Category Archives: idolatry

“Idolatry is trying to play God to one’s gods” by J.I. Packer

“Paul’s words here endorse the consistent biblical testimony that idolatry is inexcusable. Scripture never condones idolatry on the grounds that men knew no better, but condemns it on the assumption that they did, and that irrespective of whether they had encountered any part of God’s special revelation or not (Is. xliv.10-20; Hab. ii. 18-20).

Quite so, says Paul; for it is out of general, not special, revelation that idolatry has been manufactured. Idolatry is a lie grafted on to some of the intuitions of general revelation in order to smother the rest; it was invented to provide sinners with gods they can worship while remaining their own masters. One of the contradictions of fallen human nature is the desire to be lord of what one worships.

As a creature, man yearns for a god to serve; as a sinner, he is resolved to play God himself, and demands that everything else should serve him. This explains the absurd actions of the pagan who directs acts of worship to the image he made himself (Is. xliv. 10-20), while at the same time developing techniques of sacrifice, prayer and sympathetic magic for getting his imaginary god to do what he wants (cf. 1 Ki. xvii. 25-28 with verses 36, 37, and Mt. vi. 7).

And Scripture recognizes more forms of idolatry than polytheism. It says that idolatry exists whenever man gives himself up, heart and soul, to mastering an adored object. Covetousness is thus idolatry (Col. iii. 5). So it by no means follows that sinners forsake idolatry when they abandon polytheism.

All that happens is that they change their gods. Some ‘idolize’ wealth; and Christ calls such the slaves of Mammon in just the same exclusive sense as the Christian is the servant of his God (Mt. vi. 19, 24). Others ‘idolize’ and live for ideas, ideals, a cause, power, a wife, children, country, beauty, and many other things besides.

The self-contradictory lust of sinful man to have something he can worship and master at the same time takes countless forms, each exhibiting the same pathetic ambivalence.

Trying to rule what one serves—being enslaved by what one tries to rule—trying to play God to one’s gods, and ending up the captive of them all—that is idolatry, in all its forms. It is a satanic parody of man’s original relation to his Maker, and a source of endless misery to all its practioners.”

–James I. Packer, “Some Thoughts on General Revelation,” Christian Graduate 9.3 (1956): 119.

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“Resting in what Jesus has done” by Timothy Keller

“Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. This cannot be remedied only by repenting that you have an idol, or using willpower to try to live differently. Turning from idols is not less than those two things, but it is also far more.

‘Setting the mind and heart on things above’ where ‘ your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:1-3) means appreciating, rejoicing, and resting in what Jesus has done for you. It entails joyful worship, a sense of God’s reality in prayer.

Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods. If you uproot the idol and fail to ‘plant’ the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.”

–Timothy J. Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Dutton, 2009), 171-172.

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“Rejoicing and repentance” by Timothy Keller

“Rejoicing and repentance must go together. Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair. Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration instead of deep change.

Indeed, it is when we rejoice over Jesus’s sacrificial love for us most fully that, paradoxically, we are most truly convicted of our sin. When we repent out of fear of consequences, we are not really sorry for the sin, but for ourselves.

Fear-based repentance (‘I’d better change or God will get me’) is really self-pity. In fear-based repentance, we don’t learn to hate the sin for itself, and it doesn’t lose its attractive power. We learn only to refrain from it for our own sake.

But when we rejoice over God’s sacrificial, suffering love for us– seeing what it cost Him to save us from sin– we learn to hate the sin for what it is. We see what the sin cost God.

What most assures us of God’s unconditional love (Jesus’s costly death) is what most convicts us of the evil of sin. Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.”

–Timothy J. Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Dutton, 2009), 172.

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“We may behold Him as in a mirror” by John Calvin

“Paul calls the Son the ‘image of the invisible God’, meaning by this, that it is in Him alone that God, who is otherwise invisible, is manifested to us, in accordance with what is said in John 1:18, ‘No man hath ever seen God: the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath Himself manifested Him to us.’

For Christ is called the image of God on this ground– that He makes God in a manner visible to us. The sum is this– that God in Himself, that is, in His naked majesty, is invisible, and that not to the eyes of the body merely, but also to the understandings of men, and that He is revealed to us in Christ alone, that we may behold Him as in a mirror.

For in Christ He shows us His righteousness, goodness, wisdom, power, in short, His entire self. We must, therefore, beware of seeking Him elsewhere, for everything that would set itself off as a representation of God, apart from Christ, will be an idol.”

–John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, trans. T.H.L. Parker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 308. Calvin is commenting on Colossians 1:15.

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“These cannot satisfy” by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

“All forms of idolatry involve us deeply in folly. All idolatry is not only treacherous but also futile. Human desire, deep and restless and seemingly unfulfillable, keeps stuffing itself with finite goods, but these cannot satisfy.

If we try to fill our hearts with anything besides the God of the universe, we find that we are overfed but undernourished, and we find that day by day, week by week, year after year, we are thinning down to a mere outline of a human being.”

–Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 122-123.

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“The idolatry of talent” by John Angell James

“There is in this day an idolatry of talent running through society; and this man-worship has crept into the church, and corrupted its members. It is painful to perceive how far it is carried in many circles, and to see what homage is paid, and what incense is burnt, to their favourites.

It is not religion or holiness that is thus elevated, but genius and knowledge: it is not moral beauty, but intellectual strength, that is lauded to the skies: the loftiest models of goodness receive but scanty offerings at their shrine, compared with the gods of the understanding.

It is very evident that in many cases the gospel is loved, if loved at all, for the sake of the talent with which it is preached, and not the talent for sake of the gospel.”

–John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1847/1993), 249.

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“Defined by the worship of God” N.T. Wright

“Christians are not defined by skin colour, by gender, by geographical location, or even, shockingly, by their good behaviour. Nor are they defined by the particular type of religious feelings they may have. They are defined in terms of the God they worship.

That’s why we say the Creed at the heart of our regular liturgies: we are defined as the people who believe in this God. All other definitions of the church are open to distortion.

We need theology, we need doctrine, because if we don’t have it something else will come in to take its place. And any other defining marks of the church will move us in the direction of idolatry.”

–N. T. Wright, For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 28.

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