Today in his message at The Gospel Coalition, Tim Keller talked about the importance of confronting idols in preaching the gospel. He taught that idolatry is anything I look at and say, “If I have that, my life has value.” Idolatry is making a good thing an ultimate thing. Keller described three categories of idols: personal, religious and cultural.
I thought his description of religious idols was particularly compelling. He said that those who worship religious idols think they are devoted to God, but they’re not. He then described three potential religious idols:
Truth can be made an idol. Are you resting in the rightness of your doctrine rather than the work of Jesus? If so, the Bible calls you a fool. In Proverbs, “the scoffer” is a person like this. The scoffer is always sure he is right, and always disrespectful, disdainful, and mocking toward his opponents. The internet breeds scoffers, because if you’re a scoffer you get more traffic to your blog.
Gifts can be an idol. You can mistake spiritual gifts for spiritual fruit. Especially if you are successful in ministry, you can begin believing in justification by ministry: “I know I’m in God’s will because my ministry is going well.” Many of us in the Reformed world make an idol out of being a great preacher: “If I could just be a great preacher, then my life would have significance.”
Morality can be a religious idol. Holiness is good, but Christians can feel like God loves them and will bless them because of their moral record.
Ultimately none of our false gods ever deliver. They always let us down. Our hope has to be in Jesus Christ who died for our sins, paid our penalty and overthrew the principalities and powers of this world.
Read a complete outline of Keller’s talk courtesy of The Resurgence.