The Affections of Our Hearts & The Idols We Worship

Neil Castle

26 February 2013

If you’ve ever read through the Old Testament, you’ll notice that there seems to be one particular sin at the forefront that God’s people are, at any given time, either committing or are in danger of committing: idolatry.

For a sin that gets so much air time in the Old Testament, it often seems quite irrelevant to us today. It didn’t make the top seven deadly sins list, Covenant Eyes doesn’t seem to have a ‘graven image’ filter option, and ‘how has your struggle with idolatry been this week’ rarely gets asked in men’s accountability groups (although I can’t really comment on what goes on in women’s accountability groups).

And yet, God obviously sees it as a pretty big deal, and idolatry was a serious temptation for God’s chosen people. The first two commandments specifically address it, but by the time God has finished writing these commandments on stone, the Israelites are worshipping a golden cow. The success of their entrance into the Promised Land depended on their willingness to resist worshipping foreign gods. Even King Solomon, in all his wisdom, couldn’t resist worshipping the pagan gods of his many lovers which ultimately lead to wide spread idolatry throughout the entire nation and culminated in its eventual destruction and exile.

But are we, with our enlightened, western, scientific, rational, smart phone enhanced, 21st century minds, still facing the same temptation to worship idols?

Quite simply, yes.

Our current series in Hosea presents us with a deeper understanding about what idolatry is really about. It’s not about superstitiously sacrificing to silver statues or bowing to bronzed bovines. Rather, it’s about the drawing of our heart’s highest affections away from the God who has created us and covenanted Himself to us, and giving those affections to something or someone else, effectively setting those things up as false lovers and false gods in our lives to worship. And in the same way that Jesus says that we commit adultery not only in our actions, but also in our hearts and minds, we can worship idols not only by bowing down to statues but also by giving our highest thoughts and affections to something other than God. Within the metaphor of the marriage covenant presented to us in Hosea, our idolatry makes us the whore.

What this means is that we can turn anything into an idol—we can give our highest affection and worship to anyone or anything. It could be a person or relationship, a job or career, a car, house, social standing, children, circle of friends, sex, sexual orientation, money, possessions, pets, lifestyle…the list is endless. All of these we can set up as false lovers and idols in our lives.

Interestingly, many of these things are not, in and of themselves, bad. They’re actually good things, which often makes our own idols difficult to spot. So the question we must ask ourselves is, ‘What do I worship—what in my life has my highest affection? What are the false lovers I am giving myself to?’

In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller provides a series of questions that can help to identify the idols in our lives. Here are few:

  • What am I living for? What are my hopes and dreams?
  • What do I wake up and go to sleep thinking about? Where does my mind naturally go? What do you daydream about?
  • Whose opinion matters most? If I’m unsure about what to do in any given situation, whose opinion comes to mind?
  • What gives your life meaning? How do you define yourself?
  • What do I do to escape? When life gets tough, what do I find my comfort, safety, rescue and pleasure in? It could be work, video games, the silent treatment, hiding in a book, fantasising, etc.
  • What do I talk about the most?
  • What do I spend my money on?
  • What am I most afraid of? What do I worry about most?

Ultimately, we give our affections to other things and people instead of God because at some level we believe that they give us the deeper idols of power, approval, comfort or security we think we need. In my next post, I’ll address this more deeply and will talk about how Jesus smashes these idols in our lives so that we are free to make him the sole object of our worship, receiving our highest affections.

For more on idolatry in the book of Hosea, download Guy Mason’s sermon "Fifteen Shekels | Hosea 3v1-5".

Neil Castle

Neil is the Executive Pastor of City on a Hill Melbourne East. He is married to Kirsty and has two children. He loves music, playing guitar, and wrestling with his kids. Neil has a Bachelor of Theology from Ridley College, and a Diploma of Music from Box Hill Institute.