The Eyes: The First Gateway to the Heart

shutterstock_128857243The organ we call the human heart pumps 1,900 gallons of blood through it every day. The heart is continually receiving blood through the veins into the two upper chambers of the heart, the right and left atria. The three veins that carry blood to the heart are the superior vena cava, which carries oxygen-depleted blood from the head and arms; the inferior vena cava, which carries deoxygenated blood from the lower parts of the body; and the pulmonary vein, which delivers freshly oxygenated blood from the lungs. A vein is simply a vessel, a hollow tube, which is designed to carry blood from one place to another.

I remember as a child being excited when we drove through long tunnels in the Alleghany Mountains of Pennsylvania. Later, when I lived in San Francisco, I would take the BART subway system that ran underwater tunnel from San Francisco to Berkeley. These tunnels were pathways that took me from one place to another.

Sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world, the mighty Thames Barrier in London is made up of ten gateways that regulate the flow of water to prevent catastrophic flooding from storm surges or high tides. These massive rotating gates act as powerful and effective protection for the city of London, which was long prone to flooding.

A portal, in a historical sense, was an impressive entrance, a gateway to what was usually a magnificent structure. Many castles and cathedrals were constructed with beautiful, ornate portals. Westminster Abbey in England and Notre Dame de Paris are examples of cathedrals with grand portals of entrance.

In the modern computing world, a portal is a website that acts as a gateway to other sites. In other words, it’s an anchor or starting point that makes all types of information available to users who pass through the portal. Search engines like Yahoo! and Google are considered portals because they connect users to information from all around the world. The world’s knowledge is now at the fingertips of ordinary persons like me.

In a similar manner, the heart you’ve been called to guard has vessels/ gateways/tunnels/portals that allow outside influences and information to enter the heart. Information, ideas, images pour through these gateways, shaping and molding the heart and affecting its composition, character, and health. The heart then reflects the nature of what has been allowed to enter through these portals.

If you are to properly guard your heart, you must watch over these gateways and deny entry to that which is ungodly and corrupt. You must act as a security guard or sentry, carefully checking the identity of everything and everyone that seeks to gain entrance. God’s Word sets down in no uncertain terms the truth concerning these portals, making it clear that Christians are to be discerning about what comes through them. To be lax concerning what is allowed through these passages is to court spiritual disaster and put your heart at risk of being corrupted by fear, unbelief, and the unholy. The heart can easily succumb to contaminants flowing through these portals, causing it to become hardened, unresponsive, numb, and indifferent to the things of God.

Spiritual heart disease can be directly traced back to the information, images, and ideas that are allowed to enter these gateways. These portals were designed to be gateways to a fuller communion and fellowship with the Lord, but so many of God’s children have become so careless, allowing so much of this world’s pollution to flow into their hearts. We cannot let just anything pass through the gates and into our hearts and still expect to grow and mature in Christ.

So what are these portals where you must stand guard with all vigilance? In Scripture we discover three important gateways to the heart: our eyes, our ears, and our thoughts. The issues of life that proceed from the hearts always begin with what has been allowed entry through these gateways. Each of these gateways must be deeply understood if we are to truly allow God to change, purify, and cleanse our hearts daily. The eyes, ears, and thoughts are the main portals to the heart, and we must guard these first or the task of guarding our hearts is a hopeless one.

The Eyes: The First Gateway to the Heart

The eye is the second most complex organ in the human body, next to the brain. Our eyes use more brainpower than any part of our body and can process 36,000 bits of information an hour. Our human eye can distinguish up to one million color surfaces, and our eyes take in more information than the largest telescope known to man. In fact, your brain will rewire itself, changing its own structure, function, and behavior in order to better process the images and influences entering the brain through your eyes.

Visual stimulation is therefore an important part of both the development of your brain and the composition of your heart. In The Brain Changes That Changes Itself, Canadian psychiatrist Norman Doidge writes, “Our brains our modified by the cultural activities we do—be they reading, studying music, or learning new languages. We all have what might be called a culturally-modified brain.”[i] Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich says, “Our brains are massively remodeled by [exposure to the Internet] but so, too, by reading, by television, by video games, by modern electronics, by contemporary music.”[ii]he eye is the second most complex organ in the human body, next to the brain. Our eyes use more brainpower than any part of our body and can process 36,000 bits of information an hour. Our human eye can distinguish up to one million color surfaces, and our eyes take in more information than the largest telescope known to man. In fact, your brain will rewire itself, changing its own structure, function, and behavior in order to better process the images and influences entering the brain through your eyes.

It’s staggering to think how much visual stimulation our brains receive from our televisions, computers, and other visual media and how all this information entering through the gateway of the eye dramatically affects our spiritual health. The brain and, ultimately, the heart are like plastic, easily molded and shaped by the visual information and images flowing through the portal of the eye. When you recognize that a massive remodeling project is occurring in our hearts and brains every day via this bombardment of information, you can begin to see what an enormous weapon of destruction the devil wields as the master and controller of this visual stimulation.

In a Boston Globe article titled “Silence that Idiot Box,” Jeff Jacoby writes:

For turning brains into mush, you can’t do better than television….TV isn’t called the idiot box for nothing. Even at its best it replaces engaged and active thought with passive and sedentary spectating, while at its worse destroys children’s innocence, inuring them to violence, mockery, and crude sexualization. Television is by definition a visual medium; it appeals not to the brain but to the eye. You don’t have to study hypnosis to understand how easily the eye can be exploited to undermine alertness, focus, and good judgment. Just look at the gazed and vacant expression on the face of a youngster watching TV. Most parents would be calling 911 if their child drank something that caused such a reaction. Why doesn’t the zoned-out oblivion induced by TV cause parents to panic?[iii]

Bigger, louder, and bolder than their younger cousin TV, movies remain one of the most popular forms of visual media around the world. Even in communist China, millions flock to theaters every year to be dazzled by an impressive light show of the marvels of the modern filmmaker. Given the power of this medium, it’s unfortunate that so many movies overflow with vivid illustrations of so many characteristics of the kingdom of darkness. They often sugarcoat and glorify the worse traits of our sin nature as they barrage the heart with images that disturb, agitate, or allure the heart into a state where it is numbed and deadened to the things of God.

Oliver Stone, the well-known filmmaker, has said, “Film is a powerful medium, film is a drug, film is a potential hallucinogen—it goes into your eye, it goes into your brain, it stimulates, and it’s a dangerous thing—it can be a very subversive thing.”[iv] Does it surprise you to know that the director of Scarface and Natural Born Killers admits that movies can have a powerful drug-like effect on hearts and minds and can present a dangerous threat to our spiritual health through their mesmerizing visual stimulation?

Add to this mix that other modern monster of visual stimulation, the Internet, and we see that the ear is under an all-out assault through the gateway of the eye. Although much good can come through the Internet, numerous people, including many Christians, have allowed the Internet to consume them and poison their heart for God. This is most vividly seen with the growing problem of pornography. The statistics are staggering. A 2006 study (these numbers have likely increased dramatically) showed there were 4.2 million pornographic websites on the Internet, with 420 million pages of pornographic images and material. Revenues for these sites have been estimated at $97 billion, more than the revenue of all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises combined. Forty million U.S. adults regularly visit pornographic sites, as this is fast becoming the number one addiction not only in America, but also around the world.

Pornography is like a cancer in the Christian church and has destroyed many lives, marriages, and ministries. More than half of Christian men have admitted to struggles with pornography, and it has become a growing problem among church pastors and leadership.

Becky Tirabassi, in her book Sacred Obsession, expounds on this sad truth:

Sexual addiction is a serious problem for students from every part of the country, those who are ministers of the gospel, single adults, and married couples of all ages….I am no longer shocked by the number of men and women who share how their lives have been negatively impacted by pornography. It is becoming the norm rather than the exception.[v]

Viewing sexually explicit websites is consuming and possessing the young and old, the married and single, the unbeliever and the believer. Pornography has no respect for age, occupation, or marital status. What often starts as an innocent curiosity within a very short time becomes a compulsion, a dark secret, and an addiction of incredible proportion in a person’s life.

Do you see the absolute importance and magnitude of diligently watching over and protecting the gateway of the eye? Visual media can quickly corrupt and contaminate our hearts, quickly consuming us and turning our hearts away from God.

The Great Battle for the Eye 

We see the great battle of human history that rages on today depicted in the first few chapters of Genesis, namely those scenes in which the devil vies for the heart of man through the portal of the eye. Satan understood early on the huge impact and influence he could have on the heart through the knowledge that enters through the physical eye.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8–9, NIV)

Can you imagine the breathtaking beauty of the Garden of Eden? God planted this marvelous garden as a paradise on earth to be the home of His masterpieces, man and woman, a place where they would delight in God’s presence. He wanted Adam and Eve to take great pleasure and inspiration in the beauty of His creation, designing everything on earth to be a constant reminder to His children of God’s constant love.

He made people’s eyes to behold this awe-inspiring and breathtaking beauty and desire to know their Creator in deep, intimate fellowship and communion. They were meant to behold His magnificent works and thrill to the glorious nature and unique wonders of God. Through the eye, God was to become precious and beloved to people’s hearts and the singular object of their devotion and worship.

One of Scripture’s first great truths concerning the heart’s connection to the eye is that there’s a vital link between the desires and passions of the heart and what is seen by the physical eye. So often what the heart delights in and yearns for initially enters the heart through the portal of the eye. The devil understood this truth and used it to his advantage in the temptation and seduction of Eve. She was deceived by the serpent because she failed to guard her eyes and thus her heart:

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:4–6, NKJV, emphasis mine)

The devil’s main objective in bombarding a person with visual stimulation is to turn the heart away from God’s Word and destroy the heart’s desire and devotion for God. When the heart is deadened to the things of God, Satan can bamboozle us with the illusion that we must exalt and glorify our own self-interests above all else in order to be happy. He promulgates this great lie that we can be like God and accomplish anything we want through self-promotion. The devil promises enlightenment, pleasure, success, insight, and power without the presence, help, or demands of God. He makes these hollow promises using carefully crafted images designed to suffocate and choke the life out of the human heart and bring it into bondage to him.

