Series: Counterfeit Love
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the very first one was to not have any other gods before Him. He doesn’t want us to have anything, any person, any pursuit or desire we bow down to and serve more than we do Him. We are not to commit the sin of idolatry.
Idolatry is more present and active in our hearts than most of us would ever realize. The reason for this is because of Ecclesiastes 3:11, where King Solomon made the statement that God has set eternity in our hearts. Every single one of us has a longing for the eternal. No one is exempt from it. Because of this, God is the only one who is eternal and therefore the only One who can meet that need.
We spend so much of our life looking to non-eternal things to fill a need God created in us that they can’t fill. It’s the reason so many of us are discontent in life, whether in marriage, or in singleness, or in your career, or with the amount of money you make, or the house you live in, or the body you have. It’s why guys keep running to pornography even when they don’t want to. It’s why so many dating relationships keep falling into sexual sin. We look to created things to fill a need that only God can fill. It is called idolatry.
A lot of the things we make into idols, like sexual fulfillment, jobs, kids, or the pursuit of wealth, are typically just symptoms of a deeper root idol in our hearts. There are four base idols we all wrestle with and each of us leans toward one or another more than the others. They are power, control, comfort and approval. Anything you’ve discovered you’re pursuing more than the Lord is usually coming from one of these four base root idols.
Hopefully you’ve walked away from this series with two foundational things so far. First, you understand what idolatry is. Second, you’re able to identify what it is you are pursuing to a greater degree than the Lord.
But there’s a third thing that needs to happen. It’s one thing to understand the definition of idolatry. It’s one thing for you to understand that you have an idol and be able to identify it. But it’s something altogether different to stop worshipping that idol. The third thing that has to happen in our lives, that God is calling us to, is to obey the first commandment. He wants us to get to the place, by His power, where we don’t have any other gods before Him.
There are a couple of ways God goes about healing idolatry. But first, if you’re a Christian, I’ve got some really good news about how God goes about setting us free from idolatry. I’ve also got some really difficult news about how God goes about healing and setting us free from idolatry.
The good news is that God is going to set you free from idolatry. It’s a promise.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
If you think about that, it’s crazy. From the day you are saved God goes to work in your life and then every single solitary day from then on, until the day you see Jesus face-to-face, He is perfecting the work He began in you.
Who in the world has ever been perfect? There’s only been one. Jesus.
So the Scripture just said God is at work in your life right this moment, doing a work in you to where you are going to look like the person of Jesus Christ.
How many idols did Jesus have? Zero. How many things in Jesus’ life did He let take the place of God? Zero. He was tempted in all of them, but never did He let something become an idol of His heart.
When He was in the desert Satan tempted Him with comfort. Jesus had been fasting for forty days. Satan told him to take rocks, turn them into bread and comfort and satiate His own hunger. He tempted Him with control. He told Jesus He had the power to take control of the situation and fix His own hunger. Jesus responded, “Satan, it is written that man should not live by bread alone, but only by that which comes forth from the mouth of God.” Jesus took what could have been an idol in His life and just said no. Even in the midst of all that, God was on the throne of His heart.
Then Satan tempted Him with the idol of power. He took Him to a high mountain, showing Him all the kingdoms of the world and told Him He could have all of it. Jesus said, “Go Satan!” then He quoted the first commandment, “You shall worship the Lord your God and you shall serve Him only,” (Matthew 4:10).
When was the last time you quoted the first commandment in the midst of temptation?
God is at work in your life at this very second, making and transforming you to look like Jesus Christ.
The good news is that God is going to set you free from your idolatry. But the bad news is that God is going to set you free from your idolatry. It’s actually not bad news; it’s just difficult and inconvenient news.
After God told Moses the first commandment, He explained why we’re not supposed to serve idols. It’s because He is a jealous god. God is not okay with your idolatry. He loves you too much. He loves His glory too much. God will do whatever it takes to get your idolatry out of your life. He will complete and perfect the good work He began in you.
There are two ways He does this.
If you have something you’ve made an idol, He will withhold giving it to you, even if it’s a good thing. He does this so that after a vain pursuit you’ll finally turn to Him and realize He is all that you need.
