Heart Idolatries

by Tommy Rutledge
Tim Keller announced to our modern world in 2009 that the human heart is a very sophisticated spiritual organ, specializing in the marketing, promotion, and production of idols (i.e. Counterfeit Gods). The rest of this post will function as a tribute to Keller's book.

This "idol factory" as Keller aptly calls it, fits nicely into our age of industrialization. The human heart is able to mass produce the perfect tailor-made idol for every consumer market. It fits nicely into our age of specialization. If its personal idols you're after, we got you covered. Socio-cultural idols? We have those too. What about intellectual idols? Absolutely! The 20th century has many fine window displays to choose from, political or religious. So whether its gender-specific idols, corporate idols, urban homesteading idols, religious idols, WHATEVER idol your heart so desires, the human heart is quite capable.

Keller goes back in history and quotes, Friedrich Nietzsche, "There are more idols in the world than there are realities."

He then goes even further back to the very genesis of the idolatry project; the book of Genesis. It was there in Genesis 3 that the constitutional train-wreck of the heart took place. It was there that humanity traded out the supreme object of worship, the Creator Himself, for the lesser object of worship; the created. The deceptive voice became the dominant voice. The Creator's fatherly voice was exiled from the heart. Genesis 4-11 is a commentary on this cultural experiment running amuck. His faint whisper was barely heard, yet God graciously intervened in Genesis 12.

Instead of always worshiping Creator God, humanity was now naturally drawn and tempted to worship all sorts of other things besides God (Rom 1). Humanity inherited this fallen condition of the heart and ever since we have not been able to cope. We enter life right out-of-the-box with built-in idols. Houston we have a problem.

In our previous blog post, we mentioned all the "little lords" we trust in, bow down to, and depend on to try to make our lives work outside of Jesus.

The second aspect to our discipleship process is uncovering, repenting, and exiling these heart idolatries.

You may be saying to yourself, "it feels like it is a rigged system." That's because it is! Your natural-born temperament, your skills/abilities, your family of origin, the culture you grew up in all incentivize you to worship something other than Jesus. The world is committed to your discipleship plan around your heart idols. Depending on your career path, promotions can be gained and fortunes can be made if you play your idols right.

It is no surprise that the world is NOT committed to this other plan involving Jesus. Jesus in His high priestly prayer to the Father in John 17 prays, "…the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." The world functions as the spiritual marketplace and for most of history, Jesus has not been welcomed.

So how do you know what the functioning idols are in your life? An honest telling of your personal story will reveal what your heart idolatries are. If you have no idea what your heart idols may be, I'd recommend reading Counterfeit Gods or watching Gospel and Idolatry.

Once you have a general idea of how the idols are functioning, what's next? First, whether you're a Christian or a non-Christian, know the idols are still operative. The difference is one of degree and kind. If you are not a Christian, the idols are ruling over you 100% of the time. Their agenda is to control you and destroy your life.

If you are a Christian, their rulership has been downgraded to part-time status, but they are still operative. Walking by the Spirit and growing in maturity will mean less and less of their rulership and more of the rulership of Jesus. As Jesus becomes the better object of worship, a shift in desire and a newfound capacity occurs to dethrone what once victimized you.

Second, God's perfect plan of discipleship is through His curriculum called everyday life. Every circumstance of life presents an occasion for gospel belief...or unbelief. You mean I don't get to blame my external environment anymore for my lapses of behavior? Nope. But you don't know the dysfunctional people in my life or the unjust systems that envelope my workplace. Once Jesus enters the picture, your circumstances are no longer your ultimate problem. The external circumstances of life reveal the true inner circumstances of the heart.

Milton Vincent in his gospel primer for Christians says, "…the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me."

When you begin evaluating your life along this plane, things can get depressing really fast. The residual unbelief that was always in the heart suddenly explodes to the surface! Do not despair. The good news is that an old archaic Bible word is now able to resume its sacred role in your life. That word is REPENTANCE. Repentance is the best kept secret in the Church and leads you over the horizon to a new world of freedom and joy.

What does an ongoing life of confession and repentance look like? The Soma family of Churches calls it gospel fluency. This singular aspect in our discipleship process changed the entire landscape of my Christian life and will be the subject of our next blog post.