The idol of "I"
The blunt truth of the Bible is like a much-needed whack on the head. Every day, we struggle with the age-old idol of “I”, placing ourselves instead of Jesus in the center of thoughts, conversations and decisions.
All throughout Scripture, we see the Israelite people doing the same thing: trusting in impotent idols over an all-powerful God.
“They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves, following the surrounding nations the Lord had commanded them not to imitate” (II Kings 17:15).
The sin of the Hebrew people was that they imitated the ways of culture instead of the ways of their Creator. And they became worthless. Whack.
It’s easy to shake our heads in disbelief at the chronic disobedience of the Israelites. God sent so many signs and prophets to warn and remind them of His faithfulness.
The great I AM over I am
When God first spoke to Moses through the burning bush and commissioned him to free the Israelite people, Moses questioned God's choice by asking, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?"
Moses feigned false humility by keeping the focus on himself. When Moses asked God who he should say was sending him, God rightfully placed the focus back on Himself by telling Moses to say that I AM has sent me.
I AM, the One who has no beginning or end and is the origin of all things good and holy (Exodus 3:11-14).
I AM the bread of Life. I AM the light of the world. I AM the gate. I AM the good shepherd. I AM the resurrection and the life. I AM the way, the truth and the life. And finally, I AM the true vine.
The Bible, and this life, has always been about Jesus. Yet our flesh wages war against our spirit to make it all about us.
The reality is, we are just like the Israelites. We can be forgetful. We can be self-centered. We can be stubborn and disobedient. If we're honest, the temptation to succumb to society is a daily struggle for even the most mature of Christians.
Every day, we are faced with the temptation to exchange God’s truth for man’s truth, Christ-confidence for self-help, the great I AM for the iPhone and YouTube. We fix our eyes on selfies instead of the Savior, our capabilities (or lack of) instead of Holy Spirit power, our feelings over Biblical fact.
We can even twist Scripture to make it all about us.
“I am remarkably and wonderfully made …” (Psalm 139:14). Do you see how it's so easy to replace the powerful I AM with the pitiful I am?
Wasn’t that Lucifer’s folly, not to want to be like God but to be God? Instead of worshipping the Lord with all the other heavenly hosts, Lucifer wanted the spotlight on him. His interest was self-glorification not God-glorification. Satan had an “I” mentality that got him kicked right out of heaven into eternal damnation.
The result of following idols is devastating; we become what we worship - worthless. Worthless in the midst of a worthy God.
"Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created" (Revelation 4:11).
The truth is, we all have idols in our lives that must be constantly and consistently torn down. The genesis of all our idols is the idol of self. When we choose our will and our way over the Lord’s, we are choosing to trust in ourselves and not in Him.
Recognizing that we have idols is the first step to demolishing them. We are either following Jesus or we are following something or someone else. There is no in between – it’s either me or He at the center. Only one of us can sit on the throne of my heart.
Most modern-day idols are not miniature statues but pass times or people. An idol, therefore, can be defined as the person or thing to which we devote the majority of our time, attention, affection and resources, in place of God. It is the foremost object of our delight.
Whether that thing or person is a seemingly positive or negative influence is irrelevant, as they are all deemed “worthless” compared to the Lord.
Idolatry, in short, is a heart issue.
The Bible says it clearly:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:21, 24).
The context of this verse is referring to money, but idols come in many currencies. This is an obvious problem, because the Lord has told us to not have any other gods before us.
“Do not fear other gods. Do not forget the covenant that I have made with you … fear the Lord your God, and he will rescue you from all your enemies. However, these nations would not listen but continued observing their former practices. They feared the Lord but also served their idols. Still today, their children and grandchildren continue doing as their fathers did” (2 Kings 17:38-41).
We see foreign refugees in Israel who “feared the Lord but also served their idols.”
This was a people group aware of the God of Israel, and even slightly reverential toward Him, yet still clinging to their own gods while mixing religious beliefs and practices. And we also see that it was a multi-generational problem. It didn't just stop with the parents; their children and grandchildren sadly followed suit.
Sound eerily familiar?
Don’t we see the world, even our Christian brothers and sisters, ourselves doing this very thing? Do we take just enough of Jesus with a little bit of this denomination and a little bit of that personal preference and mix them all together to create our own self-serving religion?
“Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21).
The Apostle John – the same person who rightly concluded “He must increase, but I must decrease” - pleads like a grandfather for us to protect ourselves from spiritual adultery (John 3:30).
We are a forgetful and fragile lot of people. We are far too easily satisfied with the ways of this world, defaulting to them instead of the unseen God who has made an everlasting contract with us through the precious blood of Jesus.
In Jesus’ prayer the night before His crucifixion, Jesus tells God that we are not of the world, just as He is not of the world. He then goes on to ask His Father to not take us out of the world but to protect us from the evil one (John 17:14-19).
In His constant pursuit of us, Jesus seeks to protect us from the Enemy who always attempts to push the Savior to the side for the sake of sinful self.
The Lord tells us to have no other gods before Him partly because He is a jealous God, seeking claim to what is already His (us, His created!), and partly because He knows these idols are dangerous.
Tearing down idols
We often don’t realize the things and people in our lives we see as harmless, or even helpful, may have become idols. They can be erected over time, ever so subtly. We must take a gut-honest look at what idols have been smuggled in, at what the foremost object of our delight and worship is, and evaluate if it’s worthy.
What is that one thing you yearn for, invest in or depend on more than anything else? If it’s not God, then you (like me) have some idols that need destroying.
Is it sleep? Your significant other? Your work? Your children? Your home? Your friends? Your health? Your volunteering or hobbies? Is it food or drink or even a ministry? Is it the approval of others or your itch to perform and be perfect?
Some of these are good and necessary things. But do we place an inordinate strain and responsibility on them when we expect them to be our all, to fill us up and calm us down? Do we put more hope and faith in them, the seen and tangible, than in the unseen, supernatural God?
While we all probably work and sleep more than we study Scripture and pray, the goal is to make everything we do connect to the Lord.
"Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).
Ask the Lord to reveal to you if anything other than Him has taken first place in your heart, if any of our “blessings" have turned into idols. If they have, ask God to give you the desire and discipline to tear them down.
And if you think you’re idol free, be on guard for another one to rear its ugly head.
Nothing is meant to overshadow God, the Giver of all good things. Let us combat the temptation of idolatry with the truth of God's Word, prayer and the accountability of other believers. Let's place the focus back where it belongs, on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Seek to bring every thought, every word and every action into connection with the Lord.
Abide in Jesus, and accost all idols well before they assail your heart.