Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
Jonah 2:8 (ESV)
This verse just made me extremely uncomfortable. Life cannot simply go on the way that it has been. We cannot be content with what we have done, what we have been, what we continue to do. The 1984 NIV translation of this verse says, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” What a horrifying reality. What a call to change. What an inspiration for us to cry out to God in desperation.
I have been clinging to worthless idols in my life. They are truly worthless, but I have given them life through my worship of them. I have taken gifts that God has given to us, desecrated them, and used them to serve my own purposes–offering them as sacrifices. I have honored people above God, cheating Him of His due glory.
How often have I chosen to do what is easy instead of what is right? How often have I chosen to honor pleasure instead of holiness? How often have I made excuses instead of being a man of my word? How often have I practiced the very things I would preach against, the very things I would counsel against, the very things I wish to be rid of? How often have I spat in the beaten and bloody face of our tortured Savior as He drank the cup of wrath that was meant for me on the Day of Judgment through my constant choice to love myself–my desires, my sins, my urges, my comfort, my reputation, my “fun,” my life, my image of the future–above Him?
And as Jonah was swallowed by the whale, so I am overcome–overwhelmed, completely overpowered, wholly constricted, crushed, enveloped–by the sin in my life that I have tolerated for so very long. The wages of tolerating sin is death. I have tasted the fruit of death, as our ancient parents did, and I have grown to love that sweet poison. Jonah cried out, recognizing his wrongdoing and selfishness, and God had mercy on Him.
Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. As Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.” And Calvin proclaimed rightly that human nature is such that the heart and mind of man is a “perpetual factory of idols.” What are your idols? What is it that you run to when things hurt? When you are stressed? When you are bored? What do you revel in at the exclusion of God and love to others? What or who is your source of comfort? What is the vain and worthless idol that you continue to give life to by your praise and devotion when you ought to give it nothing but undiluted hatred? Is not hatred of our idols the attitude we should always seek to cultivate?
7But whatever gain I had, I count as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. -Phil. 3:7-11
Does this battle appear to be one of complacency? Is there anything that Jesus or the Apostles said that might suggest that watered down, Sunday only (or Christmas and Easter only) Christianity is sufficient for us to have any assurance of our relationship with God or our salvation? If your faith doesn’t change your life, doesn’t bring discomfort, doesn’t bring radical devotion…
If your faith doesn’t display a desperation to know Him and the power of His resurrection, His sufferings, to become like Him in death, and to strive by any means possible to know and love Him more, it isn’t a faith that will save you in the end. If we continue to cling to the worthless idols in our lives, we will forfeit the grace for which Christ was tortured to make possible.
So what do we do?
When the book of the Law was read to King Josiah, after it had been lost for many years and finally recovered, he tore his robes in anguish because of the sin and guilt of himself and his people. God responded saying: “Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you” (2 Kings 22:19). And then Josiah acted in obedience to God. Without reproducing the entire passage, here is some of what Josiah did:
He crushed and burned all the vessels made for Baal, Asherah, and other gods in the Lord’s temple, scattering their ashes for all to see. He sacrificed all of the priests and priestesses of the false gods on their own altars, burned their remains, destroyed their places of worship, and slaughtered the temple prostitutes. Not one stone was left unturned, and not one idolatrous priest was left alive. It was bloodshed. It was hatred for all that was evil. It was total annihilation–without mercy, without remorse, without question. (If anyone wants to read the entire account, click here)
There can be no tolerance when it comes to our idols. Either we mercilessly slaughter them or we will be lulled into complacency. We have no choice. It is true that old habits die hard, but it should be harder for us to continually dishonor and crucify the Son of God again than repent from our sin and remove it from our lives without a second thought. There can be no looking back.
This is a battle cry for complacent “Christians” to realize that if you are complacent, you don’t know Jesus. There is no such thing as a carnal Christian. Either you live in the power of His resurrection, actively putting to death the sin that so easily entangles, or you don’t. There will be many who come to Him on the Last Day saying, “Lord, Lord.” But He will respond, “Depart from me you evil doers, I never knew you!” (Matt 7:21-23). As He said, It is not those who say “Lord, Lord” who will enter the kingdom, but “he who does the will of the Father.” It is not God’s will to be the last thing you think about on a daily basis. You cannot serve two masters–you will serve one and hate the other. Service to an idol is hatred for God. “Friendship with the world is hatred for God” (James 4:4).
This is it. It has to be. I have all the head knowledge that I could need, and regularly “teach” people the truth. If that head knowledge doesn’t become Spirit-driven conviction, hatred for sin, and radical devotion to Jesus above all else, I am without excuse. I have forsaken the salvific call of the Lord by my actions, and am being called unto repentance. If I pay regards to my idols any longer, I know that I do not truly worship the God who is calling me to Himself. If I did worship Him, I would not tolerate the things I have tolerated for this long.
God gave Jesus to die for our sins. He sacrificed His Son on our behalf so that we could find freedom from our sin. We can have our guilt removed and sins taken away. By His death and resurrection our sins are blotted out and we are given His righteousness. We are counted as holy, when we deserve judgment.
It’s time we choose. Either we serve Him or we serve our idols. Don’t go to your grave wrongly assuming that God is so merciful that He will not condemn you for the evil you do. Most people believe they are going to Heaven, but Christ said that few will find the gate that leads to life. I would venture that many people we see in our churches week after week don’t have a clue that they don’t truly know Him… and that’s not me being judgmental–Jesus said it Himself. Either we repent of sin in weeping, eradicate that sin in our lives, and dedicate ourselves to serving Jesus, or not.
I’m tired of the life I’ve been living. I’m tired of playing around with faith, as if it were some sort of shiny achievement with which I can adorn my resumé. I am praying for the grace to truly live as Paul did: counting everything as worthless compared to knowing Christ Jesus and the power of His resurrection, sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in death. It’s time to slaughter our idols. Don’t leave one idol alive, one altar standing, one “priest” or “priestess” unsacrificed. Kill them all–God demands nothing less.