From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols… – John Calvin
It was this quote by John Calvin that captured the idea that our hearts are idol factories, always finding things other than God to be our ultimate satisfaction. Though this quote dates back to the 16th century, idolatry is something that has been going on from the beginning of time. We see idolatry in Exodus 32 when God’s people make for themselves an idol of Gold, taking the form of a calf.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”
These are the same people who had seen God deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians; the same people who had experienced God passing over them in the land of Egypt; the same people who had witnessed the parting of the Red Sea; and the same people who had been given God’s Word through the Ten Commandments. The problem is, it didn’t take long for them to find their satisfaction in objects other than God alone.
Our culture thinks of idolatry as primitive statues or images that people worship like in the story of Exodus 32, but idols are anything we have in our lives that we feel as though we cannot live without. To identify an idol you can ask yourself the questions: “What do I feel as though I cannot live without?” Or “my life would be complete if only I could get/have ______?” “If I had _____ my life would have purpose.”
If an idol is something we feel we can’t live without, it could take many forms. Idols can be power, acceptance, romantic relationships, or anything that we think will bring us ultimate fulfillment. None of these mentioned are bad things, but what we do is turn good things into God things. We think the gifts God has given will bring the fulfillment that only He can bring. His gifts are simply that, gifts. We must learn to love the giver more than the gift.
Question: Are you able to see the idols you have in your own heart? What things do you think will bring you the fulfillment your heart desires? When your mind wanders, what does it go to? This is often a sign of an idol.
The problem with idols is that they will always come up short. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller states, “If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.”
While an idol will always come up short, The Lord Jesus Christ will never leave us hanging. He lived idol free, died for our idols, and ultimately paid the price for our idolatry so that we could be set free from looking to other things for fulfillment.
As you go throughout your day make this your prayer today: “God, help me identify idols in my heart, and may you set me free from looking to anything other than you for fulfillment and satisfaction.”