Idols of the heart

Unmasking the Idols of the Heart

“The idols we worship in our hearts determine the direction and the purposes of our lives.” Timothy J. Keller.

Mark 10:21-22 “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Philippians 3:19 “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

Today, we embark on a profound journey of unmasking the idols of the heart. These idols are not mere relics of a bygone era, characterized by physical statues or golden calves. Instead, they are modern entities that insidiously compete with the Father for our affection, devotion, and trust. Their presence in our lives often leads us astray from God’s intended purpose and will for our existence. In this blog, we will explore this topic by seeking biblical wisdom and insights to identify, confront, and overcome these contemporary idols that hinder our relationship with God and our spiritual growth. Let us embark on this enlightening exploration together, unveiling the truth that lies hidden within the recesses of our hearts.

Understanding Idols
Ezekiel 14:3 states, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them?” (ESV). Today, as with the Israelites in Ezekiel, idols of the heart refer to those hidden desires, attachments, and priorities that we elevate above our devotion to God. Idols of the heart can take various forms, such as material possessions, relationships, ambitions, ideologies, or even our self- image. These idols captivate our affections, demanding our time, energy, and resources, thereby robbing God of His rightful place. What is consistent is that they subtly replace God’s rightful place in our hearts and hinder our obedience to His will. In Philippians 3:19, Paul describes the mindset and behavior of people who are controlled by their physical desires and appetites. They prioritize satisfying their immediate physical needs and cravings above spiritual matters or moral considerations and so the pursuit of sensual pleasure and self-indulgence becomes their ultimate goal. The phrase “their end is destruction” refers to the ultimate consequence of their way of life. They are focused on temporary, earthly things, and their actions lead to ruin and spiritual emptiness. Mark 10:21-22 emphasizes the love of money and material possessions as a hindrance to following Jesus and living a life of faith. Although the rich young man did not even mention his wealth and possessions, Jesus saw right into the heart of the matter. The man had followed all the commands in the Bible, and yet his attachment to his wealth prevented him from fully committing to Jesus. While the pursuit of physical needs and cravings may be more obvious idols, some are more subtle or dress themselves up as good or godly.

The Deceptive Nature of Idols
Does something define your worth and identity or consume your thoughts, actions, and priorities? Ezekiel 14:4 warns, “I will answer him according to his many idols” (ESV), which emphasizes how we can give power to our longing and desires believing they are what we need to find fulfillment. These longings can range from a desire for a spouse, a position, or even a ministry. Thus, we can deceive ourselves into believing these desires will bring fulfillment and provide us with joy and security or that they are even God’s will for us. However, these idols are incapable of providing true fulfillment and eternal significance, especially if they stand before God. Instead, they only offer temporary satisfaction, ultimately leaving us empty and disconnected from God. Moreover, idols of the heart blind us to the abundant life God intends for us, leaving us in a state of spiritual bondage. Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3:5 to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (ESV). Ezekiel 14:4 warns us about the danger of being estranged from God due to idols: “Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry.’”

The Consequences of Idolatry
God’s response to idolatry is certainly not one of indifference. Ezekiel 14:7 says, “For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself.” Moreover, Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11 tells us that God will not share His glory and praise with anything or anyone. Thus, idols of the heart have far-reaching consequences and when we allow idols to infiltrate our hearts, we distance ourselves from God’s presence, our discernment and prayers become hindered (James 4:3, Psalm 66:18), and we forfeit the blessings that flow from an intimate relationship with Him. Then, even when we seek God and our desire is preeminent in our hearts, God Himself will answer us according to that desire. Ezekiel 14:5 and 11 says that God will do this, so that He may lay hold of our hearts that “they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.” Yet, we are not without hope. In Isaiah 48:9-11 God says “For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Therefore, we can know that if we earnestly seek God, He will show us whether any idols hinder our walk with Him and He will help us root them out.

Recognizing and Dismantling Idols
Identifying idols of the heart is the natural first step to dealing with them. However, merely correcting behavior or altering some of the outflows of habits is merely dealing with the symptoms. Like reflux, antacids provide temporary relief by neutralizing or reducing the production of stomach acid. Ultimately, antacids do not address the underlying issue of why the stomach acid is flowing back into the esophagus in the first place. So it is with dismantling idols of the heart. To remain steadfast in God’s will, we must diligently examine our hearts and identify any idols that may have taken root. Psalm 139:23-24 inspires us to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” By seeking God’s insight and examining our desires and priorities, we can identify the idols that hinder our relationship with Him. Ezekiel 14:6 urges us to repent and turn away from idolatry: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” Repentance involves not only recognizing the idols we have erected in our hearts but also confessing them before God and actively choosing to prioritize Him above all else. Only when we place God in His rightful position of preeminence can everything else fall into place.

Cultivating a Heart for God
True worship requires a genuine surrender of our hearts to God alone. We must prioritize Him above all else, allowing His love and truth to shape our desires and guide our decisions. God desires to recapture our hearts and restore our relationship with Him. Ezekiel 14:5 says, “That I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.” By seeking His presence through prayer, studying His Word, and engaging in fellowship with other believers, we cultivate a heart aligned with His will. To uproot the idols of our hearts, we must cultivate a deep love and reverence for God. Colossians 3:2 encourages us to set our minds “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Certainly, it is God’s will for us not to be bound by idols of the heart and we can be confident that He will answer our sincere prayers. 1 John 5:14-15 “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (ESV). While Ezekiel 14 focuses on the consequences of idolatry, seeking guidance from false prophets, and warns against turning away from God and emphasizing the negative outcomes of such actions, God does provide us with an answer. Psalm 37:4 highlights the importance of finding delight in the Lord, with the promise that God will fulfill the desires of those who prioritize their relationship, and encourages individuals to draw closer to Him. By focusing on Jesus, studying His Word, and nurturing a vibrant prayer life, we can develop a heart that is steadfastly devoted to Him alone.

Drifting away from God’s will is a subtle process that can happen to anyone, even those with sincere intentions. As followers of Christ, we examine our hearts and identify the idols that may hinder our spiritual growth. The idols of the heart hinder our relationship with God and impede our obedience to His will. However, by recognizing the deceptive power of our desires, understanding the consequences of idolatry, and actively pursuing a genuine relationship with God, we can dismantle the idols in our hearts and realign ourselves with His purpose. Let us heed the words of Ezekiel, allowing the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and lead us on a transformative journey toward true worship and wholehearted devotion to the Almighty. Let us continually seek the Lord’s guidance, allowing Him to mold our desires and lead us in the way everlasting.

Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

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