During Colt McCoy’s senior year, we met every week. What began as a mentoring relationship turned into a pretty close friendship. So I called him a couple of weeks ago and asked him to talk to our church about how God has been tearing down his idols. He understands he is one of the most blessed people on the planet and that any difficult he’s had on the football field does not compare to the struggles other people are facing in their lives right now. But he talked about how he had made success an idol. It was through God allowing him to go through all these difficulties, struggles, failures and losses and God withholding things that really turned his heart toward Jesus.
Did you catch what he said at the end? While he was talking about the National Championship, he said, “That time in my life, it was the most important thing, it’s what I thought about, what I talked about, what I cared about,” then he said something that was biblically right on the money, through being completely taken out of the game and ultimately losing the game, by the Lord not giving him this thing he had made an idol, the Lord taught him, “that if all that stuff was taken away, if football is gone, my dreams are gone, if everything I have and own and everything I’ve worked for is taken away, what I learned is that Jesus is enough for me.” That is the place God is bringing you too.
He said, “What I learned is that Jesus is enough for me. Up to that point I don’t think I could have said that.” Do you see what God was doing in his life? God was withholding these things from him that he had made idols in order to turn his eyes to Jesus so he would know Jesus is enough.
For a lot of you in the room that’s exactly what God is doing in your life right now. God is at work setting you free from the idolatry of your heart and He’s doing it by withholding an idol from you.
Has it ever dawned on you that might be why you’re going through the difficult circumstance you’re going through right now? Have you thought about how God might be trying to win your heart? Maybe that difficult circumstance is being allowed by God in order to turn your heart fully to Him? It’s entirely possible that maybe even the really good thing you desire, God might be keeping it from you right now in order to get you to the place where you truly believe Jesus is enough. It will only be when He withholds that from you that you will get to the place where you can say that.
Make no mistake, He will let his sons and daughters walk through the desert in order to win their hearts.
Your difficult circumstance might not be because He’s removed His hand from your life, it’s because His hands are all over you. Turn to Him.
We’re so stubborn sometimes and hard hearted that it’s not enough for God to say worship and serve Him only. It’s not enough for the Lord to let us know there’s a part of us that only He can fill. It’s not enough for us to have an idol and for Him to withhold it for a while. We are so stubborn sometimes that He actually has to give us the idol we want before we realize that it wasn’t what we thought it was and then believe Him.
For many of us, God will have to treat us like He did King Solomon. He gave him everything he desired. When he got it, he realized it didn’t satisfy him like he thought it would. This happened over and over again. Eventually, what happened to King Solomon will happen to you. You will come to the conclusion, because God is completing and perfecting the good work He began in you, that God put eternity in your heart and there’s nothing in this world that will satisfy and fulfill that part of you, except Him.
There are a lot of us like Solomon that get to the end of our lives and then it hits us like a ton of bricks; we’ve wasted our lives! We’ve wasted our lives putting things in our hearts that absolutely do not have the ability to meet the deepest needs of our souls.
Unfortunately, for a lot of us, that is how God is going to have to deal with your idolatry. You might say you believe in all this, but you’re going to leave here today and continue chasing your idols. The only way God is ever going to make you realize that thing will not do what you think it’s going to do is by giving it to you. That’s what he did with me.
One of the deepest idols I’ve placed before God in my heart is approval. I could tell you story after story from growing up that contributed to this idol.
When I was growing up I never felt like I measured up to my dad. I love my dad; we have an awesome relationship today. But my dad was the kind of dad that when I’d go three for four in a baseball game, he would say, “Hey, let’s talk about that strike out.”
My freshman year, before I was a Christian I messed up physically with a girl. That was pretty much all of our relationship. Over Christmas break I called her and said, “Hey, I’d like to date you.” Over the phone she said, “No, I don’t want to date you. I’m not through using you yet, but I don’t want to date you.” That crushed me. That was the rock bottom, the catalyst to me coming to the Lord.
After I was a Christian, I was in the car with a family member and I was a young youth pastor at a church of eighty people total. I think I had seven youth at the time. We were driving past this big church and I made the statement, “Man, I would love to preach at a church like that one day.” I was just being youthful and dreaming big. I kid you not, the family member in the car responded, “Maybe, but you’re probably just going to be a used car salesman one day.” He was just joking, but again, it messed me up.
My mom was amazing, but she said something one time that has always stuck with me. It was one of my very first times I had ever preached. When you stand up in front of a bunch of people, it’s difficult, you feel so naked. So if there’s anybody you want to tell you that you did well, it’s your mom. It was a horrible sermon I knew that, but I looked at my mom and said, “How’d I do?” She said, “It was good. You’re no Chris Osborn, but it was good,” that was her favorite preacher.
