Summary: A god is a person/thing occupying the place of preeminence. It is anything/one that dominates your thoughts and emotions (accepting worship) or anything/one that controls your actions (demanding service).
God’s People, a People of gods
God has been calling Jacob to something greater than he can imagine – but change must first happen. Genesis 32 records his point of surrender as he wrestled with the Angel. He was given a new name – yet it didn’t stick, yet. In ch. 33, Jacob is finally able to see closure to some past regrets with regard to his brother, Esau. In Genesis 35, God wants Jacob for Himself – but something is holding him back: his wife’s idols (see 31:19, 33-34). God speaks to Jacob: ‘It’s time to get rid of your false gods because I’ve chosen you – to bless and to use you, Israel.’
Just before his death, Joshua challenges the people: ‘You must choose! Big-G God or little-g gods. There can be no more 2-timing; it’s One or the other. Jehovah God is a jealous God – you cannot serve both. You must choose!’ You and I can hear Jesus’ words (Matthew 6:24) ringing in our ears: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
The Evolution of Polytheism
The question of Big ‘G’ or Little ‘g’ is one man has struggled with for millennia: polytheism vs. monotheism. Through the ages, across cultures, thousands of deities going by names like Baal, Zeus, Nike, Marduk, and Aphrodite offer substitutes and counterfeits of what only God may grant:
- PROSPERITY: blessings, wealth, success (business, crops, community, etc.)
- LOVE: relationships, sex, fertility, family
- HEALTH: body image, confidence, long life
- PLEASURE: fulfillment, satisfaction
- POWER: political authority, war, weaponry
- KNOWLEDGE: education, science, technology
- VICTORY – competition, winning
But the more time has passed, the more cultures have developed, we have seen a transition of how we worship and serve these false gods. Ezekiel was given a word from the LORD: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” The idols we worship and serve are no longer made of stone or carved from wood – they are false gods in our hearts. John Calvin, the Reformer, spoke of the heart as an “idol factory.” This verse also implies that we have brought the idolatry out into the open – right in front of all of our faces – as we chase it headlong into disappointment and despair.
What Makes a god a god?
A god is a person/thing occupying the place of preeminence. It is anything/one that dominates your thoughts and emotions (accepting worship) or anything/one that controls your actions (demanding service). It offers you identity, meaning, value, purpose, security, significance, and pleasure … never delivering! Satan’s original sin was that he wanted to be like God. His strategy with Eve was to tell her she could be like God. Today, his tactics have not changed (see 1 John 2:15-16).
The Apostle Paul agrees: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” (Colossians 3:5). Idolatry is in the heart – not on the shelf. Touching what you should not touch, being with someone you should not be with, wanting something you should not want. Idolatry is not just doing bad things; it’s not committing crimes. Idolatry is making good things the ultimate; it is elevating good above its proper place; it is prizing anything above who God is or what God wants for you. Christians don’t usually forsake their God to accept other gods, they just use One to get more from the other. For example, we might pray to Almighty God to supply more of what we really crave – even though it might be spiritually unhealthy.
Finding Idols in Your Life…
It’s fairly easy to identify if there are any gods / idols in your life. Ask yourself the following questions – and try to be honest. (Special thanks to Mark Driscoll for some of these identifiers.)
- Who / what makes the decisions for your life? The answer to ‘Who is Lord?’ can be answered by answering: ‘Who calls the shots? Who makes your schedule?’ Is it a job or Jesus? Family or finances? Career or Christ?
- Who is judge? For who’s approval do you live? Family? Boss? The Jones’?
- Where do you give your first-fruits? Who gets money off the top? True gods don’t get the leftovers, they get firsts (Matthew 6:21, 33)
- What do you plan / pray for? God doesn’t like to give us more idols. He doesn’t enable our problematic idolatry.
- Who do you sing about? What kind of music do you like? Most music has a theme, an object of worship.