Why does it matter whether or not all sin is described as idolatry?
It has surprised me, as I’ve researched it, how many Christians simply assume that all Christians churn out idols. To think that everyone who worships Jesus Christ is all the time actually worshiping something else is disturbing at its core.
As I studied the topic, I saw this quotation again and again from John Calvin: “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”
The writers who quote him are speaking to Christians, but the vast majority don’t let their readers or hearers know that Calvin was talking about man in his pre-redeemed state. He wasn’t talking about a person with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
So without any Biblical precedent, Christians have been declared to be idol factories.
As I study it, I see several significant problems with the Christians-as-idol-factories construct. The main one I want to focus on here is how this teaching goes down in the life of one who is being abused.
Idols in the Bible
Yes, the Old Testament spoke of “other gods” the people were forbidden to worship, as well as idols to “image” those gods. In the New Testament, which was written to those whose hearts had been redeemed—after the “image” of the one true God had come—First Thessalonians 1:9 says, “For they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God.”
Now, according to the New Covenant under which we Christians live, we are told to not be idolaters like some of the Israelites (I Corinthians 10:7), to flee idolatry (I Cor 10:14), to keep ourselves from idols (I John 5:21), to refuse the idolatry of covetousness (Col 3:5), and to avoid keeping company with idolaters who call themselves Christians (I Cor 5:11).
This is the sum total of the instruction the Lord saw fit to give His New Covenant children regarding idolatry. Idolatry is significant enough to be mentioned and warned against several times, but it is obviously not the explanation for all sin, because sin is talked about so much in all the rest of the New Testament.
However . . .
Idols in modern teaching
The “idol” explanation for sin as a common construct began, as far as I could tell, in the early to mid 1990s, and has been gaining in steam and momentum ever since. Many articles and books since then have been written by heavyweight Christian teachers to explain all sins in terms of idolatry (though neither the New Testament nor the Old Testament does this), which basically means whenever we sin, we Christians are worshiping something other than Jesus Christ. In Tim Keller’s recent and popular book Counterfeit Gods, he devises a very broad definition for the term idol. He says an idol is:
- Anything we make more important than God.
- Anything that absorbs our hearts and minds more than God.
- Anything we seek to give us what only God can give (security, value, meaning, etc)
- Anything so central and essential to life that if we lose it, life no longer feels worth living.
I challenge you to look at that list in the context of someone who is in an abusive relationship, with either spouse or parent.
Why have a number of women from abusive marriages said, “My husband became a god to me”? It’s because all her thoughts were absorbed in either trying to please him, trying to avoid angering him, trying to appease his anger, or trying to protect her children from him. So even though she tried to diligently maintain her quiet times with the Lord, there were times when #2 above was definitely true for her.
Also, notice that in #3, there is no distinction drawn between ultimate security, value, and meaning—which are to be found in God alone—and the security, value, and meaning in human relationships, which are perfectly right and appropriate for human beings to have. This is the way God made us.
Also notice in #4 that there is no allowance made for grief. If someone loses a child in a tragic accident, it may feel for a time that life is no longer worth living, but this doesn’t mean that child was an idol. It simply means the person is going through the dark valley of grief.
If a woman who wanted to keep her body saved for marriage is raped, she may feel for a time that life is not worth living. But she shouldn’t be told that virginity was an idol to her. She should be allowed to grieve the loss and process the trauma.
If a woman who never believed in or wanted a divorce then ends up divorced because of adultery, abandonment, or abuse, she may feel for a time that life is no longer worth living. This doesn’t mean that her husband or her marriage was necessarily an idol to her. It simply means that she is going through the valley of grief.
Four “root idols”
In recent years, according to Tim Keller and others, all the many myriads of possible idols have been boiled down to four “root idols” of the heart, or “meta idols” (idols that are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, just FYI):
— A longing for influence or recognition — That’s an “idol of power”
— A longing for things to go according to my plan — That’s an “idol of control”
— A longing for pleasure — That’s an “idol of comfort”
— A longing to be accepted or desired — That’s an “idol of approval”
If you look at those four descriptions of idolatry through the eyes of a woman with a sensitive conscience who is in an abusive marriage, you’ll see a problem immediately. (This also applies to men in abusive marriages and children of abusive and neglectful parents.)
