The Antidote to Idolatry

What do you want? Where are you looking for satisfaction? What do you need to be happy?

All of these are different ways of asking "What is life?" And our hearts are revealed by how we answer.

The flip side is also revealing: "What is death?" What makes you anxious? What are you afraid of? What's the worst thing that could happen? What tempts you to despair? Your answers to these questions will also reveal what you value most, because your powerful anxiety or sadness is connected to the things you value most in life.  

The human heart was designed by God to find our satisfaction, purpose, joy, and peace in him (Acts 17:28). That is a critical part of what it means to be God. He is the center of existence—the most glorious, the most worthy. But in our sin we turn away from him, and our idolatrous hearts replace him with created things (Romans 1:25).

In John 6, Jesus performs one of his miracles, feeding a huge crowd of people with just a few pieces of food. The following day, the crowd follows him to another town, where Jesus unexpectedly rebukes them. This is especially surprising, because the previous day they were prepared to make him king, which indicates that they viewed him as Messiah. But they wanted a Messiah who would liberate them from Rome and meet their physical needs. They didn't understand or want a Messiah who promised to reconcile them to God.

They keep asking Jesus for bread, but what he offers instead is himself.

“I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus said (John 6:35). Unlike physical bread and water, Jesus offers to truly satisfy—to give eternal life (John 6:40). Foreshadowing the Last Supper, Jesus says that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood if we want eternal life. True, saving faith is more than believing facts. It is like eating.

When we are hungry, we view food as the solution. We take the food into our bodies by eating, because we believe it is what we need. In the same way, we must be spiritually hungry—we must see our need. Saving faith believes that Jesus is the solution, and when we receive him into our souls by faith, we have eternal life. If you have Jesus, you have life, because Jesus is life (John 14:6).

The crowd is horrified by this idea. They view his words literally and cannot see the spiritual meaning. They are right to look to Jesus as Messiah, but they want him to fulfill their idolatrous desires, and he refuses. So the crowd leaves, and many of those who had been following Jesus leave as well. Jesus turns to the twelve apostles and asks if they intend to leave. Peter responds, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Being near Jesus and his words filled Peter with life, and he couldn't imagine leaving. He knew he wasn't going to get life anywhere else.

Where do you seek life? Is it in God himself? Or is it in a person, a relationship? Is it in some possession? Is it in success at work? Is it in the approval of your friends?

When we look to these other things for life, we are forsaking God. He is the fountain of living waters, but instead of panting for him like a thirsty deer, we run to broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). This is idolatry. God hates it, because it tells a lie about him ("God is not life") and because it leads us away from him, to our own harm.

If God has convicted you in this, I urge you to take it seriously. Nothing could be more important than your relationship with God. The stakes are high. Confess your sin, and turn away from it. Tear down your idols (2 Kings 23:4-7), and turn to worship God in all his glory.

Meditate on God's word to remind your heart what is true (Psalms 16, 36, 84, etc). Behold his glory in creation and at the Cross. Cultivate your relationship with God by listening to him through Scripture and praying throughout the day.

May the Lord be faithful to cause our idols to fail, and may he draw our hearts back to him.

Ben Whiting




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