It’s the same visual deception found in this description of idolatry in Romans 1:23 (NKJV), that “[they] changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man.” This is the pattern of every image, picture, and figure the devil manipulates to appeal to the human eye: God is never glorified, God is never experienced, and God is never praised. Rather, the image, picture, or figure depicts the darkness of sin that abounds in man’s fallen nature. Eve fell into this trap, as she was fascinated by the serpent’s words and promises, and allowed her eye to be taken captive by its manipulation. She took her eye off all the marvelous works and goodness of her Creator, and she forgot who God is and all His promises and love for her. She allowed her eyes to blind her heart, and she followed the lie rather than the truth.

We can see this so vividly illustrated by the meaning of some of the Hebrew words in this passage. The Hebrew word rendered as “saw” in Genesis 3:6 has the same root as the word translated “turn their eyes” in Isaiah 17:7, which means to perceive, consider, inspect, and behold with intention and purpose. Eve intently focused her eyes on the fruit of the forbidden tree, and her heart became delighted and pleased with it. She failed to guard her eye but, rather, beheld with admiration and desire the fruit that God had told her to avoid at all costs.

The Hebrew word translated “pleasant” in this same verse means attractive and delightful to the eyes, creating strong affection and the longings and cravings of a person’s heart. Through the gateway of her eyes, Eve allowed images that had been defined and framed by the words of the devil to enter her heart to the point that she craved evil. The fruit became her delight, her passion, and her earnest desire. Her heart became indifferent to God and turned away from Him. Thus she altered her reality and changed human history.

The fall of the human race in the garden was greatly assisted by the subtle manipulation of the gateway of the eye. The devil knows if he can frame and control the images that a person intently gazes upon, he can control and dominate the heart. Satan knows all too well that the heart can be led by the eyes (Job 31:7), and he has incorporated this principle into his schemes of darkness.

As the great preacher Charles Spurgeon declared, “What fascinates the eye is very apt to gain admission into the heart.”[vi]

“I Will Set No Worthless Thing Before My Eyes”

David, a man after God’s own heart, set down an important truth in the Psalms that we must abide by if we ever want to enjoy great intimacy with our heavenly Father while on earth:

I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. (Psalm 101:3, NASB)

The Hebrew word translate here as “worthless” is Belial, which means without value and good for nothing. This word always has a strong connotation of wickedness, lawlessness, and evil associated with it. In the Old Testament, it’s used primarily as a name for wicked and ungodly people who have sold out to the enemy and personify every form of imaginable evil, spreading through the earth like wildfire. The aim of such men and women is to hinder and obstruct the pursuit of God by diverting human passions toward idols. They twist, bend and lead the heart away from the God’s light and His Word, thus engulfing the heart in darkness and plunging it into the service of other gods.

People of Belial are constantly sowing seeds of all kinds of evil into unguarded hearts, and if left unchecked, these seeds will grow into ugly weeds and thistles. Even more disturbing is how these wicked people infiltrate the very house of God and corrupt His children’s worship and fellowship by sowing discord, strife, envy, and confusion among those who profess devotion to God and love of the brethren. They are the epitome of wolves in sheep’s clothing, subtly leading astray the people of God. We must watch and be on guard against the ways, words, and works of these worthless ones if we are to effectively guard the gateways to our heart.

These people of Belial are given many descriptive character traits in Scripture that reveal their intentions and their works. They know do not the Lord (1 Samuel 2:12). Their lips burn like fire to spread wickedness and distortion (Proverbs 16:27). They are wicked counselors (Nahum 1:11). They lead the Lord’s people to sin (1 Samuel 2:24). They worship idols and recruit others into their idolatrous practices (Deuteronomy 13:13). They lie and accuse those who stand for God’s truth, often using religious-sounding words to hurt and deceive (1 Kings 21:13).

They truly are the devil’s henchmen upon the earth, captivating the hearts of men, women, and children and enslaving them to corrupt ideas, images, and works of darkness. The first usage of the word “Belial” in the Bible sets forth the pattern and foundation for everything they do.

Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known. (Deuteronomy 13:13, KJV)

“Scoundrels among you are leading their fellow citizens astray by saying, ‘Let us go worship other gods’—gods you have not known before.” (Deuteronomy 13:13, NLT)

These people are at war with the Most High God and everything He represents. They are “worthless” because they have dismissed God as having not any value or worth in their lives and have thrown off the yoke of God, refusing to be subject to Him or His laws. These men and women of Belial are always on the move, advancing, designing, plotting, preparing, and fabricating worthless things to turn hearts and minds against the divine purposes and love of God.

Their main strategy for extinguishing the light of God from the hearts of people is through the use of images and ideas conveyed to the heart through the gateway of the eye. This is why God admonishes us in Psalm 101:3 to not set these worthless things before our eyes, where they can mesmerize and fascinate and gain access into our hearts.

The Amplified Bible reads “I will set no base or wicked thing before my eyes.” The Hebrew word translated “thing” in this verse is dabar, which means a word, a message, a saying, and a communication. In Hebrew, dabar was regarded as an extension of one’s personality and a revelation of the very heart of that individual. It not only reveals the heart of the speaker, but the communication or message is meant to captivate the heart and be absorbed into the depths of the heart. It is a message or communication spoken directly to the heart and on a personal level as an encounter, an interaction and experience meant to bring two hearts together. There is a bonding that takes place where hearts are intertwined and tuned to the same pitch of the image, word, or message. This was truly an event where the power of the communication was released into the heart.

We often downplay the effect of a word, picture, or image we see. We say, “It’s just a movie” or “It’s just a book” or “It’s just a video” without realizing how powerful and life-altering these images or words can be. These worthless and wicked things come from the very heart of the men and women of Belial and are designed to have a profound spiritual impact on those who fix their gaze upon them. Can you imagine what havoc occurs in people’s lives when their desires, passions, and feelings are reshaped and manipulated by such worthless messages? A person’s heart is chained in bondage through this transformation and becomes a reflection of the selfishness and evil of this age. Love, compassion, and purity are pushed out of the heart by the aggressive nature of these worthless things, leaving behind a wasteland of spiritual darkness, a heart numb and apathetic to the things of God.

If we allow our attention, focus and sight to be mesmerized and captivated by these worthless communications, they will begin to fasten and cleave to the heart. God clearly illustrates this truth by the usage of the word “fasten” in Psalms 101:3 which, in the Hebrew, means to cleave, cling, join together, pursue closely and overtake, to be glued together, and to be attached to. These worthless things are like the strongest glue on earth. They are specifically designed by the devil to fasten firmly to the heart and turn it away from God. The Scripture teaches that there is a powerful cleaving nature to these worthless things, and they will grip, overtake and dominate the heart if we do not guard the gateway of the eye. These worthless things form an adhesive bond that fastens to the very fiber of the heart and most often cannot be separated from the heart without the help and power of God Almighty.

Can you see why David chose not to set his eye in an admiring gaze on any image, message, or communication coming from the men and women of Belial? He refused to allow any worthless thing to fasten itself or cleave to his heart. David had learned the lesson all too well about the careless gaze of the eye when he saw Bathsheba bathing and became infatuated with her beauty to the point he committed adultery and murder. His great sin before God all began with the gaze of the eye.

David later wrote in Psalm 141:8–9, “But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord.…Keep me safe from the traps set by the evildoers, from the snares they have laid for me.” When your eyes are fixed on God, then He will protect your from the snares and traps set by these men and women of Belial who throw out worthless things as bait to capture the heart. The focus of your eye must always be directed first and foremost on our loving Lord if your heart is to remain spiritually healthy and vibrant. Isaiah 40:26 declares, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens,” because nothing on earth compares to the greatness of God. It is only when your gaze is cast down upon the worthless things of this world that your heart can be drawn toward evil.

The Allure of Vanity

The phrase “word (dabar) of the Lord” appears 242 times in the Old Testament. The words of the Lord are power (2 Peter 3:5), light (Psalm 119:105), and life (John 6:63). We need to fix our eyes daily on the pages of the Bible and meditate on the life-changing words of God. We need to fasten them to our hearts like superglue, for these words reveal the heart of God, and our own hearts should always be tuned to the pitch of His words. This is an absolute requirement if we are to effectively guard the gateway of our eyes.

God’s Word helps us turn our eyes from the deceptive pleasures of this world and direct our focus back on the majesty of all that God is and everything He does for His people.

Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity (idols and idolatry); and restore me to vigorous life and health in Your ways. (Psalm 119:37, AMP)

David knew he could not guard the gateway of his eyes in his own strength. He needed God’s help, guidance, and wisdom to turn his gaze away from the fascination of vanity. The Hebrew word translated “vanity” in this passage means emptiness, nothingness, futility, uselessness, ruinous, false, and deception. There is an alluring deception in the pleasures of the world that can overwhelm us for a moment, but it ultimately fades into the night like a mist of vapor. Vanity is fleeting, yet the eyes can be spellbound by the bombardment of its images, ideas, and promises. The sad truth is that it’s all a lie, a cruel hoax, a journey into nothingness because God has no part in it.

Ecclesiastes 1:8 tells us, “The eye is never satisfied with seeing,” while 1 John 2:16 speaks of “the lust of the eyes.” But no matter how appealing earthly delights are to the eye, it can never satisfy the heart. When the eye is turned to vanity, we will always desire more, but nothing can quench this thirst or satisfy our lust. Vanity always disappoints the hope that is set upon it. Vanity ultimately mocks our foolishness for pursuing it above all else as it our life wastes away. Vanity is a stealer of destiny, purpose, and calling. It’s is a destroyer of virtue and an enemy of spiritual growth and intimacy with God.

The first biblical usage of the Hebrew root for “vanity” appears in the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7, esv). The base cause of vanity is a false report, or false witness, in the heart of a person regarding the nature, character, and name of the Lord God Almighty. Vanity is rooted in confusion as to who God is, and it exhibits a total lack of understanding of His majesty, goodness, and grandeur. A vain person does not know God on a personal level and does not experience Him in a close, living relationship. Without this knowledge, the vain person exalts himself to be god on the throne of his heart and worships the works, thoughts, and ideas of his own hands. Such people fall in love with their own image rather than the magnificent glory of God.

