Idolizing our Good Works – Part Two

Yesterday we had a discussion of idols. Today, we will look at examples of what we discussed previously.

Some examples of personal idols: a) Workaholism. Work becomes the thing you live for–to be productive and useful, or to feel successful and powerful. b) “Codependence.” Because you “need to feel needed” you stay in unhealthy relationships with perennially needy individuals. c) Beauty and image. This can have various forms, including 1) eating disorders and excessive time, effort, and concern about appearance, and 2) pornography. d) Romance. This is not the same as pure sexual gratification. You live for crushes or for someone to love you. e) Family as idolatry has many variations: 1) your children’s prospects and happiness become the most important thing, or 2) meeting your parents’ expectations become the most important thing, or 3) getting married or having a ‘perfect’ marriage becomes the most important thing. f) Money as idolatry has many variations: 1) having (and saving) lots of money may be your ‘security’, the main way you feel safe in the world, 2) having (and spending) lots of money may be the main way of feeling significant and important. g) Perfectionism in general. You live to keep complete control of your life.

Some examples of social/cultural idols: a) Fascism-makes an idol of one’s race or nationality. “I am acceptable because I am a(n) ______” rather than getting identity as a child of God. Leads of course to racism. b) Communism-makes an idol of the state. Government will solve all problems rather than God. Marx said everything is political, and all problems are political/economic ones, rather than spiritual ones. c) Populism-makes an idol out of public opinion or majority rule, rather than what God says is right. d) Capitalism-makes an idol out of the free market. Like communism, seeing all our problems as economic ones. Seeing all issues in cost-benefit terms. Sees all things, even people, as ‘commodities.’ e) Multi-culturalism—makes one’s ethnic group or culture an absolute value. There are no absolute standards by which to judge. f) Enlightenment “humanism”–makes an idol of reason and scientific investigation. Science has an answer for everything and reason will open all doors. g) Individualism–makes an idol out of individual freedom. Nothing must curb the individual’s freedom to choose whatever he or she wants to be happy. h) Traditionalism–makes the family and tradition an idol. Traditional cultures see the rights of individuals as unimportant compared to the name and interests of the family and tribe.

Quotations for Thought: “The Greek word for ‘Lust’, epithumiai [inordinate desires], used in ff; ; ; ; ff, is the catch-all for what is wrong with us. The New Testament merges the concept of idolatry and the concept of inordinate, life-ruling desires…for lust (i.e. demandingness, craving and yearning) is specifically referred to as ‘idolatry’ ( and )…Here is the most basic question which God poses to each human heart: “Has something or someone besides Jesus taken the title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight? Questions…bring some of people’s idol systems to the surface. ‘To who or what do you look for life-sustaining stability, security and acceptance?…What do you really want and expect [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 questions or similar ones tease out whether we serve God or idols, whether we look for salvation from Christ or from false saviors. [This directly relates to] the immediate motivation of my behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question: who or what ‘rules my behavior, the Lord or an idol?’” —David Powlison

“When a finite value has been elevated to centrality and imagined as a final source of meaning, then one has chosen…a god….One has a “god” when a finite value is…viewed as that without which one cannot receive life joyfully. Anxiety becomes neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values…”

Instead of striving to Love someone, look to the Gospel, see how completely unloving you are and how unlovely you are and that God in Christ still loved you, you can love others as yourself.

Instead of striving to be joyful, look to the Gospel, see how truly joyless you truly are and how joyless your life is and that God in Christ was joyfully serving and obeying the Father for you and in your place – and THIS joy is yours as you believe the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus and His finished work upon the cross FOR you and IN your place.

Instead of striving for peace, look to the Gospel, see how un-peacefully you have treated God, yet God in Christ pursued peace FOR you and IN your place and by faith in the Gospel (in Jesus and His finished work on the cross), you have peace with God.