First, she would love to be recognized and noticed by a husband who instead ignores her, stares right through her, and perhaps gives her daughter the attention she believes she should have.
She would love to have a voice in decisions rather than being completely discounted, especially regarding the children.
So then, because she has a “longing for influence or recognition,” she reads or hears that she has an idol of power. And because of her sensitive conscience, she believes this and struggles with it.
She would love occasionally to be able to make a plan for the family without it being overridden or sabotaged or destroyed by an unpredictably unstable spouse.
She dreams of maybe even getting to drive somewhere in the car without having to account when she returns for every tenth of a mile on the odometer.
So then, because she has “a longing for things to go according to my plan,” she reads or hears that she has an idol of control.
Do I? she wonders. Maybe I need to repent of that.
Because she would love to be able to spend a day walking on something other than eggshells and trying to keep the children quiet and happy and perfect, because she would love to feel happy anticipation instead of fear as the clock approaches time for the husband to return home and she wonders what kind of emotional state he’ll be in when he returns or even if or when he’ll return, wanting to have stability in the home, then she has “a longing for pleasure,” an idol of comfort, and she knows she needs to repent and try harder.
Because she would love to hear, just once, her own real name used in a kind and gentle tone rather than that sickeningly mocking tone or those other unspeakable names, because she would love to receive a gentle touch or maybe even a gentle hug instead of no touch at all or the “touch” of nightmares, well then she has “a longing to be accepted and desired,” and that’s an idol of approval.
It’s wrong to want that, she thinks. I’m just an idol factory.
I hope you don’t think I’m exaggerating or overstating the case. In hours of research and reading I couldn’t find a single Christian-as-idol-factory book or article or blog that allowed for any sort of legitimate longing for recognition, stability, pleasure, or acceptance, except for that to be found in Christ.
And I want to emphasize, without a doubt, that our ultimate recognition, stability, pleasure, and acceptance are to be found in Christ! But there is appropriate recognition, stability, pleasure, and acceptance in this life too. It’s called human love, agape love or even filial love. God told us to love one another, and He made us to receive that love.
Digging at the roots of idolatry
Here are a few of the questions David Powlison recommends to help you find the idols of your heart. Read them through the eyes of someone in an abusive relationship in which she lives with the fear, emotional instability, chaos, and confusion of her husband’s mental manipulations, threats, and terror:
- Whose desires do you obey? This summarizes the internal operations of the “flesh” in the New Testament epistles. Notice, sometimes another person’s will rules you (peer pressure, people-pleasing, slave-like behavior). Your heart’s craving in such cases is to get whatever good they promise and avoid whatever bad they threaten.
- What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?
- Who must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living?
And some more questions from the Village Church website to help you find your idols:
- What do you worry about the most? What do you worry about all the time? A psychologist actually said, “If you want to find out what you’re worshiping or what’s determining or driving your life, look at your nightmares. What’s your greatest nightmare? What are you worried about?”
The answers to these questions, they say, will help you find your idols. So, because a woman in an abusive relationship will answer “my husband” . . . “my husband” . . . “my husband” . . . she will then be led to believe she has made an idol out of her husband and needs to repent of this sin. She is to submit to him without making him an idol, which means submitting without thinking about any of these questions. The tightrope has become thinner and higher as she tries to balance and gasps for breath.
Idolatry as worship or appeasement?
The concept of true Biblical worship of the true God—heart worship, the kind that God demands and delights in—always carries with it the idea of joy, gladness, fulfillment, responsiveness, and aliveness of the entire self. And that’s worshiping the true God, who He really is, not some construct of the worshiper’s mind. Our God is ill-impressed by those who don’t worship Him in spirit, and by those who don’t worship Him in truth. But the true worship that is the worship of the spirit, He delights in, and we can too.
The Christian-as-idol-factory teachers say that all sin falls under the category of false worship of false gods. False worship, as worship is defined in the paragraph above, would be a case in which a person would need to repent of deviant desires.
