Here is an excerpt taken from pages 24-26 of Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols by Brad Bigney.
Idolatry Flies In the Face of God
“You shall have no other gods before Me.” —Exodus 20:3
Why is idolatry such a big deal? The short answer is that it flies in the face of God. In Matthew 22:37–38, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” In Exodus 20:3, God tells us that the number-one commandment is: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” This is foundational.
Now let me give you the definition of an idol:
An idol is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.
So what could be an idol in your life? Anything. That’s why we’re in such trouble, because absolutely anything can become an idol. Even a good thing, when wanted too much, becomes an idol. The Puritans called such things “inordinate desires.” Idolatry is who or what you worship, what you long for, what your heart is set on. Idolatry is a big deal because it flies in the face of God.
Idolatry Is at the Center of Why We Sin
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” —Colossians 3:5
Idolatry is a big deal because it infiltrates and takes over the heart—the nerve center—determining the way we sin, when we sin, with whom we sin. Think of a bicycle wheel. The hub is the heart where the idols are. Each spoke is a specific sin, and you can trace each sin back to the hub—the heart.
In this war against sin, you must not be satisfied to simply stop sinning. As you work with your kids, with yourself, and with your spouse, identifying your heart’s idols can help you to understand why you become so irritable, why you raise your voice. Identifying the idols of the heart is when the tide starts to turn. It’s not enough to memorize some verses about anger and self-control. Go after the heart! There are heart issues behind all that anger. When someone is in a rage at home or in public, you can be sure that someone else has threatened one of his or her idols—and war is about to break out!
Anger, irritability, and verbal outbursts are indicative of heart issues gone awry. When you react to someone else, what is it that you are protecting? What is it that you must have? Husbands, doesn’t the Bible say that our wives should respect us? Yes. But if you go around with the old “respect me” chip on your shoulder, constantly telling yourself, “My wife must respect me,” you will inevitably be hypervigilant and hypersensitive; you will be perpetually angry, doggedly policing your wife’s behavior, because for you, respect is not just something that God commands your wife to do, but something that you think you must have in order to be happy.
So many times, the conflicts that you’re having can be traced back to your own desires, as we see in James 4:1–3. You think, “I must be respected,” or “I must be . . . whatever,” and it causes war between you and anyone who gets in the way of that desire. Then you cry out to God in prayer, and still don’t receive because you ask amiss: “God, change her. God, you know I need respect. God, you know how important that is. Get her, God. You go.” But God won’t answer a prayer like that. He’s more likely standing there with a two-by-four, wanting to smack you in the head and say, “Shut up and love her—stop worshiping yourself and thinking you are so important.”
Our sin can be traced back to our idols every time. John Piper has summed it up this way: “Sin is what we do when we’re not satisfied in God.” Let me give you a corollary principle that you can use regarding idols. Sin is what you do when you’re chasing after something other than God, namely, one of your idols. Idolatry is at center stage of my heart and your heart, because idolatry is nothing more than a metaphor for human craving, yearning, and greedy demands.
That’s what we see in both Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, where Paul is listing sins: “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man . . .” and then he sticks this phrase in there: “. . . who is an idolater . . .” (Eph. 5:5). Paul connects covetousness and idolatry. We normally think, “Fornication . . . don’t want to do that, but covetousness isn’t such a big deal, is it?” But Ephesians 5:5 says “nor covetous man, who is an idolater . . .” When you’re craving something other than God, even something good, God takes it very seriously. In that moment, he’s coming after you. He’s coming after you for his glory and your own good, because life for us is better without idols. Life for us is better when we’re delighting in the gospel and loving Christ as our highest treasure. Life for us is better when we’re focused on God and free from idols.
Excerpt taken from Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols, by Brad Bigney. P&R Publishing, 2012. Pages 24-26.