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Keep Yourselves from Idols

In one of the most lovely letters written in the Bible, I John– which we will be studying during Sunday School in July–the apostle encourages us by the example of Christ that our joy may be full. And then in chapter 5:21, which is the last verse of John’s first letter, we read this remarkable little exhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

We will consider this in the sermon more fully, but before we bow down to the only true God, what idols are we carrying along with us, even this morning?

All those virtues that we treasure: love, trust, hope; all of them can be turned on their head. What do we truly love, hope, and trust in during times of pain? Who do we seek when our lives are turned upside down? If any of these answers do not find their joy ultimately in the God who is righteous and just (I Jn. 1:9), then we have not heeded John’s warnings.

Brothers and sisters, as we come and confess our sins this morning, confess that you have not loved, trusted, and hoped in God as you ought. Confess that you have sought other gods before him. Confess them, and be still, and know that He is God, and there is none other before him.

Prayer: God Almighty, Father, Son, and Spirit, strengthen us today by your great mercy and transform us into the image of your own beloved Son, whom we love, trust, and hope. Amen.

Creating our Idols

John CalvinHuman beings are a marketable people. Those who shop around for us see our lifestyles and develop an entire strategy aimed at purchasing our wants at an exceedingly rapid speed. But not only are we easily bought, we are also very creative. We are idol-makers, to quote Calvin’s famous line. We are industrious, and the consequences of our hard work are a boost to the Baal factories and stock.

Unfortunately, this type of productivity is not encouraging. St. John quietly, but forcefully exhorted us in the last verse of I John to keep ourselves from idols. We have not heeded the apostle’s words. We have approached the idols and bargained with them about producing an entire new line of idol fashion and idol currency. We take the idol money and invest it into our own companies. We are good at what we do. In fact, we produce the best idols in town. We make them in all colors and shapes. We sell them at a discount during the Christmas holidays. All we want is for everyone to share in our pleasures. We make idols and the idols make us. We are what we worship. The more we consume the more marketable we become for the more sophisticated idol seller. We become like the gods. We treasure their style. They roam around speechless and blind, and we perceive that to be the new fad.

We are what we worship, and our worship reflects the grandeur of our god.

Our productivity reflects our allegiance to this god. What is the chief end of our productivity? To doxologize idols forever.

Dagon

Our society mirrors the deadness of the gods we produce and consequently buy. We are a buyer-seller market. We become so easily dissatisfied with the gods we carve that we crave classier gods.

This is our nature…but not who we were intended to be.

God calls us into a different profession. He says: “Abandon your ways!” He wants us to invest in heavenly things that are not corruptible. Yahweh wants us fired from our idol producing factories. He delights when we say to ourselves “We’re fired!” He delights when we turn from the business of idol production and embrace a cosmic demolition project.

The idol fashions and fads are not lasting. They appear to be the latest trend. It seems to be trending on twitter. People are sharing it all over facebook. But they are not lasting. “Keep yourselves from idols,” says the Lord our God. He is God, and there is no other. He is jealous for his glory. Doxology is only right and true when applied to Him. Repent! Put your tool down. Forsake your jobs. God is looking for a few good men, and lots of babies to start shattering the temples of Dagon.

We are what we worship. I prefer to worship an idol-crushing God.

Imitative Theology

We are imitators by nature. God made us this way. We are, after all, image-bearers. To copy is human. We know this in a very profound way when we become parents. Children very early on begin to reflect our temperament and repeat our most cherished lines ( a frightening idea at times).

My daughter recently put diapers on her set of Curious George monkeys. She saw my wife changing our little one time and again, and of course, she did what she thought was normal: imitate. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, not always. Sometimes it is the sincerest form of idolatry.

Many have made fine contributions to the nature of idolatry in our day. Beale’s labors on a theology of idolatry is the most sophisticated demonstration of this. Professor Beale argues that idolatry is theological imitation. People become what they worship, and in this becoming, they are transformed into lifeless idols. They cease to hear and to see. They become imitators of death (Ps. 115:4-8). They transfer trust from Yahweh (life) to idols (death). And in this transfer, they become theologically de-humanized.

Imitation of the Triune God is the sincerest form of honor to that God. Other imitations are just cheap expressions of idolatry. You can only serve one master. Choose you this day.

The Christian Post publishes a few of my articles…

I came a cross an angry atheist’s website who mocked my last name. Something about burritos. As a result, he linked me to the evangelical and nationally acclaimed Christian news website,  The Christian PostAnd I was surprised to see that they have published five of my pieces. Here they are if you are interested.

Confessing our Envy

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 73:3 that I “was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” It is clear that as we come into worship this morning, we all have this one sin to confess: envy. At some time this week, we have desired something that someone else has. Maybe you desired that luxury car, perhaps that dark desire you pray no one ever finds out, or the celebrity life, whatever it may have been, you and I are guilty of envy. We have worshiped at the altar of my wants, my needs, and my feelings. We have placed our desires at the center of the world, and we want the world to answer them. “Envy reveals that there is still a war of treasure raging in our hearts.”[1]

What is that consuming thing without which our lives have no meaning?  What is it? Ponder that in your hearts as you come to worship this morning.

The purpose of worship is to direct your attention to the priorities of the kingdom, and in order to change our priorities we need to confess our envy. As Paul Tripp writes: “Loving God above all else means submitting all I want, all that I think I need, and all that I feel to his good, wise, loving, and holy lordship.”[2]

Prepare your hearts to confess how you have desired other things before the kingdom of God; confess your self-centeredness, and then be assured that the kingdom of God is within you.