But the scenarios I’ve mentioned suggest the possibility that there may be false gods that people don’t actually worship but only appease. This would be a case of a person needing to be rescued from the darkness.
Appeasing an angry god
In some of my missionary books, I write about tribal people who practiced spirit appeasement through sacrifices and other rituals. The overwhelming emotions involved were fear and despair. Joy, for them, was a foreign concept—until they heard the gospel and believed in Jesus Christ.
A woman whose husband is a demanding, fearsome overlord and whose church supports his abuse with their demands to submit and try harder may find that she has to practice appeasement in order to survive. And so she might say, “My husband became a god to me.”
Even the wrong view of God as a demanding, exacting overlord who is always angry and waiting to punish for the smallest misstep, the kind preached in spiritually abusive churches, presents a situation in which people believe they have to perform acts to appease an angry god. This is not worship.
How to help someone who is appeasing an angry god
First, offer hope! This isn’t the time to rebuke someone for their sin. They’re living in fear, and they need hope. They need hope that the true God actually has power over the spirits they fear. They need hope that the abuser husband does not represent the true God. They need hope that the true God is not like that one preached in that spiritually abusive church. Their thinking needs to be untwisted with truth, bit by bit, in love.
I’ve known of women who lived with abusive husbands, women who feared for their lives, who were told they had sinful fear and needed to memorize Bible verses on not fearing. These women don’t need to be reprimanded for deviant desires. They need to be rescued from the darkness.
Don’t allow “idolatry” to be a catch-all accusation
Because it’s very common to paint all sins and even some non-sins with the brush of “idolatry” these days, this has the potential to be a long section, but I’ll address only a few.
Don’t confuse idolatry with grief
A woman who loved the Lord experienced the loss of a baby through miscarriage. She talked with someone about her ongoing struggles, including guilt at the lack of excitement she had been feeling over this new baby, because she had been wondering how to care for a fifth child when she was already so tired from caring for four other young ones. The person she spoke with told her that her idol was comfort.
I would suggest that rather than struggling with idolatry, she was struggling with grief.
I’ve written about grief on this blog before, and at much greater length in Untwisting Scriptures in the chapter called “I must be bitter.” I believe Christians need to have a much deeper understanding of grief and its complexities, to be willing to sit with others in their grief, and to grieve with them. The loss of a precious child is one of those times.
Don’t confuse idolatry with doubt
Doubt needs encouragement rather than castigation. Even our Lord Jesus, when the disciples doubted, didn’t scold them. His rebuke “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” was a gentle one, given after He had already calmed the storm.
Doubt also dissipates with the feet-on-the-ground encouragement of Christians helping each other in trenches of life. So many of us simply need someone to lovingly walk with us through our dark valleys of grief and doubt, with someone to patiently remind us of God’s faithfulness, until we can once again clearly see the goodness of God.
Don’t confuse idolatry with fear
“Fear not, little flock,” Jesus said to His disciples, “for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Does this sound like a reprimand given to people in idolatry?
There are many who live with fear, maybe because they don’t understand who God really is, or maybe because of an abusive person in their lives, or maybe because of a past that haunts them.
Instead of being told to repent of idolatry, they need to be offered hope and love. They need to be offered rescue and deliverance. They need to be offered the fullness of the great Salvation of Jesus Christ.
If we can see each other with our sin and struggles in a more three-dimensional living and breathing form than simply as idol factories, if in the power of the Holy Spirit we can walk with each other in compassion, then we’ll be more like the Christians of the early Church whose neighbors marveled about them.
We may have the privilege of seeing people in our own communities say, “Behold, how they love one another.”
Let’s look to Him for it to be so.
Note: This article isn’t meant to imply that someone who thinks of himself or herself as a Christian can’t become an idolater—the Bible speaks clearly otherwise about that. I want to talk more about that eventually, exploring when and how a distraction or a desire can become idolatry, but I wanted to limit this post more to the topic of abuse. It was long enough already!
