Romans 1:22-23. 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.
Everyone worships something. We are all worshippers.
As Paul makes the case for why we all need the gospel (the power of God for salvation/righteousness – Romans 1:16), he now brings up the topic of fallen and foolish worship, or idolatry. Idolatry is a big theme all throughout the Bible. And big books have been written and long sermons have been preached about it. So today, I want to just give a brief overview of this huge concept.
Idolatry is worshipping something other than God.
This is the primary way that we understand idolatry. We all have deep desires and longings. We have desires for love and respect, acceptance and purpose. But God alone is meant to fill these desires. We have a “God shaped hole” in our hearts.
When we try to fill this hole with something other than God, we are guilty of idolatry. We worship “false gods” in the simplest ways that we live. We place things like money, power, success, approval, status, comfort, experiences, and pleasure above God. Ultimately we don’t ever fully enjoy these things because they are bearing the load of God – something they were never meant to carry.
Of course, we can all relate to this. We’ve all tried to find satisfaction in those things that can never satisfy. And thinking about idolatry this way is helpful in understanding the supremacy of Christ in all things.
There is a danger to thinking of idolatry ONLY this way though. In our minds we can begin to separate God from all of the things or experiences that are part of life. For example there’s following Jesus OR there’s pursuing my career. There’s loving Christ OR there’s loving soccer. We can begin to see life divided into the two categories of sacred and secular.
But the reality is that God has given all things in life as a way to see and experience him. Christianity takes the ordinary and makes it extra-ordinary in Christ. Bread and wine are now a way to experience Christ. But what about every other meal we eat? Are they only secular? Or is every meal a sacred space?
Idolatry is failing to see God in all things.
God isn’t all things. But all things can point to God. They declare his glory. Therefore, idolatry is more than just putting all things above God. It is failing to use all things to see, and know, and experience God and his grace.
When we separate the spiritual and secular, we begin to see the cure as simply adding more and more spiritual practices to the regimen. Longer quiet times. Another small group. More preacher podcasts. Soon these things themselves become the idol. They become a way to manage God. To make him small and controllable. Practice silence, light some candles, and wait for Jesus to start speaking to your spirit…what just happened? Did we just turn Yahweh into a golden calf? Something we can manage?
We look for deeper spiritual experiences, ways to lasso God and draw him into our experience, because we fail to experience him in the everyday moments of life. We fail to see beyond the “secular” in order to make all things “sacred.” This too is idolatry.
We can take comfort in knowing that this side of Heaven two things are true:
1) You will always take great pleasure in things that are not God. They will rule your heart and mind. BUT God will use this for your good and his glory. These idols, Christ will use to actually draw you toward himself.
But…2) You will not find full satisfaction in Christ either. Yes, he is fully satisfying, but until sin is completely removed from your heart and mind, you simply will never experience Christ fully as you will one day (1 John 3:1-3, and Romans 8). As a result you will be tempted to seek satisfaction in lesser versions of Christ, ones that are easy to grasp and manage – an issue, an ideal, a spiritual discipline, going to church. These good things can either allow you to know Christ more OR they can also become a way to “experience God” that is not through Christ.
“To live is Christ” means one day we will experience Christ fully. In Christ we rely on the promise of full satisfaction in God that is yet to come. Your union with Christ draws you toward the One who is beyond all things. Now all things reveal and point to him. All things can now draw you away from the self. Away from all idolatry and towards the Christ who one day will be fully satisfying. In the meantime, expect your life to be a constant erecting and casting down of idols until you see Jesus face to face.