What You Need to Know About Your Idol

How are we to fight the desire to find satisfaction in something outside of God when the desire is so powerful that it seems insurmountable? Among many other things, we need to be able to tell ourselves the truth about what we are desiring in those moments. In his excellent book, Look and Live, Matt Papa makes a statement that captures this reality: “[God] knows that anything we love more than Him will betray us.”¹ These words serve as a needed warning for believers everywhere. When we are tempted to give someone or something the love and devotion that should be reserved for God, it often feels so natural, pleasurable, and even right to give in. The promise of joy, success, or peace loudly resounds in our hearts to make us feel like we need what we’re yearning for. This is why we need to have such truth at the ready, like a well-crafted sword familiar to our grip: your idols will betray you.

We see this principle repeated in the pages of the book of Proverbs. In chapter 7, we are told of a young man lacking sense who walks down the road that leads to the house of an adulteress after nightfall (vv. 7-9). The adulteress approaches him and uses many bold enticements to seduce him into following her home where they will engage in sexual immorality (vv. 13-20). It is in vv. 22-23 when we are told of how the young man’s idol of physical pleasure will shortly betray him:

All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.

For this young man, the promise of sexual gratification is also a promise of death. This is why the admonition in vv. 25-26 says, “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways…for many a victim has she laid low.” The young man’s idol will turn on him; passing pleasure will become his demise.

This pattern is revealed again in Proverbs 23 with “those who tarry long over wine” (v. 30). Notice the way the wine is described in v. 31—it holds out promise to the drinker: “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.” For the person tempted toward excessive drinking, the mere sight of wine allures him, vowing him satisfaction. But the text is clear about the betrayal of this idol: “In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder” (v. 32). The verses that follow describe this sting in the effects of drunkenness. It leads to hallucinations and incites immoral speech (v. 33), while physically disorienting a person (v. 34), inhibiting his awareness (v. 35), and creating a dependence on alcohol (v. 35).

As you can see, we must never trust our hearts when they believe that someone or something other than God will satisfy us. Idols do not have the capacity to hold our joy. They can never deliver on the promise of satisfaction; therefore, their betrayal is inevitable.

On the other hand, since God is “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) and “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), He is fully capable of fulfilling us forever. In fact, because He delivered up Christ to die for our sins, we can be sure that He will provide us with everything our souls need to be satisfied in Him (see Romans 8:32). This means that God will never betray us, but more than that, it means that He is eternally committed to do us good in the best way possible. When we break it down like this, the strength of our desires when we are tempted toward idolatry is weakened significantly. There is only one who will “never leave [us] nor forsake [us]” (Hebrews 13:5), and He is no idol that we desire in the flesh.

¹ Matt Papa, Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory Of Christ, (Bethany House Publishers, 2014), 72.

Note: This article originally appeared on thecbcd.org. We encourage you to visit the Center for Biblical  Counseling and Discipleship where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

Brent Osterberg