When I was at my non-Christian college, Jesus was fairly attractive to people in my circle. They enjoyed hearing about His grace and had no qualms about some of His teachings, but they usually got upset when they realized Jesus asked for everything.
When they’d see those passages about Jesus telling people to give up everything, say goodbye to all they know, they’d get upset.
How dare He. Who does He think He is?
They’d always freak out because they thought Jesus had no right to ask for everything from them. To put their whole lives, desires, and passions at His feet.
I never got why they only got mad at Jesus for that. Jesus isn’t the only one who asks for everything.
In fact, everything asks for everything.
Everything asks for your life. For your all. For every last drop of your allegiance.
Power does. Sexual fulfillment does. Athletics do. Your significant other does. Your job does. Jesus isn’t unique in that way. But He is unique in that He gave up everything first. All those other things use fear and false promises and force us to get what they want.
Jesus is the only one who lays His life down for you first, before He asks for yours. He pursues, He dies, He gives up everything and then calls us to Himself. There’s no force, only wooing. His love is so great that it compels us to lay down our lives in return. That’s the only appropriate response when we understand just how great His sacrifice was for us.
God’s heart in Psalm 115 tells us that He draws idolatry out to its logical conclusion:
Their idols are silver and gold, / the work of human hands. / They have mouths, but do not speak. — Psalm 115:4-5
God even makes the point that when we cry out to idols, they can’t save us. They’re dead. The paradox of an idol, unlike Jesus, is that the worshiper gives it power. We are the ones who give it life. Alcohol can only be a god if we make it one. Money can only be a god if we worship it.
But Jesus is King and Lord regardless of what we do.
He’s someone worth giving my life to.
Some of us instead still settle for idols, even though we don’t realize it. We laugh at the imagery of the Old Testament as if we are more enlightened and would never do anything so foolish. Yet nothing has changed, except for the clothes the idols wear.
When’s the last time that bottle of alcohol really satisfied? When’s the last time it forgave you? Gave you joy? Fully loved you? It can’t. We crafted it with our own hands.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that an idol can be anything. It can be good things like relationships or work. The problem is, even good things can become “god” things. Young people are especially tempted to orbit their lives around significant others. Suddenly a switch flips in the heart, and we begin to get our satisfaction, worth, and identity from that person.
God is against idols because when the pieces of life are in their proper places, we can enjoy Him and those things best.
When we make another person an idol, we end up squeezing the life out of them. Only one person has the ability to sustain being God, and that’s Jesus.
When we worship Jesus, we can love that person even more because our center isn’t tied to or defined by them. If they upset us, rather than affecting us negatively every time, we can give back love, grace, and forgiveness because our self-worth comes from God.
It also doesn’t work because people die. I heard a pastor say that one day when his wife dies, he will certainly grieve and be devastated, but he doesn’t want to walk before the casket, and say, “There’s my god. My god is dead.” Being anchored in Jesus is the only way he’d be able to get through something like that.
Idols are fickle. Be it a person, alcohol, sex, anything — they all make for cruel gods. For me, baseball was a particularly unstable god. My average went up and down. My performance swayed. I had good days, and I had bad days. It was ruthless when I didn’t perform, and easy when I did. Sounds a lot like the schizophrenic gods of ancient times that people always worried they would anger.
Yet God is constant. Always forgiving. Always loving. Never changing.
One of the biggest traits of an idol is that we are blinded to it. It seems normal to us.
That’s the allure and power of an idol — we usually don’t know we have one unless it gets attacked or taken away. The easiest way to find an idol is to poke it. If it’s an idol, it’ll show its teeth. It’ll bark back. They always do.
But Jesus doesn’t need defending. He never defended Himself but gave Himself as an offering and in the process defeated evil (in a moment when everyone thought evil had won!).
Charles Spurgeon said it best: “The Gospel is like a caged lion. It does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage.” The mystery of Jesus is just like the mystery in Revelation 5. He’s called the Lion of Judah, but when John looks, he sees a lamb slaughtered. Jesus is a powerful, victorious lion who achieved that victory by the act of the lamb who was slain.
May we be people who, similar to the creatures around the throne in Revelation, worship the Lamb and sing His praise:
To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb / be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! — Revelation 5:13
Excerpted with permission from It’s Not What You Think by Jefferson Bethke, copyright Jefferson Bethke.
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What in your life would show its teeth and bark back if it got attacked or taken away? Today is a great day to do some poking around in our hearts to find what idols might be hiding from view!