There is a part of my heart that aches when I see someone bowing to a statue. It’s a feeling that is extremely hard to explain, but has to be witnessed to be understood. Christians know in theory that idolatry is wrong, they’ve read about the golden calf in the Bible and God’s rage toward worship of such objects, but that is the extent of their experience. Yet, the first time I saw a mother, holding the hand of her four year old son, approach a “spirit house” (a small temple located outside of many homes, businesses, and street corners) with a sacrifice of milk and flowers, a pang consumed my heart. The darkness of the seemingly innocent act done nonchalantly as a part of the daily routine has awakened my heart to the pain that God feels when people lay prostrate before a lifeless hunk of gold. It’s not just an Old Testament problem to me anymore.
What in the world does this have to do with lust? Honestly, I think idolatry gives us an even clearer picture of lust and love then the issue of sexual sin. Allow me to explain.
The Biblical definition of the word “lust” in the greek is: eager desire, longing, craving for, appetite. In part one of this series I talked about lust being the cheap, tangible version of something costly and eternal: true love. I think Romans 1 brings these concepts together quite clearly:
“For even though they knew God [as the Creator], they did not honor Him as God or give thanks [for His wondrous creation]. On the contrary, they became worthless in their thinking [godless, with pointless reasonings, and silly speculations], and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their own hearts to [sexual] impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them [abandoning them to the degrading power of sin], 25 because [by choice] they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
In this chapter Paul is calling out unrighteousness and impurity, and what is he pointing it back to? The foolishness of choosing a worthless idol above the immortal God. So we see a direct connection between sexual immorality and false religion. Not only is lust the fruit of hearts turned to idols, but bowing down to a golden statue IS lust. It is an eager desire for connection with God misdirected to something superficial, tangible, and easily accessed. Then, when given a taste of this counterfeit, one gets hooked and continues to go back for more, because unlike the springs of living water we partake in when we choose Jesus, worshipping an idol is like drinking salt water, increasing your thirst with each sip.
The clearest I have seen a hunger for true relationship with God replaced by lustful objection was at the Ganges River. This river, considered holy by Hindus, is affectionately called “Mother Ganga” and is the destination for countless religious rituals and traditions. Although it is considered some of the dirtiest water in the world, containing the ashes of cremated bodies, human and animal waste, and clusters of floating trash, Hindus come from all over the world to bathe in or drink from it’s waters. They believe it will make them holy. A thirst for the Living Water attempting to be quenched by stagnant water that can only offer physical and spiritual death.
For a lot of us, literal idol worship isn’t relevant to our lives. Only a handful of western Christians have any exposure to false religion. Possibly from short term trips they have taken, interactions with immigrant families, or a trip to a nail salon where you might see a small spirit house in the corner. But before tampering with this message to make it applicable to Americans, I wanted to show that literal idol worship is still a very real, very heartbreaking epidemic in a lot of the world today. We need only to look beyond the walls of our American post-Christian cultural norms.
That being said, I would like to suggest that we establish huge, elaborate, magnificent temples in our own hearts. Some of these temples are named after good things like church, ministry, or family, yet they are temples all the same. And no matter how extravagant they are, they are mere shacks in comparison to the glorious dwelling of the One who deserves ALL of our worship.
I’m sure you are not unfamiliar with the concept of idolizing something without physically bowing down to it. The scriptures about idolatry are often translated from the pulpit in America in such a way that brings us to examine our hearts to search out any idols. I personally thought the main idols one could have were money, the American dream, or people we care about. But as I’ve come to examine my own heart thoroughly I’ve found some completely different temples.
I’ve found that I have lusted after things like adventure, busyness, recognition, and more; coming to “eagerly desire” and “crave” these things more then I even desire to know God. Often these things are in God’s plans for me but they should never replace the position He has in my heart. When they do, I have chosen the lust of the flesh over the Lover of my soul.
Jesus is the most valuable person ever to be desired, nothing can even come close to His worth, but He is One. He is the most precious gem in the world, and everything and everyone else is like the little rings you get for a quarter in the vending machines. There is only one way to Him, and it is an extremely costly way. Often we aren’t patient enough or dedicated enough to pay the price so instead we settle for something that we can get in an instant at an amount that we can afford: idols.
This message can border on being cliche for those that go to church regularly, but being familiar with it does not equal knowing it. I want to encourage each of you to examine your heart for any trace of lust. No matter how sexually pure, religious, or overall “good” we are, we still need to take an inventory of our hearts to see where we have built temples and disguised them as Jesus. This isn’t just a way to apply Old Testament principles to our current situations. Bowing to an idol in our hearts is just as serious and just as heart-breaking to God as bowing to a golden statue of Buddha or Shiva.
I’ve made up my mind. I’m no longer willing to settle for a replica of true Love and relationship with God. I’m willing to pay the price for the real thing. I will violently wage war on the temples hidden in my heart, will you join me?