Dr. John B. MacDonald
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How do you weed out idols that take root in your soul? 

These idols are more common and less recognizable in our Western cultures. They include ideas “fleshed out or formed by craftiness and certain needy self-centeredness.” [1]

Such ideas become idols, and may include:

    • prosperity,
    • technology,
    • coolness and sex,
    • plans,
    • family,
    • status,
    • education, or
    • spirituality.   

Grasping the weed

Weeding out such idols presents several problems. Here are two:

1.  Not all are ‘weeds.’

All of the “ideas” named earlier can be good. God established the family. God designed sex.

All of these “ideas” can be corrupted or twisted. Family relationships can become destructive. Sexual activity can become perversion.

How do you discern whether an “idea” is good and to be enjoyed, or whether that idea is distorted and has become an idol? In other words, how do you recognize a ‘weed’ rooted in your soul?

2.  Not physical.

It seems relatively simple to identify a physical idol made of ceramics, wood, or metal. You take hold of it and then bust or burn it.

How do you grasp an idol rooted in your soul?  

Here are four or five things to help you weed out idols.   

‘Idol’ and invitation

First, a reference point and an invitation.

A helpful reference point is our definition of an idol: “whatever claims the loyalty that belongs to God alone.” [2] 

You can often identify an idol that has taken root in your soul by how it directs your attention and energies away from the one true God and toward itself.

For instance, does the accumulation of money cause you to focus more on your increasing wealth and what it can buy, or to worship God and search out ways in which your growing wealth can benefit others?

Is sex experienced as something sacred and holy, a creative power gifted by God, or as something that treats the ‘other’ as an object for personal satisfaction?

Discerning our hearts and motivations is difficult. We default to justifying ourselves, which is often an act of self-deceit. For this reason, you need to invite God to scan your heart and expose your idols.

In an earlier post, we touched on a prayer of invitation for divine examination (Psalm 139:23-24):

Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious [or, disquieting] thoughts.

See if there is any offensive [or perhaps, idolatrous] way in me,  

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Wait and listen attentively for God’s answer.    

Three equipping perspectives

Jesus gives us a compelling direction for removing idols rooted in our souls. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and elsewhere, he provides three perspectives which I’ll illustrate from Matthew 5:21-26.[3]   

1. Traditional righteousness (5:21).

Jesus states one of the commandments:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”  

Seems simple enough – don’t murder people – but there’s more. 

2. Vicious cycle (5:22).

How do ‘weeds’ of self-centeredness root themselves in your soul?

You may not physically kill another person, but you do express anger against others, and you use words that degrade and damage others.

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.

3. Transforming initiative (5:23-26).    

Q: How do you get the air out of a glass?  

A: Pouring water into the glass to its brim displaces the air.  

In the same way, transforming initiatives are like water. Transforming initiatives are God-honoring activities that displace sinful activities (e.g., idolatry) in your life.  

For example, the activities of confessing your wrongs against the ‘other’ and reconciling with that ‘other’ displace unrighteous anger, damaging speech, and harmful actions.  

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary …  

By God’s grace, your genuine movement toward reconciliation removes a ‘weed’ rooted in your soul.   

Uprooting the idol of prosperity  

Let’s look at another example from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:24-34).  

1. Traditional righteousness (Matthew 6:24):  

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

2.  Vicious cycle (6:25-32):  

Recently, a friend mentioned that “we end up serving the idols that we think will give us control (like money, possessions, people’s opinions).”  

What is the movement by which we become servants of Money?  

Jesus reveals the vicious cycle energized by our anxiety or worry over having enough food and clothing (6:25-32). This anxiety drives us toward a commitment to financial security and wealth that overrides loyalty to God.

3.  Transforming initiative (6:33-34):  

Here are Jesus’ words:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  

How do you ‘weed out’ the idol of Prosperity rooted in your soul?

By God’s grace, choose intentionally to serve God and His Kingdom, and trust Him for your needs.   

Action items  

1.  Pray deeply the invitation for God to expose idols rooted in your soul. Wait and listen attentively. What is God revealing in your life that needs to be ‘weeded out’?  

2.  Read the Sermon on the Mount prayerfully (Matthew 5-7). Can you identify the various triads (traditional righteousness, vicious cycle, transforming initiative)? How is the Lord equipping you to ‘weed’ out idols rooted in your soul?   

The next post will look at renewal.

For the podcast CLICK HERE  

FORWARD TO 4 Elements of Worship Renewal

BACK TO 3 Steps for Eliminating Idols  

[1] Elizabeth Scalia, Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria, 2013). [2] J. A. Motyer, “Idolatry,” in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Douglas (Leicester, UK: InterVarsity, 1980), 2:680. [3] This approach is based on the work of the late Glen Stassen in Living the Sermon on the Mount (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006). 

Photo Credit: Dale Harrison via Compfight cc

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