The path of vanity always ends in misery, for it rests on the great lie of the devil that “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). This lie led to the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. Even today, vanity is the great seducer of the human race, calling us to play God, be God, reject God, and usurp His authority. Vanity is the grand masquerader and seductively beckons for all to look upon her, fall in love with her, and become consumed by her. She has deceived generation after generation of people foolish enough to follow her and devote their lives to the pursuit of her.

Unfortunately, vanity is not the exclusive domain of the unbeliever but resides as a fixture in the lives of far too many Christians and churches across the world. But as Job 35:13 says, God will not hear vanity or pay it any attention. Vanity shuts down the active and vibrant presence of God in the heart and blocks effective prayer. Vanity throws us out of fellowship and intimacy with God and turns the focus of our lives inward toward selfishness and pride. Vanity is a driving force behind the worship of idols and religious systems that claim to represent the words and will of God Almighty but are in fact empty of truth and lead the heart away from God.

Vanity is the deception of a life without God—a life where God is not wanted or needed, a life in which a person’s goals, desires, and morals are built on a foundation of sand. The Bible clearly describes this pursuit as empty, useless, and futile. Without God, our every pursuit leads to a dead end. Without God, the heart is hopelessly sick, condemned to wander aimlessly in darkness, lacking vitality and real joy. If God is absent from your desires, motivations, and goals, then you are utterly wasting your life:

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:1–2, NIV)

Let’s return for a moment to Psalm 119:37, in which David prayed, “Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways” (NASB). The word “revive” in the Hebrew means to be alive, to restore to life, to flourish, and to cause to grow. The word “ways” here comes from the Hebrew word meaning to walk or tread. Hence, David is speaking in terms of a journey that someone takes or a path that one has traveled. He is describing the pattern, habits, and course of one’s life. God will make alive His path in our hearts if we will look away from vanity and turn our focus and gaze on Him.

God has prepared the journey of all journeys for your life—an exhilarating adventure of passion, audacity, and earth-shattering power. God wants to imprint His map on your heart and be the sole programmer of your life’s GPS. Your heart will flourish with the vibrant life of God when His ways become your ways and His path becomes your path.

However, vanity rejects this God-ordained journey and instead re-routes the heart for a journey that ultimately leads to nothing but disappointment, misery, and destruction. William Cowper, the great English poet and hymnist, once said, “By the eyes, oftentimes, as by windows, death enters into the heart.”[vii] Vanity hinders, suppresses, and suffocates the ways of God in our hearts. Therefore true revival will never become a reality in the church (or a Christian’s life) as long as our eyes are fixated on vain things.

Does not [God] see my ways and count all my steps? If I have walked with falsehood or vanity, or if my foot has hastened to deceit—oh, let me be weighed in a just balance and let Him weigh me, that God may know my integrity! If my step has turned out of [God’s] way, and my heart has gone the way of my eyes [covetously] invited, and if any spot has stained my hands with guilt, then let me sow and let another eat; yes, let the produce of my field or my offspring be rooted out. (Job 31:4-8, AMP)

The heart will always go the way of the eye. Job knew this to be true. Focusing the eyes on vanity and worthless things will invariably cause us to turn from God’s way. Aren’t you tired of all the dead ends you encounter when you try to forge your own path?

Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. (Proverbs 4:25, NIV)

Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways. (Proverbs 23:26, NASB)

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4: 18, NIV)

If you are ever to fully give God your heart, then your eyes must delight in His ways. Your eyes should sparkle with the light of His presence and remain ever fixed on the majesty, goodness and greatness of God. He gave you two marvelous, wondrous eyes so that you could behold His awesome works and never forget His faithfulness. However, if you fail to fix your eyes upon the Lord above all else, then your heart will soon forget His ways. His light will begin to fade and your heart wither until He is pushed out altogether and another ascends to the heart’s throne.

The remembrance of Christ vanishes from the heart as it now cleaves to something new, following an image or likeness that has captivated you. The Second Commandment declares, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:4–5). One of the great weaknesses of the human heart is that it gravitates toward an image and begins to worship and build its life around it. Our eyes are bombarded daily with a thousand substitutes for God, as the devil hopes that one or more of these images will gain access to the heart as an object of worship, ultimately dominating and controlling the issues of life that flow from it. This is the modern-day golden calf that the devil wants to place in your heart through the gaze of your eyes, so that you turn away from God and give your devotion to another.

Yet when you cling to the Lord for life, you can defeat a thousand enemies attempting to infiltrate and corrupt your heart. You need only fix your eyes on the eternal and the magnificence of His kingdom. For how can an image or any likeness ever compare to our glorious God?

Make a Covenant with Your Eyes

So we must make a solemn covenant with our eyes that we will not look lustfully on any person, thing, possession, or ambition that usurp the place of God in our lives. This covenant is a sacred promise to God Almighty that we will guard the gateway of our eyes. This is the highest form of a pledge or contract. God will honor our covenant and help us guard our eyes when we trust and seek Him with all our heart.

There is perhaps no greater example in the Bible of the destructive consequences of a wandering gaze than the story of Achan from the book of Joshua. The day had come when the walls of Jericho would fall and the city delivered into the hands of the children of Israel. But the Lord had given Joshua explicit instructions concerning the contents of the city. So Joshua warned the Israelites:

“Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the Lord….Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel. Everything made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron is sacred to the Lord and must be brought into his treasury.” (Joshua 6:17–19, NLT)

But Achan, of the tribe of Judah, could not control himself. He fixed his eyes on vain and worthless things—a cloak, some silver, and some gold (Joshua 7:20–21). His heart earnestly craved and desired these things at enormous cost to himself, his family, and his nation.

Achan failed to guard the gateway of his eyes, and as a result, the people of Israel could no longer stand against their enemies. The army of Israel was routed by the men of Ai, thirty-six of Israel’s best fighting men were killed, and the hearts of the people melted in great fear and discouragement. God’s help had departed from Israel. The covenant of the Lord had been transgressed, and so Achan lost his possessions, his family, and his life, dying in disgrace in front of all the children of Israel.

Achan’s devastating sin began with the wandering gaze of the eye. When we fail to guard the gateway of our eyes, the same tragic consequences can befall our lives, our families, and our communities.

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If all the light you have is darkness, it is dark indeed!” (Matthew 6:22–23, PHILLIPS)

When either light or darkness enters the heart, it’s directly related to the focus of our eyes. If the gaze of the eye is pure, the heart will be pure. If we focus on that which is healthy, the heart will be healthy. But if the gaze of the eye is directed toward evil and worthless things, then the heart will be filled with darkness. If we focus on that which is impure and wicked, then the heart becomes diseased and unhealthy.

Nothing else is more worthy of our gaze than God Almighty. We should never allow any earthly image to turn our eyes away from His face. We need to see as our Lord Jesus Christ sees, to lift up our eyes to the eternal where we behold the wondrous things of God—His creation, His mighty acts, His living Word, and His awe-inspiring nature. We must see through the eyes of faith, trusting in God’s faithfulness and His unfailing love. Let us not grieve God by recklessly turning our eyes away from Him to gaze on another. For if we habitually fix our eyes in adoration on worthless things and earthbound images, our hearts are surely lost.

Tim Rowe

This is an excerpt from my new book “The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life.” Order now at:

 [i] Norman Doidge, The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (New York: Penguin Books, 2007).

[ii] Michael Merzenich, Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change your Life (San Francisco: Parnassus Publishers, LLC 2005).

[iii] Jeff Jacoby, Silence that Idiot Box, The Boston Globe, September 27, 2009.

[iv] Oliver Stone-quoted in Dworkin 1996.

[v] Becky Tirabassi, Sacred Obsession (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), 28.

[vi] Charles H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David: Charles Spurgeon Commentary on Psalms (Easton: Niche House Publishing, 2011), Kindle, 52461.

[vii] Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David: Volume 6, Study of the Psalms, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), 106.



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Idolatry: The Principal Crime of the Human Race, Part 3


Jeremiah’s Indictment against Idolatry among God’s Chosen

Listen to the heart-rending words of God to His people.

This is what the Lord says: “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. “Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry. But you said, ‘It’s no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.’ “As a thief is disgraced when he is caught, so the people of Israel are disgraced—they, their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets. They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’ and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, ‘Come and save us!’ Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns. “Why do you bring charges against me? You have all rebelled against me,” declares the Lord. “You of this generation, consider the word of the Lord: “Have I been a desert to Israel or a land of great darkness? Why do my people say, ‘We are free to roam; we will come to you no more’? (Jeremiah 2:5, 10-11, 20-21, 25-29, 31, NIV)

These verses in Jeremiah are one of the greatest indictments against idolatry ever written to the house of God. All churches, pastors, teachers and Christians of this generation would do well to heed these fiery words of truth. What fault do we find in God that we must stray from Him? Why must we exchange our glorious God at the bank of this world for worthless idols that cannot heal, help or save us? Why must we love our idols so much and refuse to give up our foreign gods, consulting with them as if they were our spiritual father? Why do we so often turn our backs toward God and declare, “I will not serve you! I will not obey you! I will not take heed to your Word!” Why do we make gods and worship their images, disgracing God by thinking these idols give our life meaning and purpose? Why do our hearts roam the earth, searching for something to satisfy our inner thirst and hunger instead of simply coming to God and surrendering all to Him? Why do we forsake God who is the fountain of living waters and hew out for ourselves old, broken cisterns that can hold no water? Why do we feel the need to run wild with the world and prostitute our hearts to another god?

The Wounding of God’s Heart

All of our idols are worthless! All of our idols are broken! All of our idols are rubbish! Why is our heart an idol factory when we are children of the most spectacular and amazing God the world has ever seen? Why do we desert our God, forget Him days without number? What does an idol possess that God does not? Yet Ezekiel declares that Israel, God’s beloved, had deserted Him! They crushed and broke God’s heart! Are we continuing in this same heart-breaking pattern today by deserting our God for our precious idols? Has the church become a house of idols and thrust God from its presence? Is God grieving and shedding tears daily because of the idolatrous condition of your heart? Nothing breaks God’s heart more than the idolatry of His children.

