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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Subtlety in Idolatry

Galatians 5:16-26

            Here’s a question that may help you think about what’s important to you: if, God forbid, you should be awakened by a smoke alarm and discover your house is on fire, what will you take with you as you flee?  I’ve thought about that a time or two and settled on car keys because the car would provide a temporary shelter from outdoor weather.  Besides, I wouldn’t want it to burn up before I had a chance to clean it out.

            Be honest.  How many of you thought of your cell phone first?  Maybe you have legitimate reasons for rescuing your cell phone and maybe you’re saving the most idolatrous thing in your life.  But you are in the majority: 53% of Americans say that in a house fire, their cell phone would be the number one possession they’d try to save.

            Here’s some data to support what may sound like a silly notion:

- 45% of Americans say that their phone is the most valuable possession.

- 36% say they’d give up their pets to keep their cell phone.  Which is what you just did when you grabbed your phone instead of the leash!

- 26% say they’ve endangered themselves to avoid losing or damaging their cell phone.

- 47% say they believe they are addicted to their cell phone.

- This year, you will spend over a month and a half of your life on the cell phone.

            To be fair, I have a bias against cell phones, so this is an easy one for me to pick on.  A legitimate question could be raised about buying and playing tabletop games, for example.

            The point is, we can’t just ignore what the Bible says about idolatry because it’s very easy for us to put other things in the place reserved for God.  When that happens, we’re committing idolatry, not living for Jesus.

We go to great lengths to conceal our idols but they’re actually easy to spot.

1. Sinful cravings are conquered by following the Spirit, not by following the sin nature or the Law. (16-18, 24-26)

            As Paul wrote, LET THE HOLY SPIRIT GUIDE YOUR LIVES.  He spelled out five ways in which the Holy Spirit guides believers.

- He will guide you into good deeds. (17)

- He will empower you to CARRY OUT YOUR GOOD INTENTIONS. (17)

- Following the Spirit relieves you of having to follow the Law. (18)

- We let the Holy Spirit guide us by crucifying our sinful natures with Christ. (24)

- This isn’t just our “religious” side of life, it is EVERY PART OF OUR LIVES. (25)

            The result of a Spirit-guided life is victory over sin: THEN YOU WON’T BE DOING WHAT THE SINFUL NATURE CRAVES.  The sin nature will make you want to do evil. (17)

            2) The cravings of the sin nature can be seen in the bad effect it has on relationships. (26)  Conceit is an exaggerated self-interest that does two things.  One, it creates evil competitiveness, provoking one another.  Two, it causes us to be jealous of one another, which causes division.

2. The consequences of following the sinful nature. (19-21)

            Paul’s list of sins in vs.19-21 includes idolatry.  But truthfully, the entire list can be associated with the practice of worshiping idols.

            Paul’s warning is dire.  People characterized by these vices WILL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD. (21)  The problem is not isolated examples of sin, it is habitual sin, the attitudes that produce sinful actions.

3. The fruitfulness of following the Spirit. (22-23)

            In the Bible, “fruit” is actions that are evidence of one’s intentions.  As Jesus taught in Matthew 7:15-20, good fruit comes from good people.  The virtues here are aspects of the character of Jesus. (22-23)

            Paul’s declaration THERE IS NO LAW AGAINST SUCH THINGS (23) may sound strange, but consider:

- Generally, governments don’t legislate against virtue.

- The Law of God is obviously in favor of these virtues!     

We go to great lengths to conceal our idols but they’re actually easy to spot.

            The onset and practice of idolatry in most of us is going to be more subtle than offering worship and prayer to a statue.  The way to identify it is to see where you have set your affections, what you prioritize, what you willingly spend your time and money upon.  For example, if you

…find greater delight in hobbies, entertainments and recreations, you are toying with idolatry.

…spend more time thinking about your possessions and care more about money and goods than the treasure of Christ, materialism has likely become an idol.

…become obsessed with a relationship with some other person, that person may become an idol.

…are more concerned about serving Christ than seeking Christ, even church can become an idol.

…put your confidence in our own capabilities than humbly rely on Christ, you are prey to the idolatry of self-worship.

RESOURCES:

            Cell phone survey data from Larry Petton, https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/101896/the-idolatry-of-cell-phones-by-dr-larry-petton, retrieved on 20 June 24.

            Daniel Henderson, at https://www.strategicrenewal.com/the-subtle-seduction-of-modern-day-idolatry/, retrieved on 20 June 2024.

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