Exodus 20:4 – 6 introduces us to the sin of idolatry. In this passage God commands humans to not make any images or statues (whether on earth, below the earth or in the heavens) nor should you bow down and worship them. We often associate idols with statues or images of something such as a Buddha or ancient carved image of a mythological god? Is this all that an idol really is? I don’t think so. I believe everything in our lives and in this world has the potential to become an idol! According to Timothy Keller, “An (idol) is anything so central and essential in your life that, should you lose it, your life would be hardly worth living. An idol has so much controlling position in your heart that you spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.” Professor Tom Shippey states, "(Idols are when we) take the hearts fondest desires and magnify them to idolatrous proportions.”
God does not take second seat to anyone or anything; in fact Exodus 20 says, “I am a jealous God”. We see in history humanity has an ingrained tendency to create things to worship. Romans 1:21 – 23 states, “For although they (humanity) 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.” Paul writes that God has revealed himself to humanity but because of our sin nature they suppress the truth of God and exchange our affections from the one true God for images created by man. We love to elevate humanity, possessions and power to the point of being gods in our lives. Often times we do it unintentionally.
The Rich Young Ruler
Read Matthew 19:16 – 30
A young rich man came to Jesus one day and asked him what “good thing” he must do to inherit eternal life? This meeting with Jesus was doomed from the beginning. Why? Because the young man was asking what work or good act does HE have to do to get eternal life? He was looking for a good moral act to be his savior and not Jesus. The Bible is very clear in saying there is NOTHING WE CAN DO to have eternal life. Salvation has nothing to do with what we do but has everything to do with what Jesus did. It has all to do with responding (by the calling of the Holy Spirit) to call of God and following Jesus. The Gospel tells us clearly that we are all sinful and in need of a savior and it is only by the grace of God that we can be saved from our sin and to be declared righteous before God.
Here is a relevant example of what the Gospel looks like. Let’s pretend you are in a building that is burning and the smoke has become unbearable. You inhale too much smoke and pass out. Your fate is pretty well set. Behold a firefighter in his gear breaks down the door and finds you passed out on the floor. He picks you up and takes you out of the burning building and eventually resuscitates you to consciousness. What part did you have in your rescue and resuscitation? None; you were completely dependant on someone else to save you (in this case the firefighter). This is what happens with people when they get saved so to speak. We are dead in our trespasses and Jesus comes along and breathes life into us and thus declaring us righteous before God because he is the worthy savior who is able to save and give life to that which was once dead.
In this particular case it doesn’t matter how much money this young man has, how well he kept the commandments, or how moral of a life he lived. Jesus tells him there is one thing he lacks in his quest for life… he tells him to go and sell all his possessions and give to the poor and follow him. He went away sad because he had a lot of possessions he wasn’t willing to depart with. Jesus proceeds to talk about the difficulty of a rich person entering the kingdom of heaven because often a person of wealth seeks significance and security in his possessions and not in Jesus. The common mistake we can make in reading this passage is that we fail to see that Jesus is not telling the man so much as to DO something so he can have life; He is telling him to essentially give up his love for his wealth and possessions and in turn TRUST Jesus and follow him. D.A. Carson writes, “Jesus’ response in v 21 was indeed something to do, but something so radical that it would undermine his whole way of life and leave everything at God’s disposal.” Ultimately Jesus is telling the man to give up everything and follow him. The young man clearly loved his riches and possessions more than Jesus and it showed because he walked away from Jesus sad because he was not willing to part with his possessions.
Idols of the Heart
We live in a society who has fully bought into materialism. We love to have stuff. We love our comfortable lives, money, security, possessions and power. I don’t think the Bible alludes to having material possessions as being bad. It does make clear that if the stuff we own begins to own us then we have a problem. Jesus says in John 6:26 – 29 to not to waste our time, energy and resources working to acquire or invest in material things of this world. Instead we are called to invest in the spiritual things or the important things in life. Use your time, energy, resources and even possessions for the Kingdom of God.
So if you were to put yourself in this story today, where would you fit? Is there something in your life that could be an idol of the heart? Are there things in your life that are hindering you from following Jesus? These things do not necessarily have to be possessions and wealth. Anything you elevate above God is an idol. Are you willing to allow God to be sufficient for you? Unfortunately in this Christ Encounter the young man loved his treasures and wealth so much he had elevated them to the point of idolatry in his life. This was an idol that he did not want to give up. He was not willing to do what Jesus commanded him to do. When we are able to identify the idols in our lives and allow God to deal with them (and not secretly hold them in our hearts) we will be freed from the sin of slavery to idolatry and thus able to walk in the freedom of Jesus Christ.
 Keller, Timothy (2009). Counterfeit Gods, p.xiv. New York, NY Dutton Books
 Shippey, Tom, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, p. 36 New York. Houghton Mifflin
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Mt 19:16–26). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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