In my last post, I noted that we become idolaters when we give our highest affections and worship to anything or anyone other than Jesus.
The truth is that something will always have our highest affection. We can’t help it – there will always be something that our mind rests on, something that we’ll be dreaming about, something that we think will give us purpose or fulfilment. This is worship, and it’s actually what we were made to do. The problem is we don’t naturally want to worship the God who we’re supposed to worship.
This means that, as Guy preached about in his sermon Fifteen Shekels, we can’t just remove idols; rather, they must be replaced by worshipping Jesus. If we merely remove the idol of money, something else, perhaps being seen to be generous, will take its place, and therefore become an idol. Therefore, our more obvious idols may only just be the surface of what really has our heart’s affections, while underneath a much deeper idol directs our heart to new, just as idolatrous, affections.
Surface idols & Deep idols
As I said, an idol can be pretty much anything – sex, money, relationships, job, house, etc. These are our surface idols, but these are often only a symptom of a more fundamental, deeper idol. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, identifies four basic deep idols:
- Power idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if – I have power and influence over others.”
- Approval idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if – I am loved and respected by __________.”
- Comfort idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if – I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.”
- Security/Control idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if – I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of __________.”
What this means is that the same surface idol could be rooted in a different deep idol, depending on the person. For example, four different people might have the same surface idol of sex, but one idolises sex because of the power and influence it gives them over another, one because of the feeling of approval they get from it, one uses sex as an escape to find comfort, and then another finds it provides a sense of security in their life as it may be one of the few areas they can control. If this last person simply tries to change their behaviour, the deeper idol of security will produce a different idol, perhaps idolising a person or relationship in which they find their security.
Therefore, although surface idols may change, if the deep idol that is causing it remains, the surface idol will be replaced by another.
Just scraping the surface
Often for Christians, we don’t replace idols with something inherently sinful, but rather find something that is good – something more acceptable. The one who removes the surface idol of sex but not the deep idol of approval may replace sex with performance. So now they’re not a sex addict, just a hard worker.
As Keller notes, “this is why idols cannot be dealt with simply by eliminating surface idols like money or sex… the deep idols need to be dealt with at the heart level. There is only one way to change at the heart level and that is through faith in the gospel.”
How does Jesus replace these idols?
The good news is that Jesus can replace these idols in very specific ways, and understanding more about who He is, what He has done, and how that changes who we are helps us to repent of our deeper idols and replace them with true worship of Jesus.
- Because God is glorious, and Jesus has ultimate power, I don’t have to have power or influence.
- Because God is gracious, and I am approved by God because of what Jesus has done, I don’t have to seek approval from others.
- Because God is merciful, and Jesus is our great and sympathetic high priest, I don’t have to escape or find comfort in something else.
- Because God is great, sovereign, and in control, and my future is secure because of Jesus’ faithfulness, I don’t have to be in control.
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.