In the nations where they have been taken as exiles, those who have been spared will remember Me—how I have been wounded by their promiscuous hearts that turned away from Me, how I have been hurt by their wandering eyes that desired lifeless idols. They will hate themselves for the evil they have done and for their detestable actions. (Ezekiel 6:9, VOICE)

They will realize how I was crushed by their unfaithful heart which turned from me and by their eyes which lusted after their idols. (NEB)

They’ll realize how devastated I was by their betrayals, by their voracious lust for gratifying themselves in their idolatries. (MSG)

I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. (ESV)

God has deep emotion and love for His children. He wants to be loved; He wants to be wanted; He wants to be adored. God’s heart is crushed when we are unfaithful to Him by giving our love and affection to an idol. God’s heart is broken and deeply hurt when we betray Him for other gods. He weeps over our hearts that turn away from Him and go whoring after idols. The intensity and depth of God’s broken heart is revealed in the Hebrew word “broken” which means to break into pieces, to be shattered, to be crushed, to be torn to pieces by a wild beast, and to be ruptured. We shatter God’s heart to pieces and wound Him when we choose to forsake Him by giving our hearts to worthless idols.

Idolatry Takes Away the Heart

Hosea 4 tells us that idolatry takes away the heart. God is devastated when He loses our hearts for He has lost our love, devotion, and worship. We choose whom we love. We choose whom our eyes adore. We choose the object of our thoughts, time and passion. We all have a first love. Is it Jesus or something else? Are we letting the spirit of Judas enter into our hearts where we depart into the night from the presence of Jesus to betray him?

Pause a moment and think who your heart is following? What has captured its passion? Who is your first love? Have I betrayed my Lord for an idol? God cries out like he did in Micah 6:3: “O my people, what have I done to you? What have I done to make you tired of me? Answer me!”

Jesus weeps over our hearts because he sees the plans our Heavenly Father has for our lives. He sees our calling, he sees our potential, he sees the impact we could make for his kingdom. He sees what could have been if we had not wasted our lives being seduced by an idol. Given the amazing things that God has done for us to prove His love, does He deserve such treatment? Have we become so molded by our culture that we have become tired of God? Are we tired of His commandments and calling? Are we tired of the sacrifice that He demands in following Him? Has the flame for God in our hearts been extinguished? Would we rather enjoy the things of the world than the things of heaven? Are we weary of the demands of discipleship that the Lord Jesus requires? Have we lost our heart for God and opened the door wide for idols to enter?

But God has not given up on our hearts. He cries out like in Malachi 1:2; “I have always loved you!” He wants to recapture our hearts. He wants us to turn back to Him where He waits with open arms. He is watching at the window like the father of the prodigal son, hoping to catch a glimpse of us coming back home. The words of the prophet Hosea ring true of God’s beautiful heart and His tender care of us. He can’t let us go of us or forsake us, but will always fight to regain our hearts from the clutches of idolatry.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt. But the more I called to him, the farther he moved from me, offering sacrifices to the images of Baal and burning incense to idols. I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him. For my people are determined to desert me. They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me. “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me and my compassion overflows. (Hosea 11:1-4, 7-8, NLT)

God’s love for us is so great and vast that it is immeasurable. He treasures us and has given us abundant grace and goodness from our first breath. God has taken care of us with kindness and love, holding us by the hand, and teaching and guiding us. He has stooped down to wipe the tears from our face and to clean and mend our wounds. He is what every parent should be and a thousand times more. He has never failed us, never abandoned us and never forgot us.

Yet the tragic thread throughout the history of God’s people is they are woefully inadequate in knowing their God. They honor Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. They become deaf to God’s calling not hearing His pleas to come and enjoy Him, and give Him their hearts. They fail to see God’s loving hand in their lives, and He loses importance as they sacrifice their ambitions, goals, and dreams on the altar of another god. They desert God and His way of life days without number, and are determined to live life according to their own wishes. They run after the paths of other gods and crave what these gods promise. They become empty and oppressed by their own foolishness in ignoring God’s calling and invitation to turn from their wicked ways and come back to Him.

At the Heart of Every Sin is Idolatry

Just as in the Old Testament with Israel and Judah, the same is true today in the Christian church: Idolatry has consumed the heart of God’s people. Our true desire, love, and passion so often lie with another. Jesus continues to plead with our hearts like he did with Peter asking if we love him more than all the things of this world. As Christians our hearts are full of idols, and we do not even know it. At the heart of every sin against God is idolatry, and the desire for something other than God. Sin is the taking of our heart and aiming it in another direction away from God. What do you thirst for in life? What do you crave for daily? What do you hunger for in life? What is the driving force behind everything you do? Where is your appetite? The answers to these questions reveal the idols that are controlling your heart.

The Greatest Commandment

God’s loving heart is torn by our divided loyalties. He is hurt, grieves, and mourns, but His compassion still overflows towards us like a mighty river. He has laid out in the Bible for all to see what He desires, what He wants, what He craves and what He commands above all other things. At the center of His Word, Almighty God sets forth the greatest commandment and instruction for life ever given in the history of the world. This commandment is written with the very finger of God, and should be the cornerstone of our thoughts, desires, motivations and deeds. To break this commandment is to brand our heart an idolater. To violate this instruction is to break the very heart of God. To willfully turn our back on this holy decree is to label us a rebel and traitor against God’s kingdom. This commandment must be the foundation of our heart. It is the critical key to determine the condition of your heart.

Then God gave the people all these instructions: “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. “You must not have any other god but me. “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. (Exodus 20:1-5, NLT)

Then one of the scribes came up and listened to them disputing with one another, and, noticing that Jesus answered them fitly and admirably, he asked Him, Which commandment is first and most important of all [in its nature]? Jesus answered, The first and principal one of all commands is: Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord; And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment. (Mark 12:28-30, AMP)

The human heart is to have one governor, king, lord, master, and God. God will share your heart with no other. This is the principal rule of the heart that God must have all of its love, devotion and worship. There is no territory for any rival god. There is no peace treaty that allows other gods to co-exist and occupy the heart. God and idols cannot live together in the same place. Nothing else can be a god in our lives. God owns the exclusive rights to every inch of our hearts. When we violate this fundamental truth, we set the entire order of God’s kingdom upside down and disrupt the essence of His creation.

The greatest thing you can ever do is to love God with every ounce of your soul, with every part of your mind, with every bit of your strength and with every fiber of our heart. Everything we are and everything we ever hope to be must be focused on loving God. He is our first love. He alone is worthy of the heart’s praise, adoration and worship. In the beginning was God and God alone. He is from everlasting to everlasting. He created the heavens and earth with the power of His Word without the help of any lifeless idol or imaginary god. In Him is life that he breathed out into every living thing throughout the earth. By Him every atom in all creation is held together. He is the light that shines in the darkness, and nothing can overpower or extinguish it. He alone is the Lord God and there is none other. All other gods are counterfeits and worthless imitations of the one true God. All other gods are imposters and charlatans who attempt to deceive their way into our hearts.

Oh that the Lord God may open our eyes and give us spiritual wisdom and insight to see the endless list of gods attempting to gain access into our hearts. This commandment must be engraved in our hearts, and we must discipline ourselves to obey it without reservation. If we disobey it, then we allow the deadliest disease ever known to mankind to infiltrate and corrupt our hearts. This commandment from the heart of God should have a big red warning sign beside it, because to ignore these holy words is to sign a death warrant for our own spiritual, mental and physical destruction. So when Satan comes knocking at the door of our heart with the temptations of idolatry we can cry out like Jesus “The prince of the world is coming and he has nothing in me; he has no claim on me; he has no hold over me; he has no power over me; and he has no part in me!” John 14:30.

In this first commandment, the Hebrew word for “before me” is al paniym, and means before or in front of my face. It literally says: “Don’t ever let any other god get between your face and my face!” God wants the intimacy, closeness, and tenderness of a face-to-face relationship with His children. God wants us to look on our face, and make His face shine upon us, without the interference of an idol being stuck between our faces. No idol should ever block or hide the face of God in our lives. We deeply insult God to His face when we are more in love with an idol than we are with Him. He lovingly whispers to our heart, “Here I am! Here I am! Look to me! Gaze on my face! Come to me and let us fellowship together and enjoy each other in the intimate embrace of love!” The Lord is ready to respond to your heart in a second for you are His most beloved. God’s arms are wide open to receive you! Why are you letting an idol block your path to the heart of God? Why are you letting an idol cast its shadow on your face and prevent your eyes from gazing on the glory and majesty of God Almighty?

The Lord says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name. All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemes. All day long they insult me to my face by worshiping idols in their sacred gardens. They burn incense on pagan altars. (Isaiah 65:1-3, NLT)

The Two Faces of Genesis

The first usage of paniym in the book of Genesis sets forth a foundational truth about the face and the daily choice that confronts the heart.

Now the earth had become waste and wild and darkness was on the face (paniym) of the roaring deep but the Spirit of God was brooding on the face (paniym) of the waters. (Genesis 1:2, EBR)

When the archangel Lucifer, God’s second in command, revolted against God and was cast out from God’s presence to the earth with one third of the angels, it had a cataclysmic effect on the earth. The entire earth was engulfed in darkness and became a wasteland of chaotic ruin. Imagine raging, violent waves of troubled waters that had consumed all the earth. God describes the face of this roaring deep as darkness. This is the first face in Scripture, the face of darkness, and it was caused by Lucifer’s pride, rebellion and rejection of the one true God. This face was borne out of war with God and tasted crushing defeat. This is the face of emptiness, the face of ruin, the face of destruction and the face of nothingness. This is the true face of idolatry.

