Exodus 20:2-3, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me”
Ezekiel 14:3, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts”
What is idolatry? In reality, idolatry goes much deeper than just bowing down or praying to a statue. An idol is anything apart from God that we set our hearts on for fulfillment, security or happiness. In short it’s anything that we pursue and trust more than God. So, what does the sin of idolatry or the modern day idol look like? Let’s look at the Israelites from the Old Testament. God performed a series of incredible miracles, rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and then parted the Red Sea so they could escape Pharaoh’s army. But their memories were so short that when Moses went up on a mountain to talk with God, they built a golden calf and started worshiping it. Imagine believing that a man-made pile of shiny metal could fulfill any of their needs!
Today we call them cars, computers, cell-phones, big screen TV’s, fashion, relationships, jobs, power, money and even another person. Joseph Goebbels scorned his religious upbringing that taught him about Jesus Christ. He later remarked, “It is almost immaterial what we believe so long as we believe in something.” For Goebbels that something was really someone. None other than the murderous Adolf Hitler became Goebbels’ God-substitute. When Hitler was finally trapped and defeated, Goebbels killed himself and his family. When we have a substitute God the only way out is coming to our senses and returning back to the one true God.
I believe Jesus was talking about all of us in his parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32. The son, who turned independence and enjoyment into his golden calf, finally came to his senses and returned to his father’s house. In verse 20 we see one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” This my beloved, is the kind of God we worship and how foolish to choose any other kind of golden calf over His amazing and unconditional love.
I read some time ago that a wife of a missionary was concerned about the growth of materialism in society. It never crossed her mind that she could become materialistic. After all, she had gone overseas with almost nothing and living in an old, shabbily furnished, and rundown apartment? She thought materialism couldn’t touch her. Nonetheless, feelings of discontent gradually began to take root in her heart. Before long she was craving nice things and secretly feeling resentful over not having them. Then one day God’s Spirit opened her eyes with a disturbing insight, “Materialism isn’t necessarily having things; it can also be craving them.
There she stood, guilty of materialism!”
The Lord had exposed her discontentment for what it really was, an idol in her heart, that had become her golden calf. That day as she repented of this subtle sin, God recaptured her heart as His rightful throne. Needless to say, a deep contentment followed, based not on things but on Him. In Ezekiel’s day, the Lord exposed the idolatry in the hearts of His people (Ezekiel 14:3-7). God also spoke to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “My people have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and have made broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). They had turned from the one true God to worthless God-substitutes.
My beloved, today God longs for each of us to rid our hearts of anything that destroys our relationship with Him. Only He can satisfy the deepest needs of our heart and make us truly alive. That’s why we would be wise to heed the loving counsel of the apostle Paul when he said, “My beloved, flee from idolatry.” The question then remains: What is your golden calf or idol of the heart?
An idol is anything that takes God’s rightful place in our heart.