In other words, the idolatry of your heart is a law that only brings condemnation and increases the trespass (), but in Christ, as we look to the Gospel, we are continually conformed into the image of Christ ( – “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,t are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

But if we strive to love others, or seek peace, or choose to be joyful, we inherently look to our efforts to do these things, and we have even (very possibly) made love or peace or joy (and our efforts) into idols. BUT the Spirit of God Who dwells within us does His Gospel-Apply work to our hearts and ALL that Christ has done for us and in our place is OURS and becomes fruit (ff).

This is Good News to all who believe because the Gospel is the power unto salvation even from our good works that we idolize.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (ESV)

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 4:22

22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, (ESV)


Listen)

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

1 Peter 4:2 (Listen

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

1 Peter 4:2 (Listen)

so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (ESV)

16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. (ESV)

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (ESV)

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (ESV)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (ESV)

20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, (ESV)

18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (ESV)

Idolizing our Good Works

There are two things in Scripture that are classified as “the power of God” 1) The Gospel 2) Jesus Himself

– “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. Why? Because IT (Jesus and His finished work on the cross) is the power of God for salvation. This salvation is not just “entrance” into the Christian life. It’s ALL of the Christian life. The Gospel is the power that saves us (Justification) and the power to grow us (sanctification).

Christians do not grow simply by ‘trying hard to live according to Biblical principles.’ What then is the key to how we change into Christ-likeness? It’s found in the Bible’s concept of idolatry. ‘Idolatry’ in the Bible is a major theme for what ails us—psychologically, intellectually, sociologically, culturally.

The inevitability of idolatry – The very first commandment is “I am your God—have no other gods before me.” There is no third option between those two. says we will “worship and serve” either God or some created thing (an idol). It is not possible that we should worship nothing. Something will capture our hearts and imaginations and be the most important thing, the ultimate concern, value, or allegiance. So every personality, community, and thought-form will be based on either God Himself or on some god-substitute, an idol.

The range of idolatry – So an ’idol’ is anything more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity. Idolatry is the inordinate desire of (even) something good. This means any thing can become an idol, including good things such as career, family, achievement, your independence, a political cause, material possessions, certain people in dependence on you, power and influence, physical attractiveness, romance, human approval, financial security, your place in a particular social circle or institution. Idols are not only personal and individual, they are also corporate and cultural. Different societies can make into ultimate values things like the family (“traditional values”) or feeling (romanticism) or the state (communism) or racial superiority (fascism) or rationality (empiricism) or individual will and experience (existentialism) or group identity (post-modernism.)

The power of idolatry – On the one hand, an idol is an empty “nothing” with no real power to help us and save us (.) It is only a way we are trying to save ourselves (.) On the other hand, paradoxically, our idols exercise great power and control over us. They enslave (.) Once we have come to believe that something will really make us happy, then we cannot help ourselves—we must follow our god. Idols demand complete dependence (); they completely capture our hearts (). In Paul shows how all the breakdowns in life—spiritual, psychological, social, cultural—come because we “worship created things rather than the creator.” ()

The importance of understanding idolatry – The Bible does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many (and thus now a rare sin only among primitive people). Rather, idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. Why do we ever fail to love or keep promises or live unselfishly? Of course, the general answer is “because we are weak and sinful”, but the specific answer is always that there is something besides Jesus Christ that you feel you must have to be happy, that is more important to your heart than God, and that is enslaving the heart through inordinate desires. For example, we would not lie unless first we had made something—human approval, “face”, reputation, power over others, financial advantage–more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace of God. So the secret to change is always to identify and dismantle the basic idols of the heart.

We will continue this discussion by looking at examples tomorrow.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (ESV)

20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

Isaiah 41:6-7

Everyone helps his neighbor
and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved. (ESV)

10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. (ESV)

25 Keep your feet from going unshod
and your throat from thirst.
But you said, ‘It is hopeless,
for I have loved foreigners,
and after them I will go.’ (ESV)

17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (ESV)

14:1 Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols. (ESV)

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (ESV)

25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (ESV)