Sometimes, I think there is nothing in our lives that someone in the church hasn’t written a book or developed a theory about to make us feel guilty for going through it. Several of your examples applied to my past. And now, coming out of an emotionally abusive and betrayal filled marriage, it is the must forgive and “forget” thing. Can’t be a good Christian unless you jump on that and get it cleared up a.s.a.p. You’ll get bitter and won’t be close to the Lord….Ugh
Ilene, you might be interested in the chapters on “bitterness” in the book Untwisting Scriptures, which you can see in the right column or on my Books page. I’ve also written several blog posts about bitterness. Though there is sinful bitterness, all too often “bitterness” is just another guilt word to heap the burden on those who have been wounded and crushed. In researching this word, I couldn’t find anybody who really unpacked it and explained what it meant in the Scriptures, so it was high time.
Very perceptive post, Rebecca, one that will hopefully bring understanding and relief to those laboring under the weight of false guilt.
Excellent. Thank you Rebecca.
Excellent and intense. Thank you.
Everything good in this life is a whisper of hope not an idol. Thanks for the post as I was just thinking of this whole idol teaching nonsense a few days ago. My thoughts were this
It’s possible for things or people in this life to become idols, for sure. Otherwise, John wouldn’t have said, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” But also, from the very same Scripture, we know that it must be possible to keep ourselves from idols, right? We can enjoy and revel in the wonderful gifts God has given without letting them become idols. Hopefully another post on this will be coming soon.
Yes things can become idols. One must think this thought, “If I seriously had to chose between this(this person) and Jesus, hands down who would I chose. We must not think we have to love others less in order to love Him more. The more we love Him the more we love others.
That’s perfect. LOVE that!
[…] on their faces crying out to God, but if God doesn’t seem near to you, I get that. Believe me, I get it that when a husband becomes a raging dictator in his home and all of you feel like you have to […]
Thank you for this! Much to think about. Currently I’m going though a series at church about this very thing. That no matter what circumstances come, if God is my satisfaction I won’t sin. And if I do sin it’s because I have an idol.
For example the other day I was mad because once again, after making appeals in much sorrow for help at home, my husband just won’t. And then jokes about how he won’t do it. There is more but I won’t get into it.
Whenever I get angry I always think “ok, what is my idol here?” And my conculsion that day was having my husbands help is an idol. I just feel so confused. In your post you mentioned that we were made for human love also. Does this mean it is a right? I just wish that I would get over wanting his help.
If it’s an idol I don’t know how to let it go. I know God is my satisfaction. It is causing me to become bitter. I try not to let it show because then he will ask what’s wrong and I don’t want to lie, but it does no good to talk about it because then it just ends in a fight.
Thank you for bearing with my lengthy post. Any advice would be appreciated?
Thank you for your comment, Angela. I know I need to write more on idolatry and haven’t done it yet. But besides what I’ve written in this post, there are a couple of questions to consider and sort out. (1) When you’re angry, are you sinning? The answer is, “Maybe, maybe not.” You don’t have to immediately jump to the conclusion that you’re sinning if you’re angry. Maybe you’re angry about something that’s worth getting angry about. After all, Jesus did.
And the other question is (2) If your anger is sinful, is it born of some sort of idolatry? The answer is, “Maybe, maybe not.” It is absolutely wrong and unscriptural for people to be teaching “all anger = sin = idolatry.” So very unBiblical, on both counts.
Leslie Vernick distinguishes three types of marriages, Difficult, Disappointing, and Destructive, which she elaborates on here: http://www.leslievernick.com/whats-the-difference-between-a-difficult-disappointing-and-destructive-marriage/ Worth reading and studying; I found it very helpful for sorting out situations.
From what you’ve described, I can’t determine for sure whether your marriage is destructive or just disappointing. Reading more at Leslie’s site can give you more insight into that, and also http://www.cryingoutforjustice.com can give more insight into abusers and their ways. Continue to cry out to God for wisdom about how to proceed, knowing that He loves you and that as you trust Him He is transforming you into His likeness. I’m praying for you.
Thank you for your insight. It has given me much to think about.
I think allowing our thinking to be challenged is always a good thing, especially if it drives us back to Scripture with the prayer, “Lord what are You really saying in Your Word?” and asking the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to what He wants us to understand. Even if we end up where we were before, it will be with a deeper understanding of what we believe and why. I know that’s been true for me.
Very well said! I look forward to your future posts on this.
