In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul mentions how the gospel came with power. This power was seen in that they turned away from idols to serve the living God. They were converted. Conversion involves a putting away of idols. There just seems to be no way of avoiding this reality. All of us depended on something to save us: our goodness, our IQ, our race or background, some ritual (circumcision, baptism, walking the aisle …). Finally we turned from them to a God who can really save us- Jesus!
But our hearts didn’t stop their nefarious work of producing idols to either supplant or supplement Jesus. Nothing ultimately can, because He is all-sufficient. But we are foolish and sinful. We are prone to wander, distracted like a kid in a toy store.
This is the season to contemplate the death and resurrection of Christ as our Substitute. Too often we are prone to focus on our justification. But we can’t stop there. We have to move into our sanctification. Why? Because Jesus did. And Paul did.
I’m preaching out of Luke 9 this week. It is the passage where Peter makes his profound confession that Jesus was the Messiah. Not that he understood all that it means. Jesus proceeds to tell the disciples just what it means. He moves to his death and resurrection. This is the means by which we are delivered from the wrath of God that is justly due our sin.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He moves into discipleship. If we are united to Christ and he is the suffering Messiah, we too must lay down our lives and suffer as we follow him. There are the three commands: deny yourself, pick up the cross and follow me. In other words, this is the path of sanctification. There is no coming back- we are on a death march. We do this in the hope of life everlasting, that Jesus is true to his word and his work is sufficient.
In other words, to entrust ourselves to him includes following the trail he has blazed for us. One of the things that happens on that road thru Golgotha is that we put away idols. Old idols we didn’t see before. New idols that we picked up along the way just like a wool laden sheep picks up all kinds of debris. Lent is not a time to feel bad because Jesus died. Lent is a time to lay down your idols in light of the work for Christ for us. We do this because Christ is at work in us too.
There are some helpful books to help you in this arduous process. I won’t start where you expect. I would recommend Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Idols of the Heart: Learning to Love God Alone. She is highly dependent upon the Puritans in her approach in this excellent book. Or perhaps Breaking the Idols of Your Heart by Allender and Longman. They go through Ecclesiastes to examine some of the main idols of our hearts- power, sex, money, relationships etc. Another great book to consider is Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Bear by Mike Wilkerson. He brings you the Exodus to reveal the greatness of our redemption in Christ. Then there is Keller’s Counterfeit Gods. Bet you thought I’d start there. He’s more gentle than Elsye but still cuts deep. Just a different style, sort of like how some people need the gentle dentistry. Both get the job done by pointing you the sufficiency of Christ.
So, this might be a good time to spend time examining your heart, identifying your idols and putting them away through the work of Christ for you. Really …. what are you waiting for.