I’ll let you in on a little-known fact. Lean in close. Ready? We all have a secret side hustle: every person on the planet is a blacksmith at heart.
According to John Calvin,
“The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols… Stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, [it] dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth.”
In case you’re wondering, idolatry didn’t die in the desert with the Israelites; it’s still very much at work, and business is booming. We create faux saviors when we fail to remember something about the real One. I lose sight of my unconditional acceptance in Christ and begin chasing the approval of the masses. Or the truth of my eternal inheritance slips out of mind, and suddenly I crave all the pretty things Pinterest says I should buy. Maybe the fact that God sees every single speck of who I am and wraps all this hot mess up in His enduring love leaks out of my brain—and I hold out my heart to guy after guy, begging for affection I already have. Idolatry is nothing more than forgetting the gospel.
(Note here: the desires underneath our idol-crafting are typically good ones, placed there by design. Of course we want acceptance and beauty and love. Those are echoes of Eden, creation longings. So the longings aren’t the problem so much as where we go to get them satisfied.)
We need to normalize idolatry first so we can see it clearly: yes, it’s sin that deeply grieves the heart of our Father, but you don’t struggle alone. One of the enemy’s most common ploys is to convince us that no one has ever battled this thing in this way; he concocts shame-induced isolation and picks us off one by one. No more. I have idols. Your pastor has idols. The leader of your small group has idols. Every public speaker you’ve ever loved has idols. Breath begets gods.
Idolatry is a sneak-thief. It disguises itself in cheerful terms (“That’s just boys being boys!” No, that’s a desire for strength being warped into abuse.) or, on the flip side, pimping us out, convincing free sons and daughters of the Most High King that this is all we get (“I guess this is just my cross to bear.” I don’t think so.)—either way, it’s a sham. Whether they promise to be your best friend or your master, these gods are nothing more than little vampires, soul suckers of sorts, draining away the life that’s your birthright.
Curious about what your idols of choice might be? (Oh, yes, it’s plural. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a plethora going on in that sweet heart of yours.) Head this way to find out. Make sure you keep your gospel covering close—these gods don’t own you, don’t define you, don’t dictate your future. If idolatry is simply forgetting Christ, let’s relearn how the cross speaks to each desire that drives us. When we see Jesus as the chief good, our forges will shut down and we’ll live in the kind of freedom all those other pseudo-gods can only guess at.
As the Lord opens your eyes to the things holding you in imaginary bondage, take joy in the fact that who the Son sets free is free indeed. This includes you, friend. Idols can collect dust in someone else’s tomb. Let us be Lazarus hearts, grave clothes dropping useless in our wake, running happy toward the Light.