Leslie Vernick’s book helped me clarify my emotions and my situation in the light of scripture AND logic in my both disappointing and destructive marriage. I am still married, but I’ve been able to have guilt-free boundaries and true joy in my Heavenly Father. Feel free to contact me if you would like for me to share more. Prayers over you that Father God will guide you to helpful literature and people.
Hi Rebecca. I appreciate your approach to this topic. Your careful delineation of appeasement v. worship is key. Much to ponder. Thank you.
Wow!! I didn’t even question the idol doctrine until now, but this explains why some Christians can feel guilty about anything. It doesn’t take an abusive relationship because if I feel desire for a hamburger, it must be an idol according to some.
Amen! Good thoughts on the Calvinist idea 🙂
In abuse, it is often the abuser who makes himself an idol–the victim may not necessarily be viewing him as such.
Particularly disturbing are popular doctrines taught to Christian wives – – doctrines which train women to bow to their husbands in an idolatrous manner (Debi Pearl’s “Created to be His Help Meet’ for example)
This is really helpful
My religious but was abusive x husband still has a tendency to reprimand me if I’ve shown fear or anxiety, he and others say things like ‘feelings don’t matter, kick them out and proclaim scripture ‘
I’ve also been told of the divorce (which I didn’t want but was necessary because of my emotional and physical I’ll health ,made worse by the marriage ), you’ll be OK now ,you have jesus He is enough money repent of idolising your marriage when actually I was trying to overcome the grief of divorce , of I’ll health and sense of vulnerability as well as shock etc at realising I had been in a very controlling relatuonship
Most of my christian friends have not walked with me, they have preached at me
Making me feel more if a ‘bad’or ‘weak ‘christian
I agreen that grief is not understood or helped with in many churches and that coming out of abuse really isn’t understood
I’m hoping that one day I will do some teaching and support on this myself for others
What you said rings true to me
I’m very very sensitive to any preaching about idolatry, need to repent etc !
I’m so sorry to hear this, Annie, and pray that you’ll find full healing from your great grief in Jesus Christ.
Rebecca, thank you so much for this.
We women who have been abused at home, then reached for help from the church, have often found ourselves in a crazy trap. We are already trying desperately to hold our marriages and children together. The church tells us to try harder, to reverence our husbands, to focus on them more… Then when we experience the emotional devastation of everything falling apart in spite of our efforts, the church is there to tell us that our pain comes from false expectations and from idolatry.
We are burdened with the responsibility of changing our husbands through our reverence and ‘holy conduct’, then when it does not work, we are accused of having an idol of control.
We are stripped by the abusers of every resource for our needs, then told that we should take better care of ourselves, yet that we also have an idol of comfort.
The abusers shred our reputations, our relationships, and our self-worth… We hardly believe that anyone, even God, loves us. And the church shreds us some more. “Jesus is all you need”, they say. And we are told that we have an idol of approval.
We eventually learn not to want anything, especially God’s blessing… Because the church has taught us we are idolaters, and that we don’t deserve it.
Also in reply to Brenda Linn’s comment–you have hit it exactly on the head. Another way in which this idol construct is such a trap is that for a woman who finds herself in a hopeless situation, trying to do all the right things and hitting wall after wall, this represents one more thing she can DO to try and fix the situation. “If I could just get rid of all these idols in my life, then maybe God and my husband could love me.” And then, “God and my husband will never be able to love me because I will never be able to free myself from these evil desires.” Until bit by bit all the little pieces of her soul have been chipped away and there is nothing left. There are days where I literally feel like I don’t exist at all.
This is in reply to Brenda Linn’s comment….
Well said! What you put into words is the experience of so many. Victims can’t win. Whatever they do or don’t do, it’s used against them.
One of the best comments I’ve seen as far as articulating the maddening, catch 22, straightjacketing, gaslighting, blaming/shaming responses an abused woman encounters.
UGH! I hear you, Brenda, loud and clear. Thank you for your succinct articulation.
How had i not read this post before? So so timely and validating. Thank you so much for untwisting the false teaching and exposing the contexts in which these teachings seem harmless versus those where true harm is done. You are a treasure and a gift to the church-wounded Rebecca- thank you
I’m so thankful it was helpful, Quietrunner.
