From My Shelf


In yesterday's sermon, I highlighted the setting of Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked His disciples the all-important question, "But who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15). I noted that Caesarea Philippi was a place full of temples to false gods and false idols. I asserted that, though our context may have less physical temples, each of us must answer Jesus's question in a similar setting today.

Yes, idols are everywhere. We live in a world of idols. Often, our hearts are captivated by these idols, these false gods. As noted in a quote I have seen attributed both to John Calvin and Martin Luther, "Our hearts are idol making factories." Unfortunately, because these idols are most often not little statues dwelling in physical temples, they can be hard to identify.

That is why I so appreciate and highly recommend Tim Keller's 2009 work, Counterfeit gods: The Empty Promise of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. Keller defines an idol as "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.'"

In his Introduction, Keller highlights three basic metaphors that the Bible uses to describe the way we relate to the idols of our hearts. He then offers incredibly incisive, insightful questions we can ask to identify the idols that shape and affect us. Here is an excerpt from pages xxiii-xxv. I encourage you to use his diagnostic questions to take inventory of your heart today.

Love, Trust, and Obey

The Bible uses three basic metaphors to describe how people relate to the idols of their hearts. They love idols, trust idols, and obey idols.

The Bible sometimes speaks of idols using a marital metaphor. God should be our true Spouse, but when we desire and delight in other things more than God we commit spiritual adultery. Romance or success can become "false lovers" that promise to make us feel loved and valued. Idols capture our imagination, and we can locate them by looking at our daydreams. What do we enjoy imagining? What are our fondest dreams? We look to our idols to love us, to provide us with value and a sense of beauty, significance, and worth.

The Bible often speaks of idols using the religious metaphor. God should be our true Savior, but we look to personal achievement or financial prosperity to give us the peace and security we need. Idols give us a sense of being in control, and we can locate them by looking at our nightmares. What do we fear the most? What, if we lost it, would make life not worth living? We make "sacrifices" to appease and please our gods, who we believe will protect us. We look to our idols to provide us with a sense of confidence and safety.

The Bible also speaks of idols using a political metaphor. God should be our only Lord and Master, but whatever we love and trust we also serve. Anything that becomes more important and nonnegotiable to us than God becomes an enslaving idol. In this paradigm, we can locate idols by looking at our most unyielding emotions. What makes us uncontrollably angry, anxious, or despondent? What racks us with a guilt we can't shake? Idols control us, since we feel we must have them or live is meaningless.

"What controls us is our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by the people he or she wants to please. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives." Rebecca Pippert, Out of the Saltshaker (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), p. 53.

What many people call "psychological problems" are simple issues of idolatry. Perfectionism, workaholism, chronic indecisiveness, the need to control the lives of others - all of these stem from making good things into idols that then drive us into the ground as we try to appease them. Idols dominate our lives.

Timothy Keller, Counterfeit gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), xxiii-xxv.