An idol is something that, when it is present, it is the prime motivator. It is what we are most passionate about. Perhaps it’s not what we spend the most time doing, but what will cause us to do things differently then “normal”. The test is that when “it” comes around and then “it” has precedence, then “it” is your god.
Some identify habits, and say, “I hardly ever do that; it has no control over me”. But smashing down idols isn’t just doing something less and less; it is confessing their primacy and power over our lives and asking for cleansing (1 John 1:9 / John 8:31-32).
The storms of our conscience will reveal the substance of our character – “seekers” such as the man in the passage above, what most would call “good people”, may have the best of intentions, know they are missing something, and have a right attitude as well. They seem ready to “do what it takes”, as far as good works are concerned. If they just knew what to do, they would do it, fulfill their duty, and then they would be okay.
But none of us is good enough, no matter what we do (Romans 3:10), which is how Jesus answers this man. They don’t realize that it is the inside of the cup that needs to be washed clean (Matthew 23:25-26). Jesus used both tables of the Law to reveal to this man his true condition, and He does that to us as well.
We compartmentalize our faith; we fail to grow up in the Lord, just adding activity instead of being transformed. We are different on the outside, but when the prime motivator pops up we find out that we are still the same on the inside. We are still governed by the same passions, and we try to silence them by retreating into a Christian ghetto, or by staying busy.
This is why some children never go on with God because they see no relevance, church is just another thing they do, just a part of their life, but their passions ARE their life. Then, because they haven’t been taught that God can become their passion, and how to receive the life of God daily, they become frustrated and take the easy way by dropping out, giving up, or medicating with some secret sin.
They may keep going to church for years feeling inadequate, which they are in themselves, but not knowing what God wants to do through them, they harbor guilt and stifle their walk. They still fear God and hell, but never really commit their whole lives as true disciples of Christ. It is our fault to an extent, because we have done the same thing; we are those same kids all grown up physically but not spiritually. We are living defeated lives that go up and down depending on how successfully we can avoid our “it” rather than deal with “it”.
This may be you. To those who have the Holy Spirit as witness to their conscience (John 16:8-11), they don’t feel free. However, most, when confronted with this truth, would say that this is just their burden, their cross to bear. They would rather justify than just deny themselves. Even when it is something “good”, like service to God, or the feeling we get when we preach, or whatever, it can be an idol.
Oswald Chambers said, “You can never sanctify to God that with which you long to satisfy yourself”. Your destiny isn’t what you will do for Christ, it is not becoming the best you can be; it is Christ himself! Jesus was always preaching self denial, anti self realization, if you will. The ruler wanted to know how to be the person that would be enough, but Jesus says no! Those who would have us discover the heroes in ourselves are leading many down the primrose path to perdition. They would have thought that this young ruler was the best Christian in the church.
Some don’t even know that they have a need of eternal life; most people who we “convert” today just want to find something to fulfill their longings and felt needs. They have anxiety and frustration, and they think by adding faith to the mix, they can achieve joy, peace, and hope. They don’t see the need for forgiveness; they do not want to see their sinfulness as the problem.
We evangelize, not by making promises and having someone say a prayer, but by having them come to repentance, which leads to true saving faith, a believing that brings true joy and peace (Romans 15:13). If someone doesn’t realize their sinfulness, it is not a true conversion; repentance is a requirement for eternal life. Luther, in the first of his famous 95 theses, said that repentance is the whole life of a believer. We find out what is wrong, we repent, turning away from it, and in faith receive more of God in our lives.
This is how we bring Christians to maturity: some desire to escape from hell but don’t desire for the actual life of God in them (Galatians 2:20 / Philippians 1:21 / Colossians 1:27). They won’t empty themselves of themselves and therefore cannot be truly filled by the Spirit. They ride the rollercoaster of emotion, always going through a boom and bust cycle in their spiritual life depending upon circumstance. They try and “get better” by trying to control the circumstances in their life, but to try and control every circumstance is to be controlled by every circumstance.
Be sure of the fact that your idol will surface and you must deal with it or you will miss out on the power of God in your life to that extent. Most of us try and treat the symptoms and not the disease by doing “good works” or “staying busy”; we deal with the symptom not the sin. You may be saved but you can have more. You can be delivered from your sin in this life as well, and you can know what rivers of living water is all about (John 7:37-39). Become an iconoclast.