[…] blogged before about idolatry and how I wish Christians wouldn’t be so quick to accuse themselves and others of it. (Among […]
[…] that if they’re afraid of their abuser or plan their lives around him, that’s just evidence that they’re really an idol factory, […]
Also, if we, as dearly-loved children of God were straying into real idolotry, wouldn’t God tell us? Wouldn’t he point it out to us? Wouldn’t it bother us, as the Holy Spirit pokes at our conscience? Wouldn’t verses come to mind against this?
I know it’s difficult to tell the Holy Spirit’s true calling and conviction when you’re buried under the onslaught of guilt-soaked manure shoveled out by spiritually abusive churches and big-name preachers, books, and programs. That’s why God hates false shepards SO much! They stand in the place of the Holy Spirit and mislead His sheep, weighing them down (“while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Luke 11:46.) Sheep are not designed to be beasts of burden. Sheep are not made to carry crushing loads.
But God’s gentle “rod and staff, they comfort me,” and “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psam 23, the “Shepherd’s psalm.” I have to believe that if we are truly worshipping idols, that God would seek us out and gently, but firmly, bring us back. He would not let us rest, give us no peace, where we were.
If we are poked at by the Holy Spirit, and we still prefer and choose our idol, then that is what shows our hearts. But, thinking of abusers, or big-name preachers (who oftentimes are both), who sit in the center on the throne of their own idol temples in their own kingdom, they are the people who would prefer and choose their idol over God.
My thought trail leads me to one of the biggest cripplers that these preachers dole out. “You are so sinful (child of God) that you have idols and pet sins that even you don’t know about!” This sent-from-hell teaching devatates us, the spiritually-sensitive, because we are either constantly on edge — searching, searching, searching for a hidden “idol of the heart” — or we despair thinking we will never get it right, we’ll never be good enough. I’ve lived through this. (Experience, that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn. C.S. Lewis) After all, “gaslight someone and they’ll serve for a day. Teach them to gaslight themselves, and they’ll serve for a lifetime.” Janice Lagata from the Roys Report podcast.
We wear ourselves out, searching relentlessly for a sin that God Himself doesn’t think is a sin, or that He doesn’t think He needs to point out to us at that moment. We try fruitlessly to be our own Holy Spirit. Faith means we rest –rest! — and simply live in Jesus’ full payment for all our sins. Then, when our Shepherd needs to, we trust and rest in Him that He will guide us, He will correct us, He will “lead us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” He is strong enough, wise enough, and smart enough to see and know when we are straying. And He is strong enough, wise enough, and smart enough (and He know his sheep’s individual wiring well enough) to know how to get through to us and how to bring us back. We rest and trust that He knows how to guide us. He’ll get through to us when He sees that we need it.
Besides, when we do sin, let’s face it, we know have sinned. We are aware. God gives us awareness. God gave us a conscience, and the Holy Spirit Himself lives inside us when we become “in Christ.” The Holy Spirit is God and He is repulsed by sin and He will steer our hearts and minds. When we really do sin, we know what we’re doing. God convicts us of it. We are repulsed. We confess it. We follow our Shepherd back. If there are sins we’re not aware of, we trust that Christ’s blood sacrifice of His infinite life in His human body is able to pay for and cover our sin. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood, by reason of the life, that makes atonement.” Lev. 17:11 How much more does the blood of an infinite life make atonement for our souls?
The preachers tell us we are “dumb sheep,” but we’re really not that dumb. We are self-aware. And we grow aware of their trickery. So we realize that the “you have a secret idol, a secret sin that you don’t even know about” filth teaching is meant to keep us coming back the next Sunday and the next Sunday (bringing our tithes and offerings — cha-ching!) hoping that this Sunday we will hear what our secret idol is, so we can finally straighten ourselves out, and God will finally be happy with us. (I had a son in a prominent Bible college who was trained by them for 3 years to be a pastor, until he couldn’t take it anymore and left. This is exactly how they taught their pastoral students to become preachers. “Keep ’em coming back by keeping ’em afraid that they might miss the sin of the week.” They taught him this. On purpose. He lost grades for giving sermons of hope and trust in God’s completed work and His guiding abilities and His love.)