The second face is the face of the Spirit of God that was moving in the chaos to bring glorious restoration to the earth. No matter how fierce the waves or how turbulent the waters, the Spirit of God was the face of light, the face of life, the face of hope and the face of deliverance. The Spirit of God is brooding in deep thought over the ruins of the earth, ready to spring into action to bring to pass His magnificent plans in the midst of chaos. The Spirit of God is about to renew the face of the entire earth and bring life, light and order back to creation. The Spirit of God breathes life into every living thing and dispels the darkness with one word from His lips.

The Spirit of God is the living, true God in action, bringing God’s will to pass in intricate detail in His creation. God chose to restore the earth so it could be the birthplace and garden of delight for His beloved children. Our faces should always be turned to the mighty God who is Spirit, life, light, peace, and perfect in His order, purposes and will. There is no confusion, darkness, chaos, and ruin to those whose face reflects the glory, life and light of the Spirit of God. Will our faces be darkened by idolatry or be radiant by the Spirit of God? When we face the turbulent waters of troubles and challenges in life, will we turn our faces to an idol that brings darkness and ruin, or to the Spirit of God that brings deliverance, hope and restoration?

Confusion of Faces

In the book of Daniel, God describes a malady in His people, which he calls “confusion of faces.”

O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against him; Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. (Daniel 9:7-10, KJV)

The ‘confusion of faces’ is a term that describes the dilemma of a people who cannot rightly discern what way of life to pursue. They are confronted with the faces of a thousand different idols that are in competition with the face of God Almighty. Their faces are covered in confusion. The faces of their many idols have caused them shame, grief and disappointment. They do not know where to turn. They are weary of oppression and do not know where to go. Every idol has a face that is calling out to them. They are groping for the truth, but too spiritually blind to find it. Their sin and rebellion against God has caused them to seek thousands of faces in the darkness of idolatry, which has plunged their hearts into confusion. Their shameful idols leave them desolate and bewildered in times of trouble. They have lost hope. They are in despair. Their lives are crumbling and falling apart in front of their eyes.

This condition is not unique to Bible times. Don’t we live today in the age of confusion of faces? Our idols have betrayed us, causing us great confusion and shame. Our countenance reflects fear, anxiety and uncertainty. We are hopelessly confused on the meaning of life and grasp at anything that will entertain us and numb the pain. The world is becoming more violent, evil and vicious yet we do not seek God’s face. God has been thrust behind our backs for the fleeting pleasures of idolatry. Chaos reigns in the inner chambers of our hearts as we follow our idols of shame.

History has confirmed this truth that idolatry always brings confusion, shame and moral deterioration to a people and nation because their spiritual life is in shambles. The life and light of God has departed from their eyes, ears and thoughts, which is a sure recipe for disaster. Shame is an intense emotion of the heart that is accompanied with feelings of guilt, dishonor, disappointment, and disgrace. Unfortunately for many, the shame will not become apparent until they stand at the judgment seat of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His face will be like the sun in all its brilliance, and his eyes will be like flames of fire. He is the first and the last, and holds the keys to death and hell. On that mighty and notable day of the Lord, the true folly and shame of every idol will be fully revealed.

God makes a remarkable promise in Romans 10:11: “The Scripture says, No man who believes in Him, who adheres to, relies on, and trusts in Him, will ever be put to shame or be disappointed.” When we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and have no other gods beside Him, our hearts will never be confused, shamed or disappointed. Confusion of faces does not exist for the child of God who faithfully obeys this great first commandment.

The Worship of the Image

The second commandment also contains important truths regarding idolatry.

You shall not make yourself any graven image [to worship it] or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; (Exodus 20:4, AMP)

Who is such a fool as to fashion a god or cast a graven image that is profitable for nothing? (Isaiah 44:10, AMP)

I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. (Isaiah 42:8, KJV)

“Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman? Or an image that teaches lies? For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. (Habakkuk 2:18, NIV)

Blessed be the man who hath not made an image, or a figure, or similitude which the Lord hateth and which is an abomination before him. (Deuteronomy 27:15a, JTE)

The Bible clearly sets forth this truth that we must never fashion or make an image or figure into an idol and worship it. The wandering heart is so desperate for a god that it fashions a god into an image that it has conceived in its own mind so it can be seen, felt, touched and experienced with the five senses. This pattern of image-making arises out of unbelief and a lack of trust in the Everlasting God. Images seduce the heart and bring it into the camp of idolatry. Images drive motivation, ignite desires and fuel passions. We trust our images to take the place of God. Some of the most dominant obsessions of our culture, sex, money, beauty and fame, have the most powerful images associated with them. The world puts enormous pressure on the human heart to conform to its images.

The Devil is the master originator of images in every culture and nation designed to ignite rebellion and disobedience against God. The use of images is a primary tool of the Devil in setting up a command post and communication center within our hearts. Satan uses images to awaken and feed our sin nature. Images bring pollution, impurity and spiritual disease into the heart and clear the path for idols. Images prepare the way for idolatry.

An image is a representation of idol that introduces the heart in a powerful visual way to a false god. These images are often made into physical objects that become idols. These images can become a dominant thought pattern of the heart, a mental image that becomes an idol, fueling our thoughts, words and actions. These images brand themselves into the depths of the heart and mold it to become a reflection of the images it worships.

G.K. Beale in We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry explains:

God has made humans to reflect him. But if they do not commit themselves to him, they will not reflect him but something else in creation. At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation.[i]

We are both imaging and worshipping people in the core of our hearts. These two inherent characteristics in our genetic makeup are the foundation of all idolatry. When sin poured into our nature like a deadly virus from the fall of Adam, it corrupted these core desires. Our hearts ran wild and began to create images out of fear, lust, pride and unbelief and made them into idols, bowing down before them. The Devil deceptively uses these core cravings of the heart to turn us into idolaters. He knows that deep in the heart of man there is a fervent desire to worship and to be passionately committed to something. We were made to worship as God designed every cell of our bodies and every part of our souls to be intimately and deeply in love with Him.

There are No Atheists: Every Person Worships Something

However, if the heart is not committed to God Almighty, by its very nature, it will fashion an image into a god to worship. We cannot remain on the sidelines when it comes to imaging and worshipping. The heart is never spiritually neutral in these areas. The heart does not exist in a spiritual vacuum with nothing to worship and no image to reflect. We yearn for something to give life meaning. We crave for something to pursue and chase after, and something to become the driving passion in our lives. Every single heart on planet earth has a god. There are no atheists. Every heart on planet earth worships. There are no exceptions.

Kyle Idleman in Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart says:

Everyone is going to worship a god. We were created to be worshippers, as birds were created to fly and rivers were created to flow. It’s what we do. The question for you is who or what will be the object of our worship … If that person is a member of the human race and comes fully equipped with mind and body and emotions, then it follows that the individual is, in face, a worshiper. It’s factory installed, standard equipment-not a buyer’s option … whether you realize it or not, you are worshipping. That what human beings do, right alongside breathing and eating and thinking … We each make the choice to worship, and then at some point we discover that the choice makes us. The object of your worship will determine your future and define your life. It is the one choice all other choices are motivated by.[ii]

The heart is an idol maker and must have a god to worship. The first ingredient in the recipe of idolatry is to find an image that can become an object of worship. The heart is creative in its images and loves to share them with others. Soon there is a community of people worshipping the same images. Man-made religions are borne out of an image that is forged into a god that holds powerful sway and control over people. The heart is a rabid image maker. The heart is fanatical about its images. In the chaos of this world, people desire to hold onto something that brings security, comfort and safety. The heart is looking for a savior, an image it can turn to as an object of trust, to save it from all of life’s perils.

Image: The Desire to Control Chaos

The picture for the Hebrew word “image,” tselem vividly illustrates this point. Hebrew is a pictographic language as each letter represents a picture. When the root letters of a Hebrew word are analyzed, they paint a picture illuminating the meaning of the word. God designed the Hebrew language to communicate a message to both the ears and the eyes.

The pictograph of tselem are the letters tsadelamedmem meaning “desire (need)—control (authority)—chaos.” An image arises out of the desire to control chaos. We look to an image to give us hope in the midst of troubling circumstances, and an anchor in the midst of the craziness of this chaotic world. We accept an image of the world into our hearts, turning it into a counterfeit savior that we hope can deliver us from our fears and give us peace. We are driven to images because we must control the chaos, and out of this obsession flows the birth of idolatry.

The human race has become masters at making images to worship. The world promotes a culture that is driven by its images. Images excite, stimulate, fascinate, mesmerize, and captivate. Images are designed to draw the heart into their alluring snare where they kindle the cravings of our sin nature. Behind every image is a false hope and an attractive ideal that is designed to turn the heart away from God. These images promise pleasure, satisfaction, success, self-fulfillment and self-worth. But God’s Word says in Habakkuk 2:18 that these images are teacher of lies. At the very center of every image is a cleverly disguised lie. Images cannot deliver the promise. Images cannot fulfill the dream. Images are built on deception. Images will always disappoint and ultimately bring sorrow and disillusionment to the heart. Images are designed by the god of this world to take the heart out of God’s camp and make it a prisoner of war.

The Devil is on every street corner pedaling his wares, as he wants us to enter into a deal with him. He tells us of his offer that is guaranteed to thrill our hearts and bring us all the things we so passionately desire. We can exchange the majestic image of God for any of the thousands of images in his warehouse. These images look so beautiful, cool, sexy and alluring. Our heart reasons: “If only I could look like that!” Our imaginations run wild as we crave for a new image. We want to go on a shopping spree in the Devil’s mall of images so we can make an exchange that our foolish hearts think will be more exciting and adventurous. We dream about our new images as spiritual blindness sets in. We forget about the glory and excellence of the immortal God whose image we bear, and decide it’s time for a makeover. We want to look like that beautiful model in the magazine. We want to dress like that sexy actor or actress on TV. We want to be like the rock star with all their fame, money and popularity. We want to be like that super sports athlete that is idolized by fans and elevated to kingship status in our culture. We want our lives to be full of the new cars, houses, and playthings of the rich and famous. We are in love with the images broadcast on television and the Internet, and we are deluded into thinking that these images are more important than God.

The Terrible Exchange

Romans sets forth the sad truth of this great exchange that occurs in the hearts of millions of people every day.

