Idols are cruel masters that are bent on your misery. But they don’t present themselves that way. First, they convince you that your life is summed up in the attainment of a specific desire. It might be success, comfort, control, affirmation, or intimacy. Then, this idol promises you that it can meet this desire in your life. It even gives you displays of its power and invites you to taste of its delicacies. So you sign on the dotted line and agree to give your heart to this idol in exchange for its services.
The Problem with Your Idol
In the beginning, the idol seems to be fulfilling every single promise it made. It delivers quickly and efficiently. It’s there for you in the good times and the bad. It’s there to comfort you, weep with you, celebrate with you, and offer to spend the lonely nights with you.
Your love for this idol is growing quickly. The more you feed it, the more it draws you in. Over time, your life becomes consumed by it. Other things in life become distractions and obstacles in the way of going back to this idol again and again. Going one day without it feels unbearable, making your inevitable return that much more intoxicating.
This is when you start to question your agreement with this idol. The cost of this pleasure wasn’t spelled out for you in the initial contract. You start to notice that other things in life have lost their value. You don’t enjoy them the way you used to. Your relationships with others may have become awkward, transactional, and strained. Over time, you’ve become more and more isolated, and, eventually, you’re left alone—just you and your idol.
The Struggle with Your Idol
Upon realizing that you have made a terrible mistake, you try to get out of this contract. But this idol has already sealed and notarized it. You beg and plead with it to let you go, but it shouts all the more that it will never leave you. It even threatens you and those you love. It tells you that if you try to get help from others, you’ll be endangering your family and even your own life. Right after threatening you, it woos you back with smooth and enticing words.
Finally, one day, you think you’ve found a way to escape this idol’s grip. If this idol offered you such powerful fulfillment in life, maybe Jesus can do the same for you. So you pray that Jesus will meet you in the same way this idol did, maybe even better. That Jesus will give you comfort, intimacy, control, and affirmation. But Jesus doesn’t answer you the way this idol did. The idol said, “You can walk by sight and feel good whenever you want.” Jesus says, “Walk by faith, and trust me when trials come your way.” After a while, you grow frustrated with Jesus, that he’s not helping you the way you want. He seems distant and unable to give you what makes you happy. In anger and unbelief, you willingly return to your idol, hopeless for anything better in your life.
As you stay with your idol, one thing is very clear to you: This idol hasn’t satisfied you. It’s just filled you with junk that tasted sweet but left you bitter. It promised real life but only delivered powerful counterfeits. Your life is now marked by unsatisfied longings that are temporarily mitigated by your idol.
You feel stuck, and it seems that Jesus is either unwilling or unable to free you from your misery.
Freedom from Your Idol
But then Jesus comes to you and offers you a pathway out of your despair. He tells you there is a way to be freed from the tyranny of this idol and its false promises. He exposes the lie that brought you in to begin with: That life can be found outside of the Life-giver. It is the hook of believing that life can be found in living for comfort, intimacy, control, security, and affirmation.
As long as you continue to believe that lie, your hope of escaping this cruel master is vain.
Jesus tells you to repent of coming to him merely to use him as a means of giving you your idolatrous desires. He reminds you of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” You had put your desires for other things before desiring him. You thought that in them was found the wellspring of life.
Jesus reminds you,
“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:8).
Your heart is pierced by his words. You see clearly how you’ve been spurning his offer of himself in order to cling to your idols. And you hear his invitation as a real way forward out of your misery, but your idol retorts with a strong counterargument. It says, “If you give your heart to Jesus, he’s calling you to give up good things and desire him only. Do you really want to give up your comfort, your security, your control?”
Jesus knows your weak faith and the ease at which your idol is able to convince you of its lies. And so, tenderly, with a heart of compassion, he tells you, “You’re not giving up your desires; you’re giving them over to me. You’re giving your whole life to me. In so doing, I will give you myself. And when I give you myself, all of your desires with which I created you find their ultimate satisfaction in me. When you are satisfied in me, you are truly free.”
In tears, you cry out, “Lord, I want to be satisfied in you, but that’s not happening in my life. I’ve tried, and you haven’t shown up for me.”
“My beloved child,” Jesus says, “You’ve been coming to me on the basis of your feelings, your experience, and your doubts. You haven’t been coming to me in faith in my promises to you. You’ve been coming to me demanding that I meet you on your terms. You haven’t been coming to me in trust, submitting to my perfect will for your life. You’ve wanted me to serve you so that you can be lord of your life. I want you to know a peace that comes from offering yourself to me daily as a living sacrifice, because you trust that I am sufficient for every need you have, and I will be faithful to every promise I have ever made to you. You thought that I existed for you. But you exist for me. You exist to glorify my name.”
With these words, your shackles come undone and fall to the floor as you see the path of joy and freedom set before you. Freedom is not in having your desires met in your timing and your ways. Freedom comes from repenting of your idolatry and entrusting your whole life to your first love, to the one for whom you were created.
The Death of Your Idol
Your idol has been dealt a death blow, but with its dying breath, it lunges at you with a sword of doubt saying, “You might want this freedom, you might even desire to worship Jesus alone, but you’ll fail, and you’ll come crawling back to me. Your repentance won’t be perfect.”
With confident humility you respond, “You’re right. I won’t be perfect. Even in my best moments, my love for Jesus will fall short of his supreme value. But my hope is not in my righteousness. My hope rests in being united to my Savior, who bore my sin of idolatry on the cross and has given me his perfect righteousness, so that I can come to him freely and ask for help from his infinite storehouse of grace.”
Jesus welcomes you into his arms and declares with amazing love, “You are my portion, and I am yours!” Jesus is not a genie or a powerful new way to get what you really want in the way you want it. Jesus Christ is the one who bore all the guilt of your sinful humanity and gives you nothing less than his own indestructible life—he himself is our reward. He doesn’t serve our desires; he reshapes them by his death and resurrection and guarantees them to us by joining us eternally to himself.
Mark has been President of Harvest USA since October 2022. Mark holds an M.A. in Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA, and a B.A. in Communications & Integrated Media from Geneva College,More from Mark Sanders