We don’t need to be on eggshells, filled with anxiety and stress that we are building or keeping some secret idol that our conscious mind isn’t even aware of — afraid that we will upset and stir up the wrath of a seething God, who is just looking for a reason to go off on us. These preachers are the ones looking for your sacrifices of your time, your money (again, cha-ching!), and your fearful devotion to their every word. God is more than able to lead us. God will lead us. God wants to lead us. We rest in the guidance and ability and the desire for us of our loving, all-wise Shepherd.
(I think in sermons. Sorry…)
This is fantastic. Thank you so much!
Yes, the realization that I have the Spirit to convict me and guide me into all truth, self-awareness, and *appropriate* repentance, that I am *his workmanship* – this has been a lifesaver in a swirling turmoil of confusion. I can completely trust *him* – and of course, I thereby am truly worshipping him. That’s where my stability comes from, and more and more often, true rest.
Yes, beautiful thoughts!
Another short piece of literature that helped me so much was the RBC downloadable pamphlet GOD’s PROTECTION OF WOMEN.
[…] week I reposted (on my Rebecca Davis—Untwisting Scriptures Facebook page) my four-year old “Idol Factory” post, and again I received several heartfelt responses, both publicly and […]
There’s so much to discuss here, and so many helpful insights! Thank you, Rebecca. Some of my initial thoughts:
– I did not realize how idolatry teaching has been so misused in the church! Oh my. This is tragic. I wish more people would read this and grow from understanding the experience of oppressed women and how they so need biblical compassion and untwisting of harmful teaching. (And I am a survivor, but I did not undergo this awful church teaching. My heart aches for those who have.)
– I think David Powlison’s material, which I know well, having studied under him, can be incredibly helpful used in the right way and in the appropriate context. I think that’s one of the root issues here: What is biblically sound and helpful to this person – her situation, her heart, at this moment? God says many many things to us in Scripture, including many words of compassion to those who are suffering and oppressed. I’ve taken a course with Mike Emlet (also part of CCEF), and some of his best teaching can be found in his book “Saints, Sufferers, & Sinners – Loving others as God loves us.” https://www.amazon.com/Saints-Sufferers-Sinners-Loving-Others/dp/1645070514.
– I view biblical “idolatry” in a different way, and seem to have a slightly different hermeneutic than you employ, in this very brief post. Could be a fascinating discussion, especially in person. 🙂 But I’m off to read your newest post next …… I will just say for now, did Calvin really use that phrase as only referring to man in his “pre-redeemed state?” That really surprises me. I see myself as redeemed but always growing in sanctification – battling, by the power of the Spirit, the old man that tends to turn away from God to self (“idolatry”), and more and more turning toward him, as he draws me ever nearer, becoming more and more the new man I *already am in Christ*. The already/not yet. And yes, joy and freedom and so many other things accompany that more and more.
– I really appreciate this post (and some of the comments) and the deeper understanding it has given me in so many ways.
Thank you, Julie! Hopefully clarification will come with the newer post, https://heresthejoy.com/2021/07/when-does-sin-become-idolatry-a-new-perspective-on-an-old-question/ If not, we can have a rousing discussion in the comments!
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It angers me that pastors don’t do their homework to teach the Bible correctly. It’s their job to be the experts in the Bible.
But so often what they *actually* do is listen to and borrow off of others, like at their conferences. It ends up being an echo chamber. This way one topic can become a top pop theology topic for a few years (for this one my research shows that its popularity came in a bell curve covering about 25 years, peaking around the early 2010s), with many books and blogs and sermons about it being generated.
I know there are pastors who are faithful to the Lord and don’t follow the trends. But the ones who have the biggest followings, books, conference circuit, etc, seem to be the ones who follow the echo chamber practice.
This is really excellent. Absolutely: the bad fruit of these kinds of over-zealous and too-broad characterizations of “idolatry” is seen most clearly when the trajectory plays out into the lives of conscientious women living within a system of emotional neglect and coercive control.
Oh my goodness yes. So true.