Finding the Idols of Our Hearts – January 20, 2023

Our culture understands that we have an idol problem. Culture refers to people we long to be like as our idols. There is a popular culture show based on this premise that does not even try to hide it. They put it in the title, American Idol. The advertising industry builds itself around what we idolize. In short, we have the propensity to worship everything but God. And so, John concludes his book with a direct challenge: Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

Over the last few weeks, we have examined our idolatry problem. We walked through a Biblical view of idolatry and began exploring ourselves to find our idols. We challenged ourselves with the reality that we all have an idolatry problem. While the worldly culture does not try to hide its idol problem, the church culture many times outright denies it. But we must acknowledge that we have idols. Now I would guess that no one has a statue on their mantle to which they bow down, worship, and offer sacrifices. No one has a totem pole in their backyard. How can I state so dogmatically that we all struggle with idols? How can we look at this passage and conclude that it directly impacts our lives? Let’s remind ourselves of the definition of an idol: “An idol of the heart is anything that rules me other than God.”[i]

I mentioned last week that those around us and close to us could probably tell us exactly what our idols are. But we struggle to see them ourselves. Our Idols lie to us and tell us that we cannot see them. We are often blind to our idolatry. So how do we obey this command to keep ourselves from idols? How do we even know what our idols are? To expose the idols of our hearts, we must answer two critical questions: “Why are our idols hard to spot?” and “How do I find my Idols?” This week we want to examine the first question.

In Ezekiel 14, God addressed the concept of heart idols. Israel did not believe that they had an idol problem. But through the Prophet Ezekiel, God sought to demonstrate to Israel that they had a massive idolatry problem. While they had not set up physical statues, they had set up idols in their hearts. Yet, like us, Israel was blind to their idolatry problem. As a result, Ezekiel 14 gives us a guide to help us understand why idols are so hard to spot.

We discover the first reason in verse three. Our idols are hard to spot because they are self-built. Because we build them, we tailor our idols to ourselves. This tailoring of our idols is often an unconscious act. We usually do not, nor did the Israelites, consciously decide to turn our back on God and serve these idols. Instead, through our lives, we place things ahead of God little by little until one day, we look up and discover that we have replaced God in our lives. We focus on a desire so much that it becomes an obsession and then our god. It drives everything we do. This is the message of James 1:13-15. This text teaches us that God does not draw us into sin. Instead, we are drawn away by our desires. These desires become obsessions and actions, which in turn become our god, ultimately leading to shipwreck and death if left unchecked.

Further, because we build our idols, we do not often see them as evil. In reality, they usually are not bad in and of themselves. Many times, these idols are things that are necessary for everyday life. While some are driven by clearly wicked things, as believers, John has demonstrated that sinful living does not mark us. Our idols are often not things that are wicked in and of themselves. They have simply replaced God as the source of our satisfaction and joy. They become more important to us than God. They can be innocent things like family, finances, work, friends, rest, or food. But they become wrong when we seek our satisfaction in them instead of God.

We discover the second reason our idols are hard to spot in verses three and four. Our idols are in our hearts. They are at the very seat of our lives. Christ reminds us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). What we value is what we worship. What we worship directs our behavior. And our values lie in our hearts. Because our idols are sourced in our hearts, we value them. They are our treasure. These idols are the very reason why we do what we do. They are our treasures. So often, when we act on what we treasure, we don’t even think about why we are doing what we are doing. We merely act.

Culture today instructs us to follow our hearts. However, this advice is satanic. God informs us that our hearts are unreliable and naturally tend towards wickedness (Jer. 17:9). Because we struggle with a sinful nature, we cannot trust our hearts. Jeremiah states that they are deceitful and wicked. However, not only are our hearts vulnerable to idols, but they are also deceitful idol factories. Our sinful nature creates idols as fast as we can destroy them. And this factory is a factory of deceit. It will never admit that it is an idol factory. And so we must constantly remind ourselves of its work. This deceit of our hearts gives us an amazing ability to justify sin. We can become the “it’s not my fault” guy, the “it’s not that bad” guy, or the “it’s necessary” guy. This is why many even joke about their idol. They make their worship of food, sleep, finances, or friendship out to be no big deal by normalizing it through humor.

We also discover the third reason our idols are hard to spot in verse 3. Our idols blind us. The picture that Ezekiel uses is fascinating. He states that they set them up as stumbling blocks before their faces. Of all people, we should know our idols because we build them. And yet, we are blind to them and stumble over them. Why? Because sin blinds us to our sinfulness. Reasoning with people entrenched in sin (in idolatry) is incredibly frustrating because they are often unwilling to admit that they have a sin problem. Our culture has recognized this and admitted it regarding addictions (drug or alcohol). Studies have been built around interventions needed to help people admit they have a problem. The drunk and the drug addict will deny they have a drug or drinking problem while this problem wreaks havoc on their lives.

Yet we do the same thing. We fail to admit that we have a problem with our sin because our sin blinds us. We cannot see it even though it is painfully apparent. We set up our stumbling blocks. We are the hunter who sets the trap only to walk into it. 

We cannot afford to deny the existence of our heart idols. We all worship heart idols because our hearts are idol factories. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to examine how to discover our heart idols and put them to death.

[i] Paul David Tripp, Instruments in The Redeemers Hands (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002).