For the past few months, my Bible study and I have been reading Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods. The book deals with idolatry, as the subtitle summarizes The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. It has been very challenging, as no one likes to be confronted with the reality of their sinful desires, and it has been encouraging, being reminded that we are more sinful than we can imagine, yet more loved than we dare to dream.
This week we’re finishing out the book, so I thought I’d share some thoughts from the Epilogue. I realize I’m skipping 164 pages of the book, but I think this post will summarize the main theme and purpose of the book – what I call the “idol remedy.”
The way to get rid of an idol, Keller says, is by replacing it. He says, “If you uproot the idol and fail to ‘plant’ the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.” This process of replacing an idol comes in two parts: repentance and worship.
“Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol…When we repent out of fear of consequences, we are not really sorry for the sin, but for ourselves. Fear-based repentance is…self-pity. In fear-based repentance, we don’t learn to hate the sin for itself, and it doesn’t lose its attractive power…fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves.” p.172
“[Idolatry] cannot be remedied only by repenting that you have an idol, or using willpower to try to live differently.” p. 171
“…it is worship that is the final way to replace the idols of your heart. You cannot get relief simply by figuring out your idols intellectually. You have to actually get the peace that Jesus gives, and that only comes as you worship. Analysis can help you discover truths, but then you need to ‘pray them in’ to your heart.” p. 175
In the end it is paramount to remember that God is pleased with us because of Christ’s works, not ours. Operating outside of this truth, to try earn His favor or develop a sense of self-worth, is idolatry and self-focused. Keller quotes Martin Luther in a footnote from this chapter, saying,
“If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if w we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false (savior).”
For more from Tim Keller, I invite you to check out his website: here.
What about you? Do you find yourself trying to keep a clean moral record so that God will love you? Is it difficult to believe that God is gracious and pleased with you, not because of your record but because of Jesus’? Idolatry can look like this and so much more, but these are two areas that idolatry plays out in my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts this topic and how Keller’s words inspire and/or challenge you!
“The man that met thee is one Worldly-Wiseman, and rightly is he so called; partly, because he favoureth only the doctrine of this world (therefore he always goes to the town of Morality to church) and partly because he loveth that doctrine best, for it saveth him from the Cross; and because he is of this carnal temper, therefore he seeketh to prevent my ways, though right.
Now there are three things in this man’s counsel that thou must utterly abhor:
- His turning thee out of the way.
- His labouring to render the Cross odious to thee.
- And his setting thy feet in that way that leadeth unto the administration of death.
First, thou must abhor his turning thee out of the way; yea, and thine own consenting thereto: because this is to reject the counsel of God, for the sake of the counsel of a Worldly-Wiseman…
Secondly, thou must abhor his labouring to render the Cross odious unto thee; for thou art to prefer it before the treasures in Egypt…
Thirdly, thou must hate his setting of thy feet in the way that leadeth to the ministration of death. And for this thou must consider to whom he sent thee, and how unable that person was to deliver thee…He to whom thou was sent for ease, being by name Legality…this Legality therefore is not able to set thee free from thy burden…there is nothing in all this noise that thou hast heard of this sottish man, but a design to beguile thee of thy salvation, by turning thee from the way in which I had set thee.”
I knew that Morality and Legality make bad saviors, but what I had never thought of was the fact that pursuing them means I am simultaneously leaving the path which leads to/through the Cross. In pursuing these things, I am attempting to bypass the Cross and render it unnecessary to my salvation! This is the hideous truth of idolatry. Pursuing anything rather than Christ for redemption is the practice of denying the Cross and buying a lie.