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Life Matters

Life Matters 7:  21st Century Idolatry

Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church

(3/24) We are not going to do a typical Palm Sunday message today, because we’re in the book of 1 Corinthians and I want finish this series before Jesus gets back. So today we’re going to do 1 Corinthians Chapter 10 and a message on practical 21st century idolatry. I believe the Word today is a straightforward, down-to-earth message that will affect everybody here… there is something for everybody. So we’ll be in verses 1 through 14 as we read the Word of God.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:1-14; New international Version).

The great reformer, Martin Luther, commented on the Ten Commandments, saying that the first two commandments referred to blatant idolatry and the other eight commandments, things like, sexual sin, stealing, lying, and murder were fruit of that rebellion. He concluded that if you never broke the first two commandments, you wouldn’t break any of the others. So if you’re a person who drinks too much, who does drugs, who lies, who gets violent, who murders, who is a pervert… your real issue is not that you have those sins… the underlying cause is the fact that you are an idolater.

That’s what Luther was saying… that’s what Paul is saying in verse 14, "Therefore, my dear friends flee from idolatry…" He doesn’t just look at the church and say, "Don’t get drunk… don’t commit sexual sin… stop grumbling and being frustrated with God." No… he says is "Get rid of the idolatry in your life, because idolatry is the root cause of sin."

Now some of you may be shocked to hear this. But I want to show you that even if you’re a Christian… you may still have other gods in whom you worship... you may still have other saviors in whom your faith rests… and so I want to show you that idolatry is not a sin among many, but its the sin that underlines all other sins.

So Paul says, I don’t want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers… that we were all under the cloud… we were all baptized into Moses… we all ate the same spiritual food… drank the same spiritual drink… but nevertheless, God was not pleased with most… So we’ve got to get to the bottom line… we’ve got to talk about idolatry, because it is the root of all of our troubles. To be victorious in our walk with God… the Bible says "Flee from idolatry."

1. Functional gods

So how did we get ourselves into this position? Well, first the Bible says, God is our creator… He made you and I… He gave us the created things to be enjoyed as we worship Him. Genesis chapter 1, verse 26 through 28, says we were made in God’s image and likeness, male and female, to worship, glorify, and enjoy God. That’s why we were made. It’s the worship, adoration, honor, love, and service of God that is the root of all our enjoyment… That’s what we were made for… to be worshipers. That’s what we are. But here’s what happened, our first parents sinned against God and in so doing, what happened was, that we’re now born sinners. We’re still worshipers, but the problem is that we worship created things rather than the creator, God.

That’s what Romans 1:25 says, that we "worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator". That instead of treasuring God… instead of holding God in the highest place… and devoting our lives to Him… we worship created things. So whoever you ascribe worth to, give the highest regard, the highest esteem, or highest honor. Whoever or whatever is most important to you… whatever you give your time, your energy, your money, your love, your devotion, your hopes, your dreams, and that is your functional God.

But its supposed to be God that we devote ourselves to in this way, yet what we do as sinners is we continue to worship but we devote ourselves to created things. It’s just as the Lord says in Matthew’s Gospel: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (15:8). So all of a sudden, it’s a human being that we worship. It’s a job that we worship. It can even be a silly thing like a classic car… you know where you’re going to restore a vehicle because you’ve decided that it is of what?

It’s of great worth.

So, thousands of hours and thousands of dollars go to your car. They go to your hobby. They go to your season tickets. They go to your home improvement projects. They go to your yard. They go to your pet. They go to your education. They go to your appearance. You see, we worship created things. That’s where your time, energy, money, all of those resources go.

Look at your check book… your credit card statement… your day planner… there are your gods… there are your functional gods.

2. Practical saviors

So my point in stating this is simply to say that each of us are incredibly spiritual… That we’re all constantly in the act of worship… That we’re constantly giving ourselves to created things… and that is by definition idolatry. We’re taking a good thing and elevating it… exalting it to the position of a god thing. And here’s why idolatry is so hard to see in our lives. Idolatry is usually the pursuit of something that is good. But idolatry is enslavement to that very thing that we love. And all of a sudden, it rules over us, and we have these little gods that we give our time, our money, and our lives to.

Now let’s take it up another level. Let’s say for example, that you define your Hell as being poor. Or for you, your definition of Hell is being ugly… being overweight… being unloved... being unappreciated. And the fear of that Hell then drives you to choose for yourself a false savior to save you from that Hell. And then you worship that false savior in an attempt to keep yourself from your self-described Hell. So whatever it is has become your practical savior, saving you from your Hell. That is, by definition, idolatry. It is having created things in the place reserved for our creator God.

