An “Idol” Mind is the Devil’s Workshop – Part 1
One of my elementary school teacher’s favorite expressions was, “Boys and girls, always remember that an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.” Although there is a great deal of truth in this axiom, it doesn’t really get to the main part of the devil’s workshop, because his center for mass production is in the idol making factory of the human mind.
John Calvin observed long ago that the human heart, our image-bearing and image-fashioning nature, is an idol factory. In spite of all our learning and scientific achievements, this is no less true today than it was in the 16th Century when Calvin made this observation. This being true, I want to rephrase the proverb to read: “An IDOL Mind is the Devil’s Workshop!
In the Bible there is no more serious charge than that of idolatry. Idolatry called for the strictest punishment, elicited the most disdainful accusations from the prophets, prompted the most extreme measures of avoidance and was regarded as the chief identifying characteristic of those who were the very antithesis of the people of God, namely the Gentiles. Fundamental to Israel’s life and faith were the first commandment and its exposition in the Shema (Dt. 6:4-5), which were from early on regarded as touching every aspect of life. The early church likewise treated idol worship with the utmost seriousness.
Idolatry is the ultimate expression of unfaithfulness to God and for that reason is the occasion for severe divine punishment.
Idolatry is more than just an ancient problem of the ignorant, it’s more than just a pagan problem of people in remote jungles today – it’s a human problem – a modern problem, and a persistent problem for every Christian! Underneath every sin is idolatry in general. Our idol-making minds create false gods or false images of the one true God and then trust them to make us happy, give us peace, pleasure, purpose, and power in life. Since God desires that we be truly happy and knows that this happiness can come from Him alone, idolatry is seen to be very serious and is attacked very powerfully and pervasively.
What is an idol? An idol is anything that controls you other than the true Lord God in Heaven. In the Old Testament an idol wasn’t just something the people worshipped but something they feared. An idol is anything that you have to check with before obeying God.
Paul reveals that unnatural, ungodly fear is a spirit. When the spirit of fear controls your life, then you are under the lordship of an idol. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Dudley Hall said, “If we have another god, we will fear him. So what does that reveal about our fears? It means for every fear, we have at least one god.”
Pastor Tim Keller’s definition of idolatry is new in its explanation, but ancient in its exercise: “Idolatry is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing.”
What is in our lives–if suddenly taken away–would affect us to the point that we might not want to go on living? This is a tough question that gets to the heart of what we organize our lives around for meaning, identity, significance, and love other than God.
Why does God take idolatry so seriously and judge it so devastatingly? Dr. Greg Beale answers this very clearly and convincingly in his book, “We Become What We Worship”: “We resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration. God has made all peoples to reflect, to be imaging beings. People will always reflect something, whether it is God’s character or some feature of the world.”
The punishment for idolatry is to become like your idol – a spiritual deaf mute, demonically motivated and personally devastated.
What is the answer for idolatry? The answer is not found in going on some kind of iconoclastic campaign to destroy all idols privately in my heart and publically in our cultures. The answer is in living in, off and by the gospel of God, in which He proves His love for us by sending us Jesus to become one of us, to die for us in self-giving love in order that we may enter into an ever-living, ever-loving, ever-lasting relationship with Him. The provision of this unconditional, unearned love relationship convinces us that we have the most valuable, worthy, precious, priceless, Heavenly Father and to revere and worship Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength is to realize the very purpose for our existence, as well as transforming us into His likeness.
This satisfying, gratifying, glorifying fellowship makes idols pointless and repulsive. The antidote to idolatry is being satisfied with all that God promised to be for us in Jesus. This grace-based love-blessed relationship is available to us all as an unearnable gift from God. The crucial question is whether we will receive it on God’s terms, on terms that renounce idols. These terms can be challenging for us, given our customary reliance on idols (see Mark 10:17-27), and given our tendencies toward enabling idolatry in others. We do the latter when we encourage or ignore, rather than challenge in love, the idolatry practiced by others. In receiving Jesus as Lord, in contrast, we find the key to freedom both from idolatry and from the enabling of idolatry in others. We find freedom to live in unselfish love as we receive God’s freely given love.”
Because of the massive ramifications of idolatry, we join the apostle’s Paul and John in admonishing the saints: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”