John Calvin famously referred to the heart of men as idol factories. This is a statement packed with imagery. We know the purpose of factories is to churn our products. Factories are set up to mass produce commodities. So it is staggering to consider our hearts as factories that mass produce idols.
When you hear the word “idol” your likely first thoughts go to image of things. We imagine statues, trinkets, memorials, and other objects made of wood, stone, or gold. But Calvin is not talking about physical structures, he is talking about objects of our worship. The heart is made to worship. It will set itself onto something as the object of its affections. Essentially an idol is anything other than the Triune God that gets our worship.
Tim Keller says that biblical idolatry is a sophisticated concept. We have intellectual, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual idols. We idolize everything from relationships, money, power, sex, achievement, approval, family, national identity, race, and hobbies.
Keller goes on to say,
An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” (Counterfeit Gods, xviii)
All of us are idolators. And we must fight to shut down our idol factories.
No Longer Slaves To Sin
In order to fight against rival gods forming in our hearts, we must remain diligent and active. There is no sleeping and slumbering in this work. A little rest and a little folding of the hands and spiritual poverty will come upon you like a bandit.
In Galatians 5:16, Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” This passage is a powerful reminder in our fight against sin because it tells us that we are not helpless victims. If we learn to walk by the Spirit, we do not have to give in to idol worship. We do not have to let rival gods steal away the glory that belongs to God alone.
This is true for those in Christ. If we have trusted Christ for our salvation, then we are not without help. Jesus not only forgives us of the penalty of sin, but he frees us from the power of sin. Sin has been defeated. We are free.
So how do we shut down the idol factory?
1. Abide daily in Christ.
We are invited to more than simply believing in God or assurance of eternal life in heaven. We are invited to communion with Christ. It is in this day-to-day relationship with Jesus, through the Word and prayer, that we are strengthened in the fight against sin. Why? Because in His presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). When we abide in him his joy will be in us and our joy will be full (John 15:11). If we are experiencing all-satisfying joy in Christ, our appetite for sin will diminish.
2. Know your heart well.
We all have weaknesses. We are usually not oblivious to those. We need to pinpoint those struggles and keep a close watch on them. If we struggle for human approval, we need to fight against seeking praise, being thought highly of, or failing to make hard decisions for fear of man. If we struggle with pride, we must battle our tendency to compare ourselves with others, belittle others accomplishments, or assume we are always right. The point is we need to know our hearts well enough to sniff out what kind of idols it likes to produce.
3. Fight sin in community.
If you attempt to fight sin alone you are more prone to fail. The church is a gift from God. We are not only saved out of sin, but we are saved into a family. This family is a key help in our fight against sin. We need the accountability of others. We need people who can challenge us, yet not condemn us. We need people who can speak the gospel into our hearts and remind us of our justification before God because of Jesus. Having a few people in your life that can help in your battle against idolatry can be the difference between success or failure.
Remember that the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). We can read something like this and convince ourselves that we are not that bad. We must ignore our inner lawyer who minimizes what our hearts are capable of, and instead, we engage in this fight to shut down the idol factory so God alone receives the worship and affections of our hearts.
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