Idol Thoughts on the Battle for Your Heart
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com -Through the centuries the Church has rightly placed great emphasis on the eradication of sin. Yet for all the effort, perhaps Christians are missing some rather large details in their quest. There may be another core issue at play.
Author and pastor Kyle Idleman believes that core issue is idolatry. Not the garden-variety type found throughout the Old Testament but the kind that battles relentlessly for our hearts today. Think food, entertainment, and sex. You can add money, power, and discontent to the mix as well. The list goes on and on.
I recently sat down with Kyle to discuss his new book Gods at War, why idolatry seems to be the main issue haunting Christians today, and practical solutions for overcoming these sources of sin that grip the hearts of so many.
You experienced a great deal of success with your first book, Not a Fan. Now, comes your second offering, Gods at War. What was your motivation to write this?
Gods at War came from a challenge I write about in Not a Fan, and that challenge is for people to follow Jesus completely. What I ran into again and again in talking to people is that their problem wasn’t making that decision or wanting to do it, the real challenge was, they were already following something in a pretty committed way. Their heart, their time, their resources, their identity was already going in a certain direction. What I discovered was idolatry hasn’t gone anywhere and that the challenge for many people in following Jesus is that they’re already following something else. Idolatry is easily the number-one problem in scripture.
So, really, the book came out of a desire to address what I saw as a really common challenge and people who wanted to follow Jesus that are already following something else in a pretty committed way.
In your book you write that idolatry isn’t an issue, it is the issue. You are really drawing a line in the sand here. Why do you say that?
I think biblically, you could make an argument that every sin is rooted in idolatry. For example, if you struggle with coveting or discontentment, is that because you have made stuff and materialism a god? If you struggle with the desire to be rich and money is what drives your life, that comes from making that a god. If you struggle even with discouragement and depression, so much of that comes from wherever you put your hope. If your hope is in something else other than God, you’re going to end up disappointed; it’s going to lead despair. So, you struggle with sexual sin and pornography, well, why is that? Maybe it’s because you’ve made sexual pleasure a god. You’re choosing something other than God to satisfy you.
In doing research for this book did you find any one idol that seemed to be more common than the others? Was there one that kept coming up over and over again?
I think that what I would put under the category of “gods of pleasure” would be at the top. Food is included that, entertainment is included in that, sex is included in that. Even the drinking, the party, if you look at Ecclesiastes, that type of pursuit of pleasure, chasing after it, thinking that at some point it’s going to satisfy you. I think what falls under the umbrella of “gods of pleasure” is very prevalent in our culture.
In Gods at War you have decided to include many powerful testimonies of people who have battled with idols such as the “gods of pleasure” that we have been discussing. Why did you make the choice to highlight these people, some of them famous?
What we see in scripture when it comes to idolatry is examples of people who pursued this idol, discovered it didn’t work, and everything fell apart. What I have found is just one story after another of people who said, “I made a mistake.” For example, Chuck Colson, before he passed away, sat down with me, and I interviewed him about the “god of power.” He talks about how, for a significant portion of his life, he worshipped the “god of power”, making a name for himself, being in this position of influence, and then it all came crashing down. Another one is the “god of food”. The guy who, I forget how much weight he lost, but he for so much of his life, food was his god. That’s how he got through a lot of life’s challenges and a lot of difficulties growing up, and he just says, “That’s what I turn to, again and again.” And so, there are testimonies of people who have gone down that path as far as they could, and then realized it didn’t work.
Connected to this notion, I’ve known countless people who have said, ‘I know what I’m supposed to do, I know what God wants me to do, but what I am doing is so much easier. It just works for me.” Why, if you know that God’s way is the right path to choose, why do people just gravitate over to their god of preference?
I think a lot of the things people gravitate towards, offer a cheap substitute for what God wants to give them, and it’s easier to get. Maybe I’ve not thought of this before, so forgive me now if it falls apart. It’s a lot like fast food. You go to the fast food restaurant. Why would you do that? Because there’s this restaurant over here that, you can still eat at. It’s healthier for you, it’s better for you and it tastes better, but right over here, it’s faster, and it’s convenient. It doesn’t taste that great, but I’m not hungry when I’m finished. And I think it’s that same mentality in that it offers a cheaper substitute version of what God offers. I know it’s not the best but it works for me right now.
It seems like with every generation going back to the beginning of time we find people who have struggled with false gods. The Old Testament is rife with story after story of people falling away from God because of this. Do you think there will ever be a day where it’s not a struggle for believers to fall prey to false idols?
I think it will always be a challenge in this world. I do think the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, that doesn’t go anywhere. But I would also say that the more we discover what we’re looking for in Jesus Christ, and the more completely we follow Him, the more we find that hunger is satisfied, that thirst is quenched, and we stop looking. And I think there’s a difference between looking for and chasing after, versus struggling. What I mean by that is that I might battle certain false gods, but I’m not pursuing them. That’s because I know the truth, I’ve experienced the truth, that Jesus satisfies these things, but as long as we live in this world, I think that fruit on the trees is probably going to look pretty good.
As you were writing this book, did you ever come across an, “Aha!” moment, where you learned something that you never realized before or didn’t anticipate uncovering?
I did, and this will sound ridiculous, because it should have been obvious from the beginning. I was halfway through writing it and I realized all I was doing was diagnosing a problem. In my mind, Not a Fan revealed here’s what a problem is in people’s life. So, I’m just diagnosing, diagnosing, diagnosing, and then it hit me …what’s the solution? So, what I did was go back through each of those chapters, and I said, “Okay, how is Jesus the answer?” In other words, if food is my god, then how is Jesus my portion? How is He the bread of life that satisfies me? And if entertainment is my god, then how is Jesus my passion in life? If romance is my god, then how is Jesus the one who really completes me? And so, I went back through that, and said, look, it’s not enough, an idol cannot just be destroyed, it has to be replaced. You can’t just take it off the altar; you have to make sure Jesus is on the throne.
As an author, after people read Gods at War, what is your greatest hope for those who read your book?
That a person’s individual story would be all about God’s glory. It’s not about all these other things that a person is tasting or pursuing, but their story is about God’s glory, that it is the throne of their heart. I want people to realize that He truly reigns over every area of their life, and that some things that they have withheld would be surrendered and turned over to Him.
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