We become what we worship.
This idea is something we encounter throughout Scripture. What grips our hearts—what holds our attention at the center of our lives—motivates us, moves us, and leads us wherever it desires.
We see this clearly in the sharp contrast between Herod the Great and Jesus, which I preached about this past weekend at Eastbrook. Herod is motivated by power. It grips his life with such ferocity that he willingly executed one of his wives and several of his children to secure his grip upon that power. The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18) was but one example of Herod’s disturbing use of violence to secure his position at any cost. The scary reality is this: Herod thought he had a hold on power, but it was actually the idol of power that had a grip on him. It motivated him, moved him, and led him wherever it desired.
Sometimes when we see an extreme example of the ruin brought by idolatry, it distances us from the ways that idolatry has a hold on our own lives. We see someone like Herod the Great, or some other renowned ‘sinner’ or ‘evil person’ from our own time, and may think, “Thank God I’m nothing like that!” But the truth is rather different. We all have a proclivity toward idolatry. There are many things that vie for our heart’s affections. There are many passions, aims, people, and objects that seek to set themselves up in our lives in order to motivate us, move us, and lead us wherever they desire. We all become what we worship.
What we see in Herod the Great’s terrifying actions is merely the fruit of a heart that is disordered through idolatry. Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). For Herod all of this started many years before the events we read about in Matthew 2. The small beginnings of idolatry, if left unchecked, expand over time. This is the way idolatry works within all of our lives. Through small decisions and apparently insignificant actions, we increasingly give our hearts over to the grip of idols. Eventually, numbed to smaller wrong decisions and actions, greater and more distorted words and actions are normalized under the spell of the idol that grips our lives.
As followers of Jesus, we cannot countenance idols. We have one center of our lives—one hold on our heart—and that is the Living God. We do well to take stock of ways that idols have come to grip our lives. I have found four questions helpful for such an inventory as suggested by Tim Keller in his book book Counterfeit Gods (pages 167-170). Consider them with me as we begin this year:
- What are we dreaming about or imagining? As William Temple said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”
- How are we spending our money? As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21).
- What are we truly living for – what is our functional master? Keller writes: “When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”
- What are our most uncontrollable emotions? Keller again writes: “Look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”
We become what we worship, so may we worship the Lord our God only. May we shed our idols, tear them down to the ground, and, like Joshua entering the Promised Land, declare, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).