Many segments of the church today are becoming more vocal about the subject of “idolatry.” This prevalent biblical theme—something we find throughout the Old and New Testaments—should stand at the center of our definition of sin (Romans 1:18-31). Sins are not merely the wrongs we commit. Sin is ultimately related to what or who we worship.
Several years ago I heard a wonderful sermon preached by Mark Driscoll about the subject of idolatry. In the message he explains how idolatry lies at the bottom of our sinful behaviors. (The audio sermon comes from Jubilee Church in London. It was preached on July 13, 2008. You can hear the whole sermon on their website.)
Mark Driscoll on Idolatry
Martin Luther says this on the Ten Commandments, that the first of the Ten Commandments are these: there’s only one God, and you worship Him alone. He goes on to say that the rest of the commandments are implications about the first two commandments. If God is your only God—Jesus—and you worship Him alone, guess what? You won’t lie. See, we lie to avoid consequence or to make ourselves look better, but if we worship God and not our image, we won’t lie. You won’t covet if you worship God alone. You won’t find your identity in the car you drive, the home you own, the clothes you wear, the income you make, the intellect you have, the achievements, accomplishments, and possessions that you obtain. You won’t commit adultery if you worship God alone. You see, the rest of the Ten Commandments are obeyed if you obey the first two. Jesus is God—not sex, not fame, not money, not power, not glory, not intellect, not IQ, not achievement, not home-ownership, not pleasure and passion—Jesus…
Let me give you a functional definition of worship: someone or something is in the position of glory. That’s preeminence and power. That’s significance. This is your greatest treasure, your deepest longing, your first love. This is the person or thing that is—above all else—this is in the position of glory. And then what we do is we worship by making sacrifices: time, energy, money, heart, focus, attention goes to the thing that is our little god and we worship it…
Are you ready for some painful examples? Who or what would you be most likely to worship instead of Jesus? Your spouse? Your health? Your comfort? Your children? Your grandchildren?… They’re good gifts from God, not given to be worshipped instead of God. That’s why people become disappointed when their spouse doesn’t meet all their needs. They’ve got their spouse in the position of Jesus expecting from them only what Jesus can give: comfort, security, peace, and sinless relational harmony. They become disappointed with their children because their children do not give them the significance and the success and the satisfaction that they yearn for. This is why people, when they get sick, they curse God and become very angry, because their health is what they truly worship…
I’ll give you a way this works. First of all we have a picture of “heaven.” Now, it’s not the Bible’s view of heaven: a great city, forever together, with the nations, and Jesus. And we have a picture of “hell”: it’s not the real hell in the Bible where you’re suffering because of your sins forever. And then we want to be saved from our proverbial “hell” into our proverbial “heaven,” so we come up with what I’ll call a “functional savior,” and then we worship it.
So if you’re single, and that’s your hell, and marriage is your heaven, who’s your functional savior? Fiancé. If you don’t have children, and that’s your hell, and having children would be your heaven, who’s your functional savior? Children. If you’re sick, and that’s your functional hell, and health is your functional heaven, then healing is your functional savior.
And what we will do then is we will even use the name of Jesus to try and get Jesus to give us our real god. “Jesus, I will worship you if you give me a spouse.” “Jesus, I will worship you if you give me a child.” “Jesus, I will worship you if you heal me.” “Jesus, I will worship you if you pay my bills.” What we’re saying is, “Jesus, give me my real god.” Just so you know, Jesus doesn’t like to do that—in the same way husbands don’t like to go out and get boyfriends for their wife. Jesus is married to the church, and he does not like it when we ask him to go get other people to date…
Let me ask some questions:
What are you most afraid of? What are you most afraid of? “I don’t want to get sick?” “I don’t want to be alone?” “I don’t want my spouse to die?” “I don’t want to be at the funeral of my child?” “I don’t want to lose my job?” “I don’t want to lose my last friend?” What are you most afraid of? Behind that may be your idol.
Number two: What do you long for most passionately? What gets you up in the morning? Why do you go to work? Why do you pray? Why do you care? Why do you strive? Why do you try?
Where do you run for comfort? Things go bad, you’re stressed…do you run to alcohol? Do you run to food? Do you run to pornography? Do you run to vice? Do you get angry? Do you curse? Do you just go to bed and pull the covers over your head and pretend that it’s all going away?
What do you complain about most? Probably indicates something that you’re very frustrated with, and if you’re frustrated with it, it’s because you value it so much, and it’s not being or doing what you want or need, perceptibly, for it to be or do.
What angers you the most? What just makes you furious? Is it when Jesus is not taught properly? Does it have anything to do with Jesus or is it all about you? All of your anger is about you. It’s not about the people who are suffering or the name of Jesus being dishonored. What angers you?
What makes you happiest? What are the best memories in your life? “Oh, if I could just do that again.”
How do you explain yourself to other people? “Hi, my name is so-in-so. [Fill in the blank].” “I’m married.” “I have kids.” “I am a lawyer…” How we explain ourselves may indicate our identity. See, idolatry is building your life on anyone or anything other than Jesus…
What has caused you to be angry at God? “God, how dare you let me lose my job!” “How dare you let my spouse die!” “How dare you let me not have children!” “How dare you let my children wander away from you!” “How dare you let those people say those things about me!” What you’re saying is, “God, how dare you take my idol.”
What do I want to have more than anything else? That’s a good question to ask yourself—the proverbial genie-in-a-bottle question. If I came up and said, “One wish: anything you want.” Is it, “Love Jesus”? You go, “Well, no.” Okay, then, that’s the wrong answer…
What do you make the biggest sacrifices for? Time, energy, money, effort, long hours, lots of money, devotion. What’s on your mind when you can’t sleep? What are you thinking about? Is it Jesus?
Whose approval are you seeking? Is it Jesus?
And what do you treasure the most? What is the one person or thing that if taken from you—that would ruin everything? Is it Jesus?