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The Idols of the Heart ~ Romans 1:18-25

February 21, 2106 ~ New City Church of Calgary ~ Pastor John Ferguson
Intro: Ronda Rousey gave an interview last week that shocked the sports world. Ronda was an undefeated Mixed Martial
Arts fighter. She won 11 of her fights in the first round, and in 2015 was the third most searched person on Google. She
was voted Best Female Athlete Ever in an ESPN poll with two magazines ranking her as the most dominant active
athlete, and she was the highest paid UFC fighter (male or female), while Neilson entertainment ratings found that she
had the same endorsement potential as NBA superstar Lebron James. (wiki)
All that changed in a split second when Ronda Rowdy Rousey defended her title against Holly The Preachers
Daughter Holm. Going into this fight, Rousey was as much as a 20-1 favourite to win. But just seconds into the 2nd
round, Holm landed a knockout blow with a kick to the head.
In a moment of honesty on The Ellen Show, she revealed that she contemplated suicide that night. Honestly, my
thought in the medical room: I was sitting in the corner and was like, 'What am I anymore if I'm not this? Literally
sitting there thinking about killing myself. In that exact second, I'm like, 'I'm nothing. What do I do anymore? No one
[cares] about me anymore without this.
Thankfully, she didnt follow through with her suicidal thoughts, but this confession graphically reveals the emptiness
and brokenness that follows when we centre our lives anything other than the living God. When we attach our identity
to or seek to find meaning in or security with or happiness in anything but our Creator, a subtle but deadly shift takes
place. We literally live contrary to our design. The biblical word for this is idolatry. And the results are a living death.
Now, most of us think of totem poles and primitive people when we hear the word idolatry. And if that is all that we think
about, then we miss out on a crucial biblical concept for understanding human behaviour, and motivation. Whats more, to
the degree we are unclear about what the Scriptures say about idolatry, or minimize its powerful influence in our lives, to
that degree will we fail to grasp the gospel of Jesus Christ. The concept is deadly important.
Ligon Duncan, The whole bible is written as a full-scale assault on idolatry.
David Powlison, The relevance of massive chunks of Scripture hangs on our understanding of idolatry.
Os Guinness & Jeff Seel, Idolatry is the most discussed problem in the Bible and one of the most powerful spiritual
and intellectual concepts in the believers arsenal.
The Idols of the Heart ~ Romans 1:18-25
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by
their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
1. Objection: Isnt this notion of the wrath of God primitive? Shouldnt we think of God as just loving?
Do you ever get angry watching a news report about about extreme injustice? If you can get angry, why cant God?
If you consider yourself a loving person, and yet you are rightly upset at many of the wrongs in this world, then why
do you object to hear the Scripture writers declare that God is angry too?
2. Key phrase: suppress the truth. There is an active engagement to suppress the trutha conspiracy!
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible
attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of
the word, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
1. There is no such thing as a real atheist.
God has made it plain to everyone.
Thomas Nagel, NYU, The Last Word: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the
most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isnt just that I dont believe in God and,
naturally, hope that Im right in my belief. Its that I hope there is no God! I dont want there to be a God; I dont want
the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition.

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Illus: Received news that some of our good friends are in trouble. Husband confessed to his wife that he has been
cheating on her, andguess whathe no longer believes in God. He suppresses the truth. He no longer believes
in God they way a criminal no longer believes in the police, or a mouse doesnt want to find a cat.
St. Paul, So they are without excuse.
2. While there is no such thing as a real atheist, there are countless functional atheists.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in
their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
1. Their knowledge of God did not lead to acknowledgement of God.
2. The effects of the suppression of truth: (1) futility in thinking and (2) darkened hearts
Ephesians 4:17-20, Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the nations do, in the
futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to
sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images
resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
1. The essence of idolatry: exchange
Richard Keyes, Idolatry begins with the counterfeiting of God, because only with a counterfeit of God can people
remain the center of their lives and loyalties, autonomous architects of their futures. Something within creation will
then be idolatrously inflated to fill the God-shaped hole in the individuals world.
2. The definition of idolatry: An idol is anything we substitute for God.
John Piper, Hunger for God, The greatest adversary of love to God is not His enemies, but His gifts. They are
your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and
TV watching and internet surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can
become deadly substitutes for God.
A good thing can become a God-thing when we make it the centre of our lives, when we look to it to give us the
happiness, security, meaning, significance that only God himself can give.
Andre Aggassi, Open, The next person who phones is a reporter. I tell him that Im happy about the ranking, that it
feels good to be the best that I can be. Its a lie. This isnt at all what I feel. Its what I want to feel. Its what I
expected to feel, what I tell myself to feel. But in fact I feel nothing. I spend many hours roaming the streets of
Palermo, drinking strong black coffee, wondering what the hell is wrong with me.I did it Im the number one
tennis player on earth, and yet I feel empty. If being number one feels empty, unsatisfying, whats the point?
CS Lewis, God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among
themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature
rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
1. Natural born worshipers: When we cease to worship God, we do not cease to worship, but rather we will worship
anything. Its hardwired in our DNA.
John Calvin, Every one of us is, even from his mothers womb, a master craftsman of idols.
John Calvin, The human heart is a factory of idols.
Illustration: Idol Factory painting by local Calgarian artist, Douglas Williamson.

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2. We cannot marginalize idolatry as something (1) only ancient or primitive people do; (2) marginal or insignificant in
our lives. It is the sin behind every sin.
3. Examples: Life only has meaning/ I only have worth if

I am loved and respected by ____________. (Approval idolatry)

I have a particular kind of look or body image. (Image idolatry)
I am being recognized for my accomplishments / I am excelling in my career. (Achievement idolatry)
I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions. (Materialism idolatry)
my children and/OR my parents are happy with me. (Family idolatry)
Mr. or Ms. Right is in love with me. (Relationship idolatry)
idolatry is the sin behind every sin in our life.
We must aim at the root, not simply the fruit.

1. Key Quote: Jeremiah 2:12-13, Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns
for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Illustration: Snickers Bar episode
David Powlison, the most basic question which God poses to each human heart: Has something or someone
besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your hearts functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?

What do you love? Hate?

What do you want, desire, crave, lust, wish for? What desires do you obey?
What do you seek, aim for, and pursue? What are your goals & expectations?
What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?
Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security?
Whom must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear
rejection? Whose love and approval do you need?
(7) What do you see as your rights? What do you feel entitled to?
Illustration: Idolatry is the sin behind every sin.
2. Different strategies:
(1) Moralizing approach: Your problem is that you are sinning. Stop it!
(2) Psychologizing approach: Your problem is that you dont have enough self-worth.
(3) Gospel approach: Your problem is that you are looking to something besides Christ to be your happiness /
security / significance / meaning.
Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to
your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods.
1 John 5:21, Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

NCC, may Jesus become more beautiful to your imagination,

and more attractive to your heart than any idol.
And may you fight the good fight of faith, keeping yourself from idols
killing the sin behind your sin that kills your joy.
Because Jesus is worth it, and in him is where you find true life.

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