For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made (His handiworks). So men are without excuse [altogether without any defense or justification], Because when they knew and recognized Him as God, they did not honor and glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. But instead they became futile and godless in their thinking with vain imaginings, foolish reasoning, and stupid speculations and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools [professing to be smart, they made simpletons of themselves]. And by them the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God were exchanged for and represented by images, resembling mortal man and birds and beasts and reptiles. (Romans 1:20-23, AMP)

God is so magnificent that there is no excuse for exchanging Him for an image that arises out of our vain imaginings, foolish reasoning and stupid speculations. That is a horrible transaction no matter how you look at it. We are getting a raw deal because the image is a cheap, worthless imitation of God. It is a defective, dangerous product that will cause immense harm to the heart.

We were formed, made and created to be image-bearers of God’s glory. God’s glory is the manifestation of everything He is: His majesty, power, strength, holiness, greatness, goodness, and righteousness. The glory of God is the total sum of all God’s attributes. God’s glory is eternal, infinite, and boundless. The glory of God transforms the heart into a brilliant reflection of Himself. When we look in the mirror we should see a reflection of the glory of the Lord, not the image of the world. As 2 Corinthians 4:18 says: “Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.” What an awesome privilege to radiate the image of the glory of the Lord as we become more and more like Him. What image can be compared to the majesty and glory of the Lord? All the riches, fame, and beauty of the world fade into nothing when compared to the glory of the Lord. It is like comparing a grain of sand to the entire universe.

Do you see why this exchange of images is the worst spiritual trade a person could make because it costs you your heart? The Greek word for “exchange” means to cause one thing to cease and another to take its place. In the Septuagint it was often used to describe the changing of clothes. In this exchange, we choose to not reflect the glory of God, but the glory of another image. We throw God out, like we toss off our clothes, and pridefully clothe ourselves with another image.

This has been the great sin of the human race since the beginning. For the majority of mankind has not honored God, not loved God, not glorified God, and not sought after God. Instead they have rejected God, trampling on His glory, casting aside every remnant of God from their hearts. They went after the counterfeit, and opened their hearts to worldly images they treasured and adored. These images represent their new precious gods and beloved idols. The glory of God was not welcome and the Bible says their hearts become darkened as they lived their lives in the spiritual dregs of idolatry. The sin of idolatry is a sin against the glory of God. The glory of God is the environment that the heart was meant to thrive in.

Yet every generation mindlessly runs with frenzied abandon after its images. People by nature try to limit God to the confines of physical objects or man-made characteristics that they can control. So people fabricate images to aid them in worshipping a god they have created by their own vain imaginations. These images become representations of the gods they worship, and give them control over who their god is, what their god is like, how their god acts and what their god demands of them. People create their own religions from the dominant images in their hearts. They have made countless images of humans, animals, inanimate objects and even ideas. A man-made object can never come close to truthfully representing the Eternal God in all His holiness, glory and majesty.

To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him? (Isaiah 40:18, NLT).

This is an excerpt from The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life. Purchase at

[i] G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 16.

[ii] Kyle Idelman, Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 57, 58.

Posted in Bible Teachings, Inspirational Messages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Amazing Truth of Our New Life in Christ

newlife-1In Christ defines every saint’s eternal, permanent, spiritual location, the spiritual “address” and the “spiritual atmosphere” as it were in which we now live and breathe and have our being.

Theodore Epp adds that every believer’s…

new life is life “in Christ.” The word “in” does not in this connection speak of location, such as “in an automobile,” but carries the idea of union. On the resurrection side of this experience we have His life. He has come to live in us. It is this that marks the real difference between the old life prior to our salvation and the new life now that we are saved. It is necessary before the believer can enjoy victory in Christ for the power of the old life to be broken. This is accomplished through union with Christ in His crucifixion. This is not an experience that wemust struggle to enter into now. It was accomplished for us in the past. The King James Version is not clear on this point. The American Standard Version of 1901 will help us here. The expression “I am crucified with Christ” is translated in the ASV: “I have been crucified with Christ.” God got rid of the old self-life by crucifying it. We were separated from the old self-life when we died with Christ. (Back to the Bible)

In Christ describes every believer’s new position and new sphere of existence. Before we were born again into the Kingdom of God (Jn 3:3,5), our existence was in Adam (1Co 15:22, Ro 5:12note = spiritually dead and under the dominion [supreme authority, power, jurisdiction, sway, control, absolute ownership] of the Sin “virus” we inherited from Adam – see Adam in the NT), in the flesh (under the dominion of the flesh – note, believers can “act fleshly” but strictly speaking are no longer “in the flesh” – see Ro 8:9note, 2Co10:3note Gal 2:20note use “in the flesh” to refer to the human body not the “anti-God” influence), in (under the influence of) the world, and in the kingdom of the Devil (under his dominion – Acts 26:18, Col 1:13note). In the Upper Room Discourse just prior to His crucifixion Jesus alluded to the idea of in Christ when He declared…

In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (Jn 14:20).

Paul expounded on the idea of a believer’s new identity, using the phrase in Christ or its synonyms (over 160 times in some form – in Him, in the Beloved, in Christ, in Christ Jesus, in the Lord – study the references below). In Christ summarizes the profound truth that believers are now and forever in spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, considering the prevalence of in Christ and its synonyms in Paul’s writings, this mysterious spiritual truth is one of the most significant teachings in the New Testament.

Charles Ryrie in fact comments that…

Probably the most important doctrinal fact underpinning the spiritual life is the believer’s union with Christ. It is foundational to the truth of co-crucifixion of the Christian with Christ (Ro 6:6note, Gal 2:20note), which in turn is the basis for freedom from the power of sin (Ed: Read Ro 6:11note, Ro 6:14note, Ro 6:17, 18note, Ro 6:22note Lk 4:18, Jn 8:36 – Remember that freedom in Christ [note the sphere or “atmosphere” in which one is free indeed!] is not the rightto do as one pleases but the power to please God by doing what is right!). Unfortunately, this concept is little understood, unbalanced in its presentation, and unused in its application….What does this concept mean? My own definition is simply this:

To be in Christ is the redeemed man’s new environment in the sphere of resurrection life. (Ed: Note [esp in Ep 1:20] the source of the “surpassing greatness of His power” that allows us to live our new life in Christ – Read Ep 1:18, 19note, Ep 1:20, 21note)

The key word is environment, for being in Christ is not a barren state or an almost unreal positional truth (as it is often presented), but a vital, pulsating, functioning involvement. The chief characteristic of this environment is resurrection life, the life of Christ Himself. (cp Col 3:4note, Jn 14:6; 19, 20:31, Ro 6:4note, 2Co 4:10, 11; 1Jn 4:9, 5:11, 12)

Another writer speaking of this same position of the believer describes it this way:

“He has been transplanted into a new soil and a new climate, and both soil and climate are Christ.”

(Ryrie goes on to explain that) In relation to sanctification (Ed: See noun hagiasmos = sanctification and verb hagiazo = to sanctify)  or the Christian life…being in Christ frees us from the bondage of sin (Ed: Ro 6:11note, Ro 6:14note, Ro 6:17, 18note, Ro 6:22note Jn 8:36) and enables us to live righteously before God. (Ryrie, C. C.. Balancing the Christian Life. Chicago: Moody Publishers) (Bolding added)

When we believed in Christ Jesus as our Substitutionary and fully atoning Sacrifice, God transferred us from the kingdom of darkness “in Adam” (cp 1Co 15:22) into the kingdom of light, of His dear Son, so that now all believers are seen by the Father as in Christ. This transfer was the outworking of the New Covenant in His blood, which is an important truth to remember when trying to understand the concept (truth) of “in Christ”. Covenant is a solemn, binding agreement between two parties (see Covenant – Solemn and Binding) in which there is a co-mingling of lives and identities (See Covenant – The Oneness of Covenant). The two become one just as a husband and wife become one new person and just as the mystical church becomes one with Christ, the church as His body of which He is the Head (Ep 1:22, 23note, Ep 4:15note, Ep 5:23note, Col 1:18note). And so we see the vital nature of the inseparable union pictured in the phrase “in Christ“.  It is no longer the believer who lives but Christ Who lives in the believer (Gal 2:20note) and we live in such a way that His life not only enables us, but also shows through us (2Co 4:10). It is no longer our life, but it is Christ our life (Col 3:4note). We are no longer separate “branches” but attached to the Vine (Christ Jesus – John 15:4, 5 – “Abide in Me” is synonymous with the concept of “in Christ”) deriving our life and our purpose from Him, for now Christ is our all in all, the very source of and supply for our existence, now and forever. When others see us, they should see Him (cp2Co2:13,15, 16, 4:11) (Watch and listen to the Youtube video of the song – In Christ Alone;  In Christ Alone – another version)

James Montgomery Boice writes that…

The phrases in Christ, in Him…occur 164 times in all Paul’s writings. The phrases mean more than just believing on Christ or being saved by His atonement. They mean being joined to Christ in one spiritual body so that what is true of Him is also true for us…This is a difficult concept, and the Bible uses numerous images to teach it to us: the union of a man and woman in marriage (see notes Eph 5:22-33), the union of the vine and the branches (Jn 15:1-17), the wholeness of a spiritual temple in which Christ is the foundation and we the individual stones (Ep 2:20note; Ep 2:21, 22note), the union of the head and other members of the body in one organism (1Co 12:12-27). But whether we understand it or not, union with Christ is in one sense the very essence of salvation….Apart from Christ our condition is absolutely hopeless. In Him our condition is glorious to the extreme. (Boice, J. M.: Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary) (Bolding added)

Wuest comments on our position in Christ noting that…

Here again we have separation, for that which surrounds the believer, namely, Christ in Whom he is ensphered, separates him from all else. (Ibid)

MacArthur adds that 

A Buddhist does not speak of himself as in Buddha, nor does a Muslim speak of himself as in Mohammed. A Christian Scientist is not in Mary Baker Eddy or a Mormon in Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. They may faithfully follow the teaching and example of those religious leaders, but they are not in them. Only Christians can claim to be in their Lord, because they have been made spiritually one with Him (cf. Ro 6:1–11). (MacArthur, J. Philippians. Chicago: Moody Press or Logos)

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright.”

