where do you look for power and success?”

These kinds of questions tease out whether we serve God or idols, whether we look for salvation from Christ or from false saviors.” 8

It seems clear that there is a biblical truth here for all of us. We all, at one time or another, have bought spiritual fool’s gold. We have all participated in the idolatry scam and are profoundly impacted by its presence and power. Yes, it is true that the expressions of idolatry come in all shapes and sizes. It is also true that the earthly consequences for these widely varied expressions of idolatry are certainly not equal. Nevertheless, none can escape the presence of counterfeit gods in our hearts and their life-shaping impact.

So, what do we do about these rival gods, these competing affections, these idols of our hearts? Do we have the courage to discern our idols? Are we brave enough to be transparent enough to trust God and each other enough to face life without them? What is the secret to real change and to dismantling the power that these counterfeit gods hold?

That’s the miraculous story of First Stone Ministries. FSM is mobilizing an army of wounded hearts who are learning to not only put to death the evil desires of an idolatrous heart but to be transformed to embrace new hungers as they are being resurrected and shaped by passions which pour torrentially from the heart of Christ. Victories are being won. Lives are being liberated and Thy Kingdom is coming!

Our friend Paul, in the book of Colossians leads us all toward the way of hope and freedom as we wrestle daily with the finite nature of our hearts and our tendency to put our trust in things of this world.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in Glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:1-5

Paul is elevating what is real and authentic. He is not only calling us to reject what is false but he is also shining a brilliant light on what is ultimate, on “things above.” He wants us to see the folly and futility of our counterfeit gods and grab on to what it means to be a people who are “hid with Christ in God.” We are being exhorted to uproot what is false and “plant” ourselves in the inexhaustible love of Christ.

How encouraging to walk side by side with brothers and sisters from all walks of life on this mutual quest to freedom. I have been given a remarkable gift in this season in my life and that is to be surrounded by a people who are no longer satisfied with the status quo. My life is being deeply enriched by knowing these remarkable people and seeing God unfold the miraculous before my very eyes. There is a contagious spirit of hope that fuels this remarkable journey toward life-giving transformation.

Together we cry out to God, that Jesus would “become more beautiful in our imaginations, more attractive to our hearts” 9 and that He would expand the power of the Holy Spirit as we seek to be drawn to Him as our ultimate treasure and as we learn how to love and serve the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength.

Keith Adams came on staff with First Stone Ministries in 2010 as a men’s minister. He comes with over 20 years of experience in pastoral care. We are excited to welcome Keith to our team!

1 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (DUTTON, a member of Penguin Group (USA) 2009) p.165
2 G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 2008)
3 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (DUTTON, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2009) p. xvii
4 Ibid, p. xviii
5 Ibid, p. xix
6 Douglass J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996), p. 110.
7 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (DUTTON, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2009) p. 166
8 David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Volume 13, Number 2 (Winter 1995)
9 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (DUTTON, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2009) p. 166