Here is another question. What are you mad at God about? Maybe it was because you wanted to be married, or you wanted children, or to be loved, or rich, or promoted, and God let you down? Does that sound familiar? But I prayed about it right?

"God, I wanted to be rich. Where’s my money?" God, I wanted to be famous. Where’s my fame?" "God, I wanted to be loved and appreciated and no one does. God, you failed me." "You stink at being God." "You stink at doing your job... and answering my demands. Don’t you know who I am?"

Is anybody ticked at God today?

And God would say, "In fact, I do. That whole grumbling, murmuring, complaining group of wicked people, "One day 23,000 of them died." Read that again in verse eight. That’s what happens when you get frustrated with God… when you believe God is bad… and choose for yourself an idol.

Assume that God is good, that God loves you, and trust him. Maybe God isn’t giving you your idol because it’s not good for you. It just may be that God isn’t willing to give you a spouse today, or kids, or a house, or a job, or whatever it is because he knows your heart… he knows you’re looking for a little god… and He’s not going to give you a golden calf… He’s not going to make that for you.

You see we choose idols that we think will make us happy, give us some self-worth, and make our lives better. And so what we do is we choose a savior to get us out of our self-described hell… And we give our life worshiping this savior… we give time to it... we give money to it… we give energy to it… we devote ourselves to it… and we find ourselves enslaved to that created thing that was so good… that thing that was so practical...

Is that making sense to anyone… or am I just preaching to myself?

Do you see what I am saying? You get a savior and you worship it. I think it was John Calvin that said the human heart is an idol factory. We can take anything, good things, perfectly good gifts that God gave us to enjoy… pleasure and friends and houses and real estate and marriage and sex and kids and ministry and jobs and all good gifts that God gives… and we turn them into idols. Then we get frustrated because those idols don’t bless us… they don’t satisfy us… and they can’t save us.

3. All Sufficient Lord and God

But Paul tells us, "When you are tempted, (God) will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

You see the wickedness of idolatry is that it’s not about grace. Its not about a God who loves you and embraces you… its not about a God who adores you because of who you are, but in spite of who you are. Its not because you’re so good, but to make you good. Not because you’re beautiful, but to make you beautiful. You see that’s the Gospel of God’s grace. And the Lord said, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We are justified by grace. We are loved by God in spite of who we are. God adores us for no good reason other than the fact that He’s loving. And once we meet God through Jesus Christ, we’re justified. It’s just if I’d never sinned. And we begin to live our lives in a relationship with God. We continually grow in grace… we’re empowered… and we’re enabled by the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus.

You see, you’ve got to realize that you can’t do it. You’re not self-disciplined. You can’t get your life under control. And you still lack the one thing that you sought through your functional gods and through your practical saviors… that happy feeling of contentment that is found in the sufficiency of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

That’s the good news. You’re saved by Jesus Christ and not yourself.

You have an all Sufficient Lord and God. You’re saved by His works… by his sinless life… his substitutionary death… his bodily resurrection… and not your own. That salvation is through Jesus and not you. It’s not through some false functional savior… not through some sort of practical god… it’s through our creator… the all Sufficient Lord and God, Jesus Christ.

So here’s how we get out of this rut that Paul says so many are ignorant of. The first thing is simply a recognition that our heart is prone to idolatry. We just go there and acknowledge the self-righteousness, religion, false saviors, crazy concepts of our own false Hell, and the worship of created things. Victory begins with acknowledgment. It’s an acknowledgment that idolatry is the default mode of the human heart.

That’s what Martin Luther said. It’s recognizing that and then naming your idols. Those good things that have been elevated to god things. They must be broken. You can’t have them anymore. It needs to go away. Your heart, your mind needs to change. You recognize the idolatry. You repent of it. You acknowledge it. And you replace it.

You see you can’t just stop committing idolatry because you’re a worshiper. So what we need to do is replace the worship of idols with the worship of our creator. Only then can we enjoy created things without elevating good things to god things. And so we will worship Jesus Christ, our creator God, who alone is our savior, and then we will be able to rightly relate to created things. So now I can eat… Now I can have friends, a car, a house… Now I can work at my job because now I worship Jesus and that allows everything to remain in its proper perspective. Letting creator Jesus be creator… Letting Savior Jesus be savior… and letting life be life and an opportunity in which to enjoy the created things… the gifts that God gives on the earth.

In a moment, we’re going to celebrate communion, which is celebrating Jesus, body and blood, for sin. It is a celebration, because Jesus Christ, through grace alone, has already saved you from Hell. He has given you life to serve Him, to enjoy created things, while you worship your creator God. You are a spiritual person. You are a religious person. You are a worshiper. I invite you to Jesus and Jesus Christ alone. I want you, too, to break your idols. Paul says, "Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10:14).

God bless you!

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