By Kyle Idleman
Idolatry is huge in the Bible,
dominant in our personal lives,
and irrelevant in our mistaken estimations.
— Os Guinness
Imagine a man who has been coughing constantly. This cough keeps him up half of the night and interrupts any conversation he has that lasts more than a minute or two. The cough is so unrelenting that he goes to the doctor.
The doctor runs his tests.
Now imagine the doctor knows how tough the news will be to handle. So he doesn’t tell his patient about cancer. Instead, he writes a prescription for some strong cough medicine and tells him that he should be feeling better soon. The man is delighted with this prognosis. And sure enough, he sleeps much better that night. The cough syrup seems to have solved his problem.
Meanwhile, very quietly, the cancer is eating away at his body.
As a teacher and church leader, I talk to people every week who are
They come to me and share their struggles.
They unload their frustrations.
They express their discouragement. They display their wounds.
They confess their sins.
When I talk to people, they point to what they believe is the problem. In their minds, they’ve nailed it. They can’t stop coughing. But here’s what I’ve discovered: they’re talking about a symptom rather than the true illness—the true issue—which is always idolatry.
Idolatry isn’t just one of many sins; rather it’s the one great sin that all others come from. So if you start scratching at whatever struggle you’re dealing with, eventually you’ll find that underneath it is a false god. Until that god is dethroned, and the Lord God takes his rightful place, you will not have victory.
Idolatry isn’t an issue; it is the issue. All roads lead to the dusty, overlooked concept of false gods. Deal with life on the glossy outer layers, and you might never see it; scratch a little beneath the surface, and you begin to see that it’s always there, under some other coat of paint. There are a hundred million different symptoms, but the issue is always idolatry.
That’s why, when Moses stood on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God, the first one was, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2–3).
When God issued this command during the time of Moses, the people were familiar with a lot of other gods. God’s people had spent more than 400 years in Egypt as slaves. Egypt was crowded with gods. They had taken over the neighborhood—literally. The Egyptians had local gods for every district. Egypt was the Baskin-Robbins of gods. You could pick and choose the flavors you wanted.
The Bible’s paradigm is different. When we hear God say, “You will have no other gods before me,” we think of it as a hierarchy: God is always in first place. But there are no places. God isn’t interested in competing against others or being first among many.
God will not be part of any hierarchy.
He wasn’t saying “before me” as in “ahead of me.” A better understanding of the Hebrew word translated “before me” is “in my presence.”
God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board. And life doesn’t work until everyone else sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired. He is God, and there are no other applicants for that position. There are no partial gods, no honorary gods, no interim gods, no assistants to the regional gods.
God is saying this not because he is insecure but because it’s the way of truth in this universe, which is his creation. Only one God owns and operates it. Only one God designed it, and only one God knows how it works. He is the only God who can help us, direct us, satisfy us, save us.
As we read Exodus 20, we see that the one true God has had it with the imitation and substitute gods. So God tells the nation of Israel to break up the pantheon; send it home. All other god activity is cancelled. He makes sure the people understand that he is the one and only. He is the Lord God.
You may be thinking, Thanks for the history lesson, but that was a long time ago. After all, in our time, the problem doesn’t appear to be that people worship many gods; it’s that they don’t worship any god.
Yet my guess is that the list of our gods is longer than theirs. Just because we call them by different names doesn’t change what they are. We may not have the god of commerce, the god of agriculture, the god of sex, or the god of the hunt. But we do have portfolios, automobiles, adult entertainment, and sports. If it walks like an idol, and quacks like an idol . . .
You can call it a cough instead of calling it cancer, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly.
Adapted from God’s at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart by Kyle Idleman, now updated and expanded! Click here to learn more about this title.
What do Netflix, our desire for the corner office, and that perfect picture we just posted on Instagram have to do with each other? None of these things is wrong in itself. But when we begin to allow entertainment, success, or social media to control us, we miss out on the joy of God’s rule in our hearts.
In Gods at War, Pastor Kyle Idleman, bestselling author of Not a Fan, helps every believer recognize there are false gods at war within each of us, and they battle for the place of glory and control in our lives.
According to Idleman, idolatry isn’t an issue?it is the issue.
By asking insightful questions, Idleman reveals which false gods each of us are allowing on the throne of our lives. What do you sacrifice for? What makes you mad? What do you worry about? Whose applause do you long for? We’re all wired for worship, but we often end up valuing and honoring the idols of money, sex, food, romance, success, and many others that keep us from the intimate relationship with God that we desire.
In this updated edition, Pastor Kyle adds a new introduction as well as new content about the battle many of us face with technology—whether we are tempted to send just one more text, stay online when our bodies need rest, or find ourselves putting email before in-person relationships. How can we seek God with our whole hearts instead?
Using true, powerful, and honest testimonies of those who have struggled in each area, Gods at War illustrates a clear path away from the heartache of our 21st century idolatry back to the heart of God—enabling us to truly be completely committed followers of Jesus.
Kyle Idleman is teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church, the fifth largest church in America, where he speaks to more than twenty thousand people each weekend. He is the bestselling and award-winning author of Not a Fan, Aha, and Grace is Greater. He is a frequent speaker for national conventions and influential churches across the country. Kyle and his wife, DesiRae, have four children and live on a farm in Louisville, KY.