I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I will walk,
Till trav’ling days are done.
—Horatius Bonar

In Christ expresses intimacy of a believer’s union with Christ. The preposition “in” is locative of sphere meaning that the believer’s sainthood was (is) in the sphere of Christ, not because someone named them “saints” and not in the sphere of some worshipper of a pagan deity as the term was commonly used in the so-called “mystery” religions of Paul’s day. Christ is the sphere in which the believer has his new life or as Paul phrases it in chapter 3, “Christ — our life” (Col 3:4note).

Study the following passages and make a list of what “In Christ”, “In Him”, etc – To check the context click link. Then after you’ve made your own observations and list click on the commentary notes of verses where notes are available.

In Christ (33x) – Ro 9:1note Ro 12:5note Ro 16:7note Ro 16:9note, 16:10-note, 1Co 3:14:10 4:17 15:18 15:19 15:2 2Co 1:21 2:14 2:17 3:14 5:17 5:19 12:2 12:19 Gal 1:22 2:17 1:101:12 1:20 4:32 Php 2:1note Php 3:9note Col 1:2note Col 1:28note Col 2:5note 1Th 4:16note Philemon 1:8 1:20

In the Lord (45x) – Ro 14:14note; Ro 16:2note, Ro 16:8note, Ro 16:11, 12, 13note, Ro 16:22note; 1Cor 1:31; 4:17; 7:22, 39; 9:1, 2; 11:11; 15:58; 16:19; 2Cor 2:12; 10:17; Gal 5:10;Ep 1:15note; Ep 2:21note; Ep 5:8note; Ep 6:1note, Ep 6:10note, Ep 6:21note; Phil 1:14note; Phil 2:19note, Phil 2:24note, Phil 2:29note; Phil 3:1note; Phil 4:1note, 2, Phil 4:4note,Phil 4:10note; Col 3:18note; Col 4:7note, Col 4:17note; 1Th 3:8note; 1Th 4:1note; 1Th 5:12note; 2Th 3:4, 12; Philemon 1:16, 20

In Christ Jesus (50x) – Ro 3:24note; Ro 6:11note, Ro 6:23note; Ro 8:1note, Ro 8:2note,Ro 8:39note; Ro 15:17note; Ro 16:3note; 1Cor 1:2, 4, 30; 4:15; 15:31; 16:24; Gal 2:4, 16;3:14, 26, 28; 5:6; Eph 1:1note; Eph 2:6note, Eph 2:7note, Eph 2:10note, Eph 2:13note; Eph 3:6note, Eph 3:11note, Eph 3:21note; Phil 1:1note, Phil 1:26note; Phil 2:5note; Phil 3:3note, Phil 3:14note; Phil 4:7note, Phil 4:19note, Phil 4:21note; Col 1:4note; 1Th 2:14note;1Th 5:18note; 1Ti 1:14; 3:13; 2Ti 1:1note, 2Ti 1:9note, 2Ti 1:13note; 2Ti 2:1note, 2Ti 2:10note; 2Ti 3:12note, 2Ti 3:15note; Philemon 1:23

In Him (31x) – Ro 4:5note, Ro 4:24note; Ro 9:33note; Ro 10:11note, Ro 10:14note; Ro 15:12note; 1Cor 1:5; 2:11; 2Cor 1:19, 20; 5:21; 13:4; Eph 1:4note, Eph 1:7note, Eph 1:9note, Eph 1:10note, Eph 1:13note; Eph 3:12note; Eph 4:21note; Phil 1:29note; Phil 3:9note; Col 1:17note, Col 1:19note; Col 2:6note, Col 2:7note, Col 2:9note, Col 2:10note, Col 2:11note; 2Th 1:12; 1Ti 1:16

Contrast “in the flesh” (Ro 7:5note Ro 8:8note Ro 8:9note Phil 3:3, 4note) As noted above, there are other Pauline uses of this phrase but they all refer to the physical flesh, not the evil disposition inherited from Adam and manifest as continual anti-God attitudes and actions. Flesh is a confusing word because it can have so many meanings in Scripture. If you are confused take some time to study the flesh. And remember that the definition of the common NT word flesh(147x in 126v in the NT) is always determined by checking the context.

David Garland comments that…

in Christ can mean several things that are not mutually exclusive: that one belongs to Christ, that one lives in the sphere of Christ’s power, that one is united with Christ, or that one is part of the body of Christ, the believing community. Paul’s assumption is that being in Christ should bring about a radical change in a person’s life. (New American Commentary – Volume 29: 2 Corinthians. B & H Publishers)

Philip Hughes explains that…

The expression in Christ sums up as briefly and as profoundly as possible the inexhaustible significance of man’s redemption. It speaks of security in Him who has Himself borne in his own body the judgment of God against our sin; it speaks of acceptance in Him with whom alone God is well pleased; it speaks of assurance for the future in Him who is the Resurrection and the Life; it speaks of the inheritance of glory in Him who, as the only-begotten Son, is the sole heir of God; it speaks of participation in the divine nature in Him who is the everlasting Word; it speaks of knowing the truth, and being free in that truth, in Him who Himself is the Truth. All this, and very much more than can ever be expressed in human language, is meant by being in Christ. (Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes) – Named as one of the 850 Books for Biblical Expositors by the Master’s Seminary. Cyril Barber writes this “May well be regarded as the finest conservative exposition of this epistle“)

William MacDonald observes that

In Christ speaks of their spiritual position. When they were saved, God placed them in Christ, “accepted in the beloved.” (Ep 1:6note) Henceforth, they had His life and nature (2Pe 1:4note). Henceforth, they would no longer be seen God as children of Adam (1Co 15:22) or as unregenerate men, but He would now see them in all the acceptability of His own Son. The expression in Christ conveys more of intimacy, acceptance, and security than any human mind can understand. (MacDonald, W & Farstad, A. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson or Logos)

William Barclay adds

that when Paul spoke of the Christian being in Christ, he meant that the Christian lives inChrist as a bird in the air, a fish in the water, the roots of a tree in the soil. What makes the Christian different is that he is always and everywhere conscious of the encircling presence of Jesus Christ.  (Barclay, W: The Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press)

Barclay goes on to explain that

A Christian always moves in two spheres. He is in a certain place in this world; but he is also in Christ. He lives in two dimensions. He lives in this world whose duties he does not treat lightly; but above and beyond that he lives in Christ. In this world he may move from place to place; but wherever he is, he is in Christ. That is why outward circumstances make little difference to the Christian; his peace and his joy are not dependent on them. That is why he will do any job with all his heart. It may be menial, unpleasant, painful, it may be far less distinguished than he might expect to have; its rewards may be small and its praise non-existent; nevertheless the Christian will do it diligently, uncomplainingly and cheerfully, for he is in Christ and does all things as to the Lord. We are all in our own Colosse, but we are all in Christ, and it is Christ who sets the tone of our living.” Barclay describes an ideal state writing that “There is the life that is dominated by the Spirit of God. As a man lives in the air, he lives in Christ, never separated from him. As he breathes in the air and the air fills him, so Christ fills him. He has no mind of his own; Christ is his mind. He has no desires of his own; the will of Christ is his only law. He is Spirit-controlled, Christ-controlled, God-focused. (Barclay, W: The Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press)

Ray Stedman commenting on Paul’s repeated use of this phrase in Christ in the letter to the Ephesians writes that every spiritual blessing in the believer’s life (Eph 1:3)…

is in Christ. All this comes to us in Christ, in the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus Himself. This fact is going to be stressed again and again in this letter (Ephesians). No two words appear in it more frequently than “in Christ,” or “in him.” Over and over it is emphasized that everything comes to us through Him.  We must learn not to listen to those who claim to have God’s blessing in their lives, and yet to whose thinking Christ is not central. They are deceived, and they are deceiving us if we accept what they say. The only spiritual blessing that can ever come to you from God must always come in Christ. There is no other way that it can come. So if you are involved with some group which sets aside the Lord Jesus Christ and tries to go “directly to God,” and thus claim some of the great spiritual promises of the New Testament, you are involved in a group which is leading you into fakery and fraud. It is completely spurious! For God accomplishes spiritual blessing only in Christ. Physical blessings are available “to the just and the unjust alike,” but the inner spirit of man can be healed and cured only in Christ, and there is no other way. (Read full message Ephesians 1:1-14: God At Work)  (Copyright 1972 Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church.) (Bolding added)

Spurgeon comments that…

One of the first doctrines of our holy faith is that of the union of all believing souls with Christ. We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. Apart from Christ we are nothing (cpJn 15:5); in Christ we have “all spiritual blessings” We are rich as Christ is rich, when we are united to him by the living bond of faith.

Simon J. Kistemaker notes that…

To be in Christ connotes being part of Christ’s body (I Cor. 12:27), and Christ brings about a radical transformation in the believer’s life. Instead of serving the ego, the Christian follows Christ and responds to the law of love for God and the neighbor. (Baker New Testament Commentary – Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians)

John Piper reminds us that…

And the work of Christ in Whom we have our righteousness is a complete and perfect work. It does not get better with time. And we are united to Christ at once, through our first faith, not progressively. No one is half in and half out. And if we are in Christ, all that He is He is for us – from the very first instant of faith. This is wonderful news for sinners who face a long haul in becoming in life what we are in Christ. (The Purpose and Perseverance of Faith) (Bolding Added)

Zodhiates says that…

When you are in Christ, you are not merely professors of His name, learners of His doctrine, followers of His example, or sharers of His gifts. You are not merely men and women ransomed by His death or destined for His glory. These external connections exemplify how your individual life relates to Christ’s in the same way that one man’s life may relate to another’s by the effect of what he teaches, gives, or does. Paul says to the Corinthians and to all born-again believers, In your case, your life is not merely external, that is, “just like” His life, parallel to His. You are actually in Christ, and He is in you. This is something unique that Christ does for those who accept Him. (Zodhiates Corinthians Commentary Series)

James Denney

This is the first passage in 2 Corinthians in which this Pauline formula for a Christian — a man in Christ — is used. It denotes the most intimate possible union, a union in which the believer’s faith identifies him with Jesus in His death and resurrection, so that he can say, “I live no longer, but Christ lives in me.” (Expositor’s Bible – 2Corinthians  5:16, 17 The New World)

Albert Barnes

The phrase, to “be in Christ,” evidently means to be united to Christ by faith; or to be in Him as the branch is in the Vine–that is, so united to the Vine, or so in it, as to derive all its nourishment and support from it, and to be sustained entirely by it. John 15:2, “Every branch in me;” John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” See also John 15:5, 6, 7. To be “in Christ” denotes a more tender and close union; and implies that all our support is from Him. All our strength is derived from Him; and denotes further that we shall partake of His fulness, and share in His felicity and glory, as the branch partakes of the strength and rigor of the parent vine.

