The reality of idols
Blog -> Bible
All of us know what the Bible says about idols, right? And for a long time, I thought that “as long as I don’t pray to a statue or to an animal, etc. I’m fine.” Well, more recently, I realized that there is so much more to idols than simply “praying to something”. So I wanted to share my thoughts through this blog as well.
A week ago, we talked about “The devil’s tactics” at our Aletheia Sunday Service. We focused on the seeming shortcuts to our destiny that the devil is bringing to us all the time. However, they are not really shortcuts. They are actually dead ends that keep us away from God’s presence.
If you want to listen to the sermon again, please check out our Aletheia Mobile App, our Facebook page or Youtube channel, website, etc. You’ll find the links to our messages on all those ways.
What I want to focus on today is something that I realized AFTER giving the sermon. And that was another aspect of the temptation of the devil.
Genesis 3:4-5 And the serpent said unto the woman, You shall not surely die: For God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
What struck me this time when reading this verse was how the devil used the fruit. He wasn’t going to Eve saying “That fruit is really, really, really yummy. It’s way better than any of the other fruits in the garden.” That wasn’t the devil’s temptation. What he used instead was this: “Through this fruit you can get something that God put in your heart, but He doesn’t give it to you.” Now of course, God wants to fulfill all the desires He put in our hearts (that’s the topic of the sermon I mentioned above). But the devil will always try to tell us that “God will NEVER give it to us”. But that’s not the focus for this blog.
Instead I want to focus on this: The devil is constantly trying to get us to seek fulfillment through things. Because he knows that only God can fulfill us.
Let me try to explain: The devil told Eve that by eating the fruit, her eyes would be opened, she would be like gods, and she would know good and evil. These are all godly desires, that God has put in all of us. And He wants to fulfill them all, if not in this life, then definitely in the life to come. But the devil successfully lied to Eve by saying: “This fruit can give you what God put in your heart. But He won’t give it to you.”
Now what is an idol? I would define an idol to be anything that takes the place of God. Anything that we look to for fulfillment, but that is not God Himself. Basically, the fruit in the Garden of Eden was an idol: Eve looked to the fruit to fulfill her heart’s desire, to be like God. But the only person who could do that is God Himself.
Do I have such idols? If I’m honest, I definitely do. Here are a few examples that many of us struggle with:
Money to get security and pleasure:
Money isn’t bad. On the contrary, money is a good thing. But only God can make us feel secure. Money cannot do that. Only God can give us true pleasure, money cannot do that. If we look to money to give us joy, to make us feel safe,… we’ll never reach that sense of peace, joy and pleasure that only God can give us. Now money can be a way of God giving us peace, security and joy. But if we see money as the source of our fulfillment (not a means God uses to fulfill us), then we have an idol in our hearts.
Work to find identity and significance
Many of us (esp. men) find our identity in our achievements. Finishing a major project, getting a huge paycheck, getting approval from our boss,… makes us feel significant. But again, if we make our own significance dependent on how well we do in our job, we’ll never have enough. Cause we’ll always feel that “I could do just a little bit more”.
Our identity can’t be found in our achievements. Our identity can only be found in God Himself. Nothing wrong with having a fulfilling job. And if we find significance through our work, that’s wonderful. But that’s only possible if we know that God is the one who gives us work and enables us to do our work well. He is the source of our significance, not the job itself.
Finding intimacy and love in relationships
Here’s something we all know, but we tend to forget: No matter who we relate to, the other person will never be perfect. And the other person will say the same about us.
If we expect our boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, children,… to fulfill our desire for intimacy and love, we will always get disappointed. Of course, relationships are meant to be fulfilling. But if we expect another person to fulfill all our needs, we’ll be hurt and disappointed all our lives.
But if we are fulfilled in our relationship with God, and see our family and friends as gifts from God, then we won’t have too high expectations on them. We’ll be settled and fulfilled in God alone, and we will be able to accept the fact that other people will disappoint us and hurt us at times. But when that happens, we don’t lose our identity, purpose, etc. Because we know that the source for all of that is God, not the other person.
Now just to be clear: These things aren’t bad. If God gives you a lot of money, then be thankful, be faithful in managing it, and enjoy it. If God gives you a job you love, then be thankful, work hard, and enjoy it. If you have great family relationships, be thankful, maintain the great relationships, and enjoy God’s gift. I’m not saying these things are bad.
But what I am saying is: We need to be careful how we see these things. If we put our trust in these things to fulfill us, they have become idols in our hearts. If we see these things as gifts from God, then our hearts are right.
A simple question to find out the difference is this: Simply imagine God is asking you to give up these things. Imagine God asks you to “give up your job, and start working in a different field”. If we are willing to obey God, even if He asks such a high price, then we trust in God. If we have to admit: “No, if God ever asked me to do THAT, then I wouldn’t be willing to do it”, then we put our trust in that thing, and not in God. And we have found an idol in our heart.
Let’s talk about family: If you are single, how would you respond if God told you to “stay single all your life”? If you are willing to obey, then you are satisfied in your relationship with God. If you have to admit “I couldn’t do that” then you have found an idol in your heart.
Same if God asks you to “give most of your money away”. If you can do it, great. If you can’t, then money is your god.
Or just imagine God asks you to “give up certain foods” (any kind of fasting for a time, or even give up a certain kind of food for life). If you are willing to do that, then God is your true nurture. If not, then there’s an idol in your heart.
Any such sacrifices that God might ask of us leaves us with a choice. We can either say “OK God, I trust that you will fulfill me, you will give me the desires of my heart. And all these other things of this world, they are nice, but I know they can’t fulfill me like you can.” Or we can say: “God, this means too much to me. I find pleasure, security, significance,… in this, and I don’t know if I can ever find in you what I am getting from this. So no, I’m not going to give this up!”
I want to encourage everyone to spend some time with God and simply ask this question:
What would I NOT be willing to give up, if God asked me to?
The answer to this question will most likely reveal some idols in our hearts. And once we recognize them, we can ask God to fulfill us in that area. Until we feel free to let go of our idols, not out of duty, but out of the knowledge that we do have something better. Much, much, much better.
Let’s all stand in God’s promise this week:
Psalms 37:4 Delight yourself also in the LORD; and he shall give you the desires of your heart.
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