Summary: What is idolatry and how does grace become an idol?

There are times in our lives where God calls us into the tension of life…to go deeper in wrestling with who He is and what He has done for us…These moments can be wonderful moments, but not easy moments. A professor of mine called it “Blessed Despair” (Discovery yet limited). When you get in the ring to wrestle with God, if you will…it has a way of stretching your mind, stirring your soul, and expanding your thinking, and deepening your heart.

For me personally, there has probably not been a greater subject that has caused me more wonder, awe, reverence while at the same time inquiry, contemplation, and searching than the subject of grace.

Grace…such a common word in Christendom…Probably one of the most beautiful and powerful words in our entire language and certainly in Christian theology…

Grace…songs are written about it (amazing grace…your grace is enough…grace, grace, God’s grace…); sermons focus on it; churches put it in their name; our doctrinal foundation and salvation depends on it. This one word expresses the experience of every Christian, in every place, at every age and with every language…

But is it possible this magnificent concept can actually become dangerous? Is it possible that the very grace on which our lives rest, has unintentionally risen to a place it was never meant to be? Could it be that we have misaligned the grace of God? Could grace actually be an idol?

Now for some of you…you see the title…you hear the words grace and dangerous in the same sentence as if grace is like falling into a home with your mother in law who hasn’t eaten a snickers bar…and you might think I have lost my theological mind…are you trying to get fired…or that ministry has finally did me in…you question where I’m going with this…I want to invite you into a wrestling match with grace...I’m not asking that you agree with everything that is said…but I am asking you to wrestle with what God’s grace looks like…doctrinally in Scripture…and practically in your life. And what I can promise you is that, if you get in the ring over the course of the next few weeks…I believe you understanding of grace will become more full and your view of God will expand.

Throughout the centuries much debate has existed about many doctrinal truths of which grace is at the core of doctrine…To every great doctrine…like grace…there can be a shadow side…a humanly twisted side…a manipulation of terms if you will…and I believe this is true of grace…our focus will be on the shadow side of God’s good grace…how we manipulate grace…and abuse grace for our own benefit instead of the purpose and glory of God. Namely, I want to confront the notion and ask a deep question… Have we somehow relegated grace to merely a system of belief with very little impact on our behavior? Has grace become merely an idea, a word, a song, a doctrinal point, or something that now stands on it’s own with little connection to the One who made it grace in the first place?

What is idolatry?

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, who was a pastor at Westminster Chapel in London, gives a helpful definition about what an idol is. He says, “An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone…An idol is something that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention, and money to it effortlessly.”

Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of Counterfeit Gods said,

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” He goes onto say in that book…anything can be a god that rules and serves as a deity in the heart of a person or in the life of a people.

(Pages xvii and xviii of Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters)

Idolatry – Exchanging what was given by God to reflect His glory and satisfy our enjoyment in Him for our selfish desires, self-assurances and self-serving intentions.

In essence… Simply put, an idol is whatever or whoever you and I give central value to in our lives over God. And because we do that, rest of our life is completely directed and controlled by it. What controls our heart controls our lives. These are but few words, but a big principle

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