I could go on and on of these stories, because of my sinfulness they produced an environment in my heart where I hungered and longed to be approved of, liked, accepted and valued. So as a result, I started looking to thousands of things and people and status to satisfy that deep hunger.
The way God had to heal me of that idol is by actually giving me all the stuff I thought I wanted in life. All the things I wanted to experience and have in order to be satisfied.
My dad speaks so much value into my life now, but still that hunger for approval was there. The guy that made the comment about me being a used car salesman came to hear me preach and had tears streaming down his face. My wife is unbelievable; she absolutely and unconditionally loves me and speaks value into my life all the time. But even through all these things, there was still that hunger and longing for approval. It didn’t matter how big our church got or how many came. They didn’t satisfy. No matter how many people would approve and applaud my sermon, that one negative comment would crush me. It didn’t matter how many times my wife would say she loves me, yet I still had this gnawing need in my heart.
I was looking to non-eternal stuff to fill a need that only God can meet.
Then God took a big step in healing me of the idol of approval. A while back, Halim was preaching about Jacob. He talked about how Jacob was always running from God and God just kept running after him. God would meet and minister to him, and then Jacob would take off again. Then Halim said something that just made the light come on. He said, “Jacob let go of God a thousand times, but God never let go of Jacob.”
Suddenly the Holy Spirit spoke to me more clearly than He has ever spoken in my life. The Lord said, “Matt, that’s you! You have let go of God a thousand times. But He has never let you go.” For the first time in my life, I believed it with all my heart.
Jesus approves of me.
He has loved me and His hand has guided me since the day I was born. I finally believed it.
I still wrestle with approval. But now when somebody criticizes me, it doesn’t crush me anymore. When people come and compliment my sermon, it ministers to me, but I’ve learned there is no applause of man that compares to the applause of Jesus. It just doesn’t measure up. I think my wife is the most amazing woman in the world. But as unbelievable as she is, there is no love of a woman or of a man that compares to the love of Jesus Christ.
I want to read to you a quote from a book. It’s by Joseph Stowell’s, called Simply Jesus:
“I’m only in my early sixties, and I already find myself weary of the hollow memories of what few accomplishments I may have mustered in my life. My failures continue to embarrass me. The inadequacies I carried with me since my youth still frustrate me. My insecurities still trouble my soul. And the praise of others has an increasingly hollow ring. I am tired of worrying about whether or not the sermon I preached was good enough or whether or not somebody will pat me on the back for a job well done. I’m tired of worrying about what people think about me. I’m weary of the carnal feeling that sometimes haunts me when someone talks about their favorite preacher…and it’s not me.
Bottom line, I just flat out get tired of me.
But I never get tired of Jesus.
After all these years, I still find Him more compelling, more engaging, more awesome, more surprising, more fulfilling, and more attractive than ever before.
I never get tired of singing His praises or of watching Him perform. I find Him to be gripping. Absorbing. Beyond comprehension. And that’s why--along with Paul, my grandmother, Billy Graham and countless others through the years--I find myself longing to know Him better.
I am becoming increasingly aware that life doesn’t go on forever. When we’re young, we think we’re bulletproof. We live like we’ll never die. But when your knees protest certain movements and your eyesight and memory begin to grow fuzzy, reality sets in. Time moves us on, and before long we all will be on the edge of life in the past tense, with most of our days in the rear view mirror.
As much as I would rather not think about it, the day is coming when I’ll be sitting in the corner of some nursing home waiting for them to ring the lunch bell. And if life up to that point has been all about me, that is going to be a sad and empty day--no matter what they’re serving for lunch. Why? Because all I will have will be me! Which at that point it won’t be much.
But…if my life has been about knowing Jesus and experiencing a deepening relationship with Him, as I sit in that corner of the nursing home waiting for the lunch bell to ring, He’ll be there with me.
And He’ll be more wonderful on that day than ever before. His presence will be my companion. He’ll talk with me, and I won’t have any trouble hearing Him when He tells me that I am His own. He’ll say, “Well, Joe, you’re almost home.” And I’ll say, “Lord, the sooner the better. I’ve heard Your voice through all these years, and now I can’t wait to see Your face.” He and I will be having such a grand time of fellowship that I just might miss the sound of the lunch bell.”
It’s true. Jesus is better.