Prayer: O gracious God, our hearts are full of envy. We imagine ourselves with a different life, and when we do so we forget to give you thanks for the gracious life you have given us. Do not allow us to drift from your goodness. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The Ethics of Creation

When God made the world he made it in divine priority. He made all things with an agenda, and to use the oft-repeated line, “he saved the best for last.” He made man on day six, and at the end he breathed with the breath of perfection (Gen. 1:31): “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Could God have created man on day one or day three? No. This was a divine priority. Man was created last purposefully. He made him on day six and then affirmed (Gen. 1:26-28) that he was to be over all things. Man receives a place of honor in creation because he is made in the image of God.

Under the Old Covenant he crawled in his infancy. He was unable to do much, and so God gave him tutors, angels to keep watch over him. But as he grew in maturity, man learned to walk. He walked with a limp (Gen. 32) to remind him of his humble beginnings, but he became more theologically civilized and warrior-like, capable of confronting bigger challenges. But God never left man alone. He was never made to be alone. In the New Covenant, God takes man from crawlers to inheritors (Rom. 4:13). As a promise, the ascended Lord gives man his Spirit. He provides mature and able man a comforter and a divine guidance counselor, namely, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

All of this was already symbolized in the creation account, but needed to wait until the New Creation to be put into place. Man was always meant to have a place of prominence in God’s world. This prominence is a not a blank check, it is conditioned on the faithfulness of redeemed man to serve and fear Yahweh with grace and truth (Rom. 12:11).

But when this divine creational pattern is broken, the world is also broken. When the order of creation is switched, the world suffers ethical consequences. When trees and living things are placed at greater prominence than man, then we have a disordered creation. This is largely the fruit of the environmentalist movement.

When day six is not prioritized, the sacredness of life is also not treasured. Abortion is the result of a disordered creation narrative. When God said “Let us make man in our image,” he was prioritizing the life of man over the life of other created things. Yahweh stamped on mankind his image; and that image needs to be treasured above all else. The taking of human life is a phase of disorientation in the created order. It is a direct violation of the way things were meant to be.

The ethical consequences also apply to marriage. When day six is taken out of its place, the joining of man and woman—which is a joining officiated by God himself—is misplaced, and the doors of polygamy and sexual deviance are open (Rom. 1). And when mankind and current social norms disrespect the created order, God gives them over to their mis-prioritized minds. This is God’s way of saying that that which he made he made orderly and purposefully, and that order cannot be tampered with.

Ultimately, man can choose to honor God’s creational pattern, or build a week of their own. But if they do so, they will never come to the seventh day of rest.

Sacramental Meditation: An Objective Meal

What we experience in this pluralistic culture is the death of objectivity. But in a world created by God and glorified by Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we can say that this food is for us in an objective way; in a way that truly does accomplish its purpose. What does this meal do? It gives grace to those who eat and drink by faith, it encourages the broken-hearted, it offers hope to the doubter, and it strengthens the saint.

This is the objective reality given to us by an objective Christ; the only true Lord of history and the one who always provides for his children.

Not a Primitive Philosophy

Will Willimon writing for the Christian Century asserts that truthfulness is most clearly seen in its practical force. “How shall they know you are my disciples? When you love one another.” This was Jesus’ simple response. At the same time we must not forget that truth is contextualized in history by the writer of history. Life cannot be divorced from truth. Life is formed and lived out by truth if it is to be lived out accordingly. Pagans may conform externally to the law, but manifest “enlightened self-interest” in their actions. The Christian faith, on the other hand, sees truth affecting both external and internal motivations. These motivations are self-less and are shaped by the God/Man who was the embodiment of truth Pilate wondered about. As Willimon concluded:

Christianity is not another philosophy  or some primitive system of belief; it is a community  of people who worship the Jew whom Pilate sent to the cross.

This devotion to the Jewish Messiah is what enlivens the Christian truth and what changes the world.

It’s Worth Defending

Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending (8).”

Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned this battle, we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity (7). He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. Once we lose the creedal ground, we will sink into oblivion. For Machen, this was not an option.

Affirming True Truth

Francis Schaeffer’s line true truth was coined as a result of the pluralistic culture he was a part of and which has in many ways engulfed our present society. Schaeffer was referring to a truth that is objective and not relativized by one’s preferences. The Gospel is true truth. The Church’s peculiarity stems from her unique message. It is indeed a message that is hardly embraced in the public square, but one which she must proudly proclaim: Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord.

Lesslie Newbigin’s classic work The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society addresses some of these  profound manifestations in the Christian world. He exposes the pluralistic and cowardly trends of the modern church a few decades ago and certainly still very much true in our own day. A Church can speak truth, but speak it so subtly and unwillingly that she permeates by her words a certain level of skepticism in her people. But there is also the type of belief that leaves the door open to other ideologies. Newbigin observed that,

As long as the church is content to offer its beliefs modestly as simply one of the many brands available in the ideological supermarket, no offense is taken. But the affirmation that the truth revealed in the gospel ought to govern public life is offensive (7).

Both are fatal. One slowly ceases to proclaim true truth, while the other leaves the door open for philosophical wolves. The Gospel is no longer that potent and offensive claim, but a powerless declaration that Jesus can be a lord, but is not necessarily interested in the job description.

True truth is declarational. Simple truth has its genesis in the One who claims to be the way, truth, and life. This three-fold declaration is not up for debate. Pluralism, religious pluralism, is doxologically impossible for you can only serve one master.