Guy King in his exposition of Philippians comments on the phrase in Christ writing that…

Herein lay

(a) Their (referring to the saints at Philippi but applicable to saints of all places and ages!)protection from evil life. The moral condition of a heathen city would be a constant peril to any new converts, especially as they themselves had but just recently come out of that very heathenism. Philippi may not have been so utterly debased as Corinth, or Rome, but its atmosphere must have been a subversive influence threatening any who would live pure and true. Yet, they could be kept safe. Christians must, of course, remain in such hostile surroundings, for CHRIST must have there, as Mt 5:13, 14 (note v13; v14) teaches, the salt, the light, and the testimony.

So He Himself prays “not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil”, John 17:15.

That keeping, that protection, is ministered to us in the fact of our being, not only “in the world”, but more closely, in Christ.

A shipwrecked man writes a message, and throws it into the sea, in the hope that it may reach some shore. But will not the water damage and destroy it? No; for, while it is cast into the sea, it is first sealed in a bottle – and so it arrives. Yes; in Philippi, with all its destructive influences, but in Christ – so they are secure, and so, in spite of all antagonistic forces, they arrive at “the haven where they would be.” Herein lay also

(b) Their possibility of holy life. We are called not only to a negative but to a positive life – “eschew (abstain from) evil, and do good”, as 1Pe 3:11 (note) says. But how can a holy life be lived in such unholy surroundings?

Mark that little water-spider going down to the bottom of that pond. It doesn’t really belong there, even as we believers are: “in the world” …but not of it, John 17:11, 16. The little creature has the queer, and amazing, ability of weaving a bubble of air around itself, and hidden in that it is able to pursue its way even amid such inimical conditions – in the water, but in the bubble!

So we come back to our glorious truth – in Philippi, but in Christ; then even in the midst of the most uncongenial surroundings, the Christ-life can be lived.  (King, Guy: Joy Way: An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, 1952, Christian Literature Crusade – Pdf) (Bolding added)

Guy King in his commentary on Colossians comments on their earthly and supernatural positions explaining…

Oh yes, I know they were at Colossae – breathing the fetid atmosphere of this typically pagan city. How could the fair flowers of fidelity and holiness flourish in such a place? Only because they enjoyed the nearer, purer air of being in Christ.

The clever little water beetle is able to live in the muddy bed of the pond because it has the gift of weaving around itself a bubble of air. Thus it takes its own atmosphere down with it. I often invert a “let’s pretend” story of a man shipwrecked on a desert island, who, happening to have his fountain pen still in his pocket, decides to write a message on a large island leaf to send to his people. Having thrown it into the sea, he could then only wait, and hope for the best. But, silly man, the leaf will soon be pulped and the message obliterated by the ocean. Oh, I forgot to mention that on his island he happened to find a bottle with a sealing top. So his SOS reached home, and led to his rescue, because though it was in the sea, it was in the bottle. Yes, although these Christians were in that Colossian sea of iniquity, they were kept safe and saintly because they were “in Christ”.

It is one of Paul’s chief inspired conceptions, so often reiterated through all his correspondence, that we are “in Him”, “in the Lord”, “in Christ”. What amazing privilege and prediction is here! “Christ in you, the hope of glory”, he says in Colossians 1:27 (note); and now it is the other side of the blessed truth: you in CHRIST, the hope of safety. (Colossians 1:1-2 His Tactful Approach – Pdf)

Excerpts from Wayne Barber’s notes on Ephesians (Ephesians 1:1-3 Sermon Notes) as he discusses the concept of “in Christ”

(“In” is the Greek preposition “en” which) means we remain (abide, dwell, live) “in“…Christ Jesus…Any ability we have in the Christian life to be faithful before God (Ep 1:1note“saints…faithful in Christ Jesus”)…is not of us. It’s because we are in Christ Jesus. And as a result of us being in Him, He in turn is in us. That is the only way any man can be faithful or dependable. It’s only as he is willing to submit and cooperate with that which is in the person that is in him. Look at John 14:18, 19, 20…We see evidence of Christ doing what He said He would do in His faithfulness by how the Ephesian believers were able…

If you ever see anything good in me, you know…It didn’t come from me. It came from He Who is in me and Whose I am (and Who I am in). It came from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It’s the same with you…When you see something in me that is good, remember it is not me, it must be Christ in me…The ability to be faithful as well as any other ability concerning our responsibilities to Christ is an ability that comes from our being in Him and Him being in us.

(Wayne gives a practical illustration of in Christ asking) What does it mean to be faithful inChrist Jesus? (Ep 1:1note)  Well, watch those little things in your life. Sometimes faithfulness is not seen before the failure. Sometimes faithfulness is more clearly seen after the failure, when you have messed up. What do you do when you have messed up? Do you go around talking about other believers? Do you criticize them as if you were the standard? Do you repeat things when you don’t even have the information yourself? Do you second guess others? Are you busy with this kind of lifestyle? How can you call yourself faithful in Christ Jesus? You are not. You may be a saint. But you’re not a “saintly saint”! You are not living as God wants you to live. In Ephesians 4-6 Paul has to instruct, exhort and encourage the Ephesian believers. Why did he have to encourage them if they were already perfect? Faithfulness does not mean perfection. It is a measure of a person’s character. It is a love for the love of the Lord Jesus Christ (cp His constraining love – 2Co 5:14note). So it points to the character of one who is a believer who is faithful in Christ Jesus.

(Speaking of all “spiritual blessings” in Ep 1:3 Wayne reminds us that) Everything you have isin a Person, and His name is Jesus. And if you’ll come to Him and bow down to Him, you will begin experience inwardly what you’ve been looking for all along. The key is a repentant heart. When you are ready to bow, at that very moment, you attain access to the things that are yoursin Christ Jesus because they’re all available in Christ. The problem with most of us is, we look for these things (“spiritual blessings”) in everywhere except where they are found…And if we don’t have our needs met spiritually in Christ, they’ll never be met anywhere else. That’s the key. (Ephesians 1:1-3; see also Wayne’s notes on Ep 1:4 Chosen in Christ )

F B Meyer in his “Devotional Commentary of Ephesians” explains “in Him” writing that…

THE sponge, as it expands in its native seas, is in the clear warm water; and the water is in it. Thus there is a double In-ness between the Lord and the soul that loves Him. He is in the believer, as the sap is in the vine, and the spirit of energetic life in the body. But, in a very deep and blessed sense, the believer is in Christ. Of each of these sides of this marvellous truth there are many illustrations in this Epistle, so specially devoted to the study of the preposition in. We are dealing now with those passages only that assure us, as believers, of being in the Beloved.

WE ARE IN CHRIST, IN THE FATHER’S THOUGHT (Ep 1:3, 4, 9, 11-see notes Ep 1:3; Ep 1:4, Ep 1:9, Ep 1:11) The disclosures made to the apostle Paul of God’s hidden things, hidden from ages and generations, are perfectly overwhelming. He tells us that our connection with Christ, in the thought of God, is not a matter of yesterday, nor of the day before, but of eternity.

The foundations of the earth were not laid in a day. But, ere the aeons of creation began to revolve in their vast cycles, before the earth or the world was formed, God chose us in Christ. He chose Christ, and all those who, down the far vista of time, should answer to the attraction of his Spirit and become one with Him in a living faith.

How startling it would be if, according to a suggestion made by another, the geologist, mining deeply into the earth, should suddenly find, amid the footprints of animals long extinct, the initials of his own name cut in the primeval rock! How came those initials there? They must have been graven by the finger of the Creator! Ah, what a rush of awe would fill the breast! But a greater marvel than this awaits us here. For we learn that our names were engraven on the breastplate of the great High Priest before the amethyst or jacinth was wrought in the laboratory of Nature, among her oldest and rarest treasures.

Is there a doubt that we shall be ultimately holy and without blemish, when the stream that is to bear us thither started in eternal ages from the Father’s heart? Let us at least get comfort from the thought that He who foreordained works all things after the counsel of his will…

IN CHRIST THE BLESSINGS OF REDEMPTION ARE STORED. (Ep 1:3, 6, 7, 14-see notesEp 1:3, 1:6, 1:7, 1:13) All conceivable spiritual blessings needed by us for living a holy and useful life are stored in Jesus. We must therefore be in Him by a living faith to partake of them; as a child must be in the home, to participate in the provisions of the father’s care. It is only they who know the meaning of the life hidden with Christ in God, and who abide in Christ, to whom God gives the key of his granary, and says, “Go in, and take what you will.”

How can mortal man exhaust the wonderful gifts of our Father’s grace? But they are all freely bestowed in the Beloved, in whom we also stand accepted. Who can estimate the meaning of redemption, which begins with the forgiveness of our trespasses, and ends in the rapture of the sapphire throne? But it is to be found only in Him and through his blood. What do we not owe to the sealing of the Spirit, by which our softened hearts get the impress of the Saviour’s beloved face, and are kept safe until He comes to claim us? But the sealing is only possible to those who are in Him. All things are ours, but only when we are in Christ.

WE ARE IN CHRIST AS THE SPHERE OF DAILY LIFE AND EXPERIENCE (Ep 1:1, 3:17