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Idolatry is seen today in tribal customs, as a tribe of mostly naked blacks dance around a fire and make sacrifice to their gods. A family gathered together around a small altar in the home and praying to a little golden statue is another exmple of idolatry. Another form of idolatry is found in a group of people getting together and offering rice and water to the spirits that live outside the village. All of these depictions are accurate, but the most common form of idolatry in our culture is also that one that is most easily hidden. This idolatry is not always obvious by our worship, for this idolatry takes place in the heart. Idolatry in its most basic and common form is the desire for anything more than God. Idolatry is the expression of our sinful desires instead of the submission of our will to God. Several verses help lead us to this conclusion. 1 Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Colossians 3:5, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleannes, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 has some compelling implications in this matter, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.”

To help understand this, consider the relationship between our heart, our behavior and our God. The Bible shows us it is the heart that drives our behavior. James 4:1 “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your own lusts that war in your members?” Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Matthew 15:18-19, “But of those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:” What do these passages tell us about ourselves? They tell us very plainly that our actions are driven by and an indicator of what is in your heart. What is in our heart will drive the way we act, count on it. What is in your heart is who you really are. The faces you put on around different people don’t change what is in your heart. The promises you make and the intentions you have do not change your heart. The heart is that part of you which chooses and motivates all of your actions. In the most real and important way, your heart is you.

Because of this God places great importance on what is in the heart. Consider 1 Samuel 16:7, “For the Lord seeth not as men seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” Also, Matthew 5:21-22, “Ye have heard it said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” and Matthew 5:27-28,. “Ye have heard it was said of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already with her in his heart.” And Isaiah 29:13, “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is taught by the precept of men:” The very next verse of Isaiah 29:14 begins to describe the judgment that God is going to bring on His people because of their false, heartless worship. God is greatly concerned with our heart. He does not just want you to put all your external deeds in order, nor does He just want you to do those things that men will look at and find acceptable to their sensibilities. God demands that your heart be right with Him. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us our great problem, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Your heart is deceitful and wicked beyond description. You cannot escape that fact, and anyone who is moderately honest with themselves will admit that in their heart is a cesspool of depravity and wantonness just waiting to come pouring out. The depraved nature of our heart leaves us in a condition that is completely unable to do anything pleasing or honoring to God. When God looks at the human heart He sees nothing but filth, so that the best we have to offer Him, all our righteousness, is nothing but dirty, nasty and disgusting waste. The horrible condition of our heart is why Christ died. Because of His atoning work on Calvary, the sin of our heart could be forgiven, cleansed and made new. Believers should not be through worrying about the condition of their hearts, though. Our hearts are eternally cleansed, and we are now given the ability to please God. However, that old sinful heart still has a strong hold on our life. The rotten muscle that was replaced has not been removed entirely. It’s corruption and infection still seeps into our lives, perverting and poisoning our attitudes, words and deeds. The corruption of our sinful heart should drive us to keep a constant guard over our lives to ward off its evil influence.

Because our heart drives our behavior, our behavior reveals our heart. What we do shows who we are. You can be pious and quote verses about not judging and God looking on the heart, but the truth of the Bible and of life is that what we do shows plainly who we are. When you practice rebellion, you show a rebellious heart. When you ignore the preaching and teaching of the Bible you reveal a heart that does not care for the things of God. When you refuse to study your Bible and pray you reveal a heart that is not interested in getting to know God more. When you refuse to practice good works and witness, you reveal a heart that is selfish and not concerned with the needs of others. When you blaspheme God’s name or practice foolish speech you show a blasphemous, foolish heart. If you were to go through the list of all things you have thought, done and said today every single one of those things would reveal something about your heart. When you are faithful in the Bible, faithful to church and faithful to witness, you show a heart that loves God, wants to please God and serve others. What you are doing is revealing what is in your heart to others.

Realizing that our heart motivates our behavior and our behavior reveals our hearts, we can now begin to understand idolatry. Listen again to the list of things that come out of our deceitful and desperately wicked heart. Wars, fightings, evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, thefts, fornications, false witness and blasphemies. These are the things in our heart that evidence it’s desire to be exalted above all men and God. You may say that you don’t really want to be greater than God. You may not quote the words of Satan, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will be like the most High.” However, since Eve first saw the fruit as something desired to make her wise, our hearts have been filled with the desire to be exalted, even to the heights of God. There is no doubt about our own innate desire to be most important. Consider any baby who has doesn’t get something he wants. That little infant is horribly offended that someone would dare interfere with his own wishes. There is no greater crime to the toddler than to take away from him something that he desires. He is most important. We don’t outgrow that, we only learn to be more subtle in communicating our selfish depravity. We get mad at someone who takes our place in line, not because they have committed some great crime, but because they have not recognized our own personal supremacy. That person dared to put himself as more important than us and we get upset about it. We don’t just act like this with other people, we do this with God. We get upset when we don’t get something that we think God should have provided to us. We get mad when something happens to us that we don’t think we deserve. We have the audacity to think that our life has meaning by itself and we have signifcance apart from God. This is nothing more than our wicked heart promoting itself to a place above God.

To put it in the simplest terms, idolatry is when I want something so much that I am willing to sin because of it. When I am willing to sin to get what I want, then I am committing idolatry. When I am willing to sin because I did not get something, then that is idolatry. All of us desire friends, that is natural, normal and Biblical. When my desire for friends leads me to speak foolishly, to engage in sinful practices or to compromise on what I know is right, then that desire for friends has become an idol. I have placed that desire over my desire to please God. If I desire a promotion at work, and am passed by for someone else, maybe for someone that is not as able as I am, and I get angry and sulk or slack off at work then that desire for a promotion has become and idol. I have become willing to sin as a result of not getting the promotion. Anything that becomes so important that I am willing to sin as a result of it has become and idol. Pleasing God must be the most important thing in my life. This idolatry is revealed in my responses to negative circumstances, my attitudes when corrected by authorities, my actions and words around friends and coworkers and my performance of Christian duties. All of these things reveal the idols of my heart. If the most important thing to you is your own pleasures, your own desires and your own gain you have an idolatrous heart. Do some serious heart inspection to find out what it is that has become more important to you than God.