Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Are idols a problem for you?

They certainly are for many of us. 

 

I have puzzled over the last words of John in one of his letters. At first, it seems a strange way to end a letter.

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

The “dear children” are Christians to whom he is writing. 

The word “keep” is sometimes rendered “guard.” It’s the same word used of a Roman soldier guarding Paul (Acts 28:16). It evokes vigilance, seriousness, and commitment to protecting someone or something from a hostile force.

John knew the imminent danger of idols encroaching into our lives as followers of Jesus

Earlier, we defined an idol as “whatever claims the loyalty that belongs to God alone.” [1] If we let down our guard, we’re vulnerable to idols of all kinds. 

In the previous post, I introduced the prayer of personal examination (see: “What Is Your Favorite Idol”) to identify an idol or idols in your life. I encourage you to take the time to examine your life.

What do you do when you discover an idol in your life?

Let’s look at a few principles drawn from a king of Judah – King Asa – who was an idol buster.

Take a moment to read a piece of his life in 2 Chronicles 15. From this text, we will identify 3 ‘R’s for eliminating idols in your life. 

Recognition

The scene of 2 Chronicles 15 begins with a message from God by the prophet Azariah, son of Obed. 

The prophet met Asa and said (2 Chronicles 15:2): 

Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. 

This text restates a well-known principle throughout Scripture. 

We enjoy the company or presence of God when we seek him. That Presence forsakes us when we forsake Him. The presence of an idol in our lives is evidence of forsaking the Lord in some area of our lives.  

A couple of weeks ago, the person leading the singing ‘at church’ made a statement several times that struck me as wrong. That person said we should ask God to draw near to us. 

To my knowledge, we are not to ask God to draw near – as if it’s up to God to do all the moving – when it’s us who are in a ‘wrong’ place. Instead, James writes that it is we who are to “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) 

Indeed, God takes the initiative – He invites us. Our Lord identifies our distance from Him and invites us to return to intimacy with Him.

When we hear God’s message, it’s up to us to respond intentionally by seeking and drawing near to Him. 

How does Asa respond? How should we respond? 

Removal

Here’s how King Asa responded to God’s message: 

When Asa heard these words … he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land … he also deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley (15:8a, 16). 

What do we learn from Asa’s response?

Here are two main things I observe: 

First, “he took courage” – in other words, he grew firm and was strengthened to take action. He didn’t ask God to do – he did what God asked him to do. 

God put his finger on the problem of Israel’s distance: idolatry. He called Israel to do something about that problem. 

We have to be ‘pro-active’ when we discover an idol in our life! 

Second, “he removed” the idols from the whole land. 

Let’s see how Asa did that, and what we can learn, from three related texts:

  • He “smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles” (14:3).
  • He “deposed his grandmother” because of her idolatry (15:16a).
  • He “cut the pole down, broke it up and burned it” (15:16b).

Asa’s actions were thorough and uncompromising.

1.         It involved “the whole land.” Therefore, by extension, no nook or cranny of our lives is exempt from the removal of idols – it means our thoughts, home, entertainment, work, … everything.

2.         The idols were destroyed. They were smashed, cut down, broken up, and burned – in short, Asa was an idol buster. They were not to be used again. So, we need to deal with idols in our lives with finality – not harboring some possibility that we may want the idol to return, even for a short time.

3.         Close family members were not exempt from this purging. Family hierarchy and connections are a distant second to cleansing your life of idols.

I recall a young Christian within a family that dabbled with fortune-tellers and Ouija boards. Despite the family’s expectation of his involvement in what they considered a “bit of harmless fun,” that young follower of Jesus had to separate himself from his family in those activities. In that case, it was a choice between distance from God or distance from family. 

And yet, something more than the removal of idols is needed.

You’ve heard that Nature abhors a vacuum – it wants to fill it. The same is true of our lives. The clean empty space left in your life needs to be filled – but with what? 

We’ll continue this in the next post.

We’re looking at the three “R’s” for idol busters. We’ve touched on two: Recognition and Removal. Next week we’ll expand on removal – particularly of idols that aren’t so physical such prosperity, sex, or family – and introduce the third “R”.

 

For the podcast CLICK HERE

FORWARD TO Uprooting Idols in Your Soul

BACK TO What is Your Favorite Idol? 

[1] J. A. Motyer, “Idolatry,” in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas (Leicester, UK: InterVarsity, 1980), 2:680. 

Photo credit: “The Story of Bel and the Dragon” by Martinus Van Heemskerk (1565). With permission of The British Museum for non-commercial use (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/). 

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