Worship is the default mode of our hearts. We were made to worship. It comes naturally. No one needs to be taught how to worship. However, there is a problem. Our hearts were made to worship God, and that is no longer their default mode. Instead, our hearts will look for and find anything other than God to worship. As John Calvin famously said, "The human heart is a factory of idols". What comes naturally is no longer worship of the Creator but rather worship of created things.
The deceptive thing about these idols, these false gods we worship, is that they rarely take the form of a little golden statue (at least not in our culture). But they are here and we worship none the less. When we look to a created thing to provide for us what only the Creator can provide (meaning, significance, acceptance, approval, ultimate joy, comfort, security), not only do we set ourselves up for disappointment, but we commit idolatry in the process.
Here are just a few questions to help you identify potential idols in your own life:
- What do you brag about?
- Where do you go for comfort?
- How do you explain or identify yourself?
- What do you want more than anything else?
- What do you sacrifice the most for (in time, money, sweat)?
- Who's approval are you seeking?
- What gets the best of your attention, energy, creativity, and effort?
Good things turned into god things...
After working through those questions, a shock often comes at the realization our idols are usually good things. A spouse, a job, children, a passion or hobby, your church, your position in that church, your health, your looks, your skill and talent, the list is endless. But one thing that almost all idols have in common is that we begin to form our identity around that thing. "I'm a Red Sox fan." "I'm a mother." "I'm a Deadhead." "I'm a Calvinist." And, as Mark Driscoll has said, "When a good thing becomes a god thing, that's a bad thing". When our idol begins to become our identity, other questions are even better at helping us pinpoint those "functional saviors":
- What, if it was taken from you, would shake your faith in God?
- What would make you angry at God or question his love?
- What would you give up everything else for to keep from losing?
- What do you fear the most?
Worshiping Your Way Out
We're all idolators. We're all worshiping functional saviors that give us our identity instead of Jesus. But if many of our idols are good things, then the answer isn't that we must cut it out of our lives like a cancer (usually). So how do we get out? We get out the same way we got in.
We worshiped our way into idolatry, we must worship our way out of it.
When we worship idols, we turn to them to provide for our deepest needs, save us from our deepest fears, and satisfy our deepest longings. In the same way, when we worship God, we turn to him to provide for our deepest needs, save us from our deepest fears, and satisfy our deepest longings. And if we're honest with ourselves, only God is big enough to deliver on any of it. If we are going to worship our way out of idolatry, we must begin at the very place our most deeply-held idols end up: our identity. This must change or all the other work is in vain.
- Identity - Quite simply, are you "in Christ"? Scripture tells us that in Christ we are loved by God, forgiven of sin, justified before God, we are new creations (you can read more here). Only by faith in Christ can any of this be true of you. But if your deepest identity is "in Christ", you can begin worshiping your way out of your other idolatry.
- Acceptance - In Christ, you are completely accepted and completely loved by the greatest and most important being in the universe. This frees you from the idolatry of individualism (which is often a fear of rejection) and the need to hide the shameful things of your life. This frees you from the need to be loved by everyone, and gives you the ability to speak the truth in love to those closest to you.
- Significance - In Christ, you are a child of the king. You've been adopted into the royal family of God and you are a co-heir with Christ! This frees you from the idolatry of importance, always needing to be in front of people, always needing to get the credit you are due. This frees you from the burden of building your own empire so you can "leave a mark" or a legacy.
- Approval - In Christ, you have received the perfectly righteous life that Jesus lived and you have the unmitigated approval of the God of this universe. This frees you from being a doting parent who wilts at the thought of an unhappy child. This frees you from being destroyed by the slightest critique or criticism. And this frees you from pride when everyone starts telling you you're as great as you already think you are.
We could go on indefinitely, but you get the idea. At the heart of everything we worship is something we want from that thing, and something that we ultimately can only get from God in Christ. We must worship our way out of idolatry.
- Comfort - In Christ, we have available to us a "peace that passes understanding". We are given the Spirit of Jesus which is called "the comforter". This free you to not run to the fridge for comfort food when something goes wrong. This frees you to step out of your comfort zone and do something brave for the gospel of Christ.