Subtle Idolatry


The first things that comes to our minds when we hear the word “idolatry” are typically little statues, golden calves, and ancient religion. Those are idols of course, but that is far too narrow of a view. A.W. Tozer taught the essence of idolatry is possessing thoughts about God that are unworthy of him. I agree. An aspect of that definition would be allowing anything to prevent us from thinking rightly about Him, or taking His place as the highest and supreme object of our affections. John Calvin said the human heart is a perpetual idol-making factory. At any given moment there are a number of things competing for our attention and affection. It is far too easy to slip into a pattern where our love and commitment to our God comes second or third place behind other things—even good things like family and career. Far too often I need to be reminded of what God said through Isaiah: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (42.8) We may not be sitting in our backyards carving idols, but we are fashioning them by how we spend our time and order our priorities. 

Last week we looked at the young lawyer who had a hard time understanding who his neighbors were and how to love them. This week we stay in Luke to find another man seeking to know how to inherit eternal life. In Luke 18.18–27 we meet a rich ruler who has allowed his wealth to become an idol. After the ruler claims to have kept the commandments since his youth (unlikely and prideful), Jesus points out an area that needs attention. Starting with verse 22: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 

To read this as a statement against having possessions—or even great wealth—would be an error. The issue is one of priorities. Let’s put ourselves in the sandals of this rich ruler. If Jesus called you to do the same, would you? The ruler was saddened “for he was extremely rich.” His wealth had become an idol. Instead of recognizing God as the owner of all his possessions, he allowed his possessions to come before the call of the messiah. God is the rightful owner of all that we are and all that we have. If we truly view our possessions, assets, and financial security as something we have been called to steward, then we would be willing to drop it all for the sake of Christ. 

Money is just one example of the idols our heart fashions. We could turn our attention to jobs, family, or more likely, sin. Money isn’t evil. The question is one of relative importance compared to following Him. This week take an honest look at where your highest affections reside. What gets in the way of living a life committed to Jesus Christ and the gospel? What distracts and seduces us away from our affection for our God? Do a time audit. This can be a painful and convicting exercise. How we spend our most valuable currency—time—often reveals the true object of our affections. May we all, with the help of the Spirit, recognize God as the true owner of all we have been called to steward. 

May we seek out the idols we have created and destroy them so we can fully love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, and mind. May the desires of God become the desires of our heart so that day by day our affections turn away from our idols and toward our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


Additional Study: 
Psalm 49. What does this Psalm have to do with idolatry? What does it say (and not say) about wealth? 

Luke 12.13–34. What can we learn from the rich man in this parable? How does the parable in verses 16–21 relate to the rest of the passage? Where should we find true security and provision?


*Artwork: The Worship of the Golden Calf (c. 1640-45), attrib. Salvatore Castiglione

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