March 05, 2024

The Danger of Idolatry

Sinclair Ferguson
The Danger of Idolatry

It is because God wants us to be safe that He warns against the idols of our hearts. Today, Sinclair Ferguson explains the danger that idolatry poses and the true safety that lies only in the Lord.


Yesterday, I mentioned that living by the Ten Commandments is both the best way to live and it’s also the safest. Think about it this way: if we are Christians, we know that we can only live for God’s glory with the help of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ. He gives us the power to do that. But trains need tracks as well as power, don’t they? And in the same way, the commandments of God keep us on the right lines, we might say.

Think about the second commandment, about not making images and not bowing down to them. We might think that, as Christian believers, there’s no danger of us doing that. But then we remember that when Moses later came down the mountain, this is exactly what the people who had experienced dramatic salvation from Egypt were actually doing. So, John Calvin was surely right when he wrote in book one of his Institutes of the Christian Religion that our hearts are a perpetual factory of idols.

True, in the Western world our idols don’t take the shape of golden calves, but they take other shapes, don’t they? If you’re a teenager or a budding sportsman or sportswoman, it’s really easy to become almost obsessed with your idols. If you look back, as I’m able to do, to the era of Elvis or the Beatles—or even look at our own time, at some of the massive music performances by the great pop stars—well, you turn down the sound, and the crowd often looks as though they’re at a charismatic worship service, adoring their idols. And if we’re much more straightlaced, then our idols can be as diverse as our job, our bank balance, our home, our car—just about anything or anyone—anything we think about more often than we think about God; anything that stimulates our affections more than God does.

Why does God warn us about this? Yes, because it’s wrong, but there’s something else. It’s because it’s neither safe nor healthy for us. Idols can never satisfy, whether they’re idols of wood and stone, or what the prophet Ezekiel calls “idols of the heart.” Why not?

Well, here are two similar answers from two men who thought long and hard about this question. Here’s St. Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself,” he writes in his Confessions, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” It’s just as the Rolling Stones sang in what was, in many ways, the anthem of my youth: “I can’t get no satisfaction.” And here’s Ecclesiastes: “God has put eternity into man’s heart.” That’s our burden. If we were made for eternity—for faith in, love for, and fellowship with the living and loving God—then nothing less can ever be adequate for us, can ever satisfy us. We are lost without Him precisely because we were made for Him and made to know Him and to love Him. I wonder if we realize this.

It’s actually dangerous for us to have an idol. Our safety lies only in God. In fact, He tells us He’s jealous for us because He wants us to be safe with Him. So I wonder, are you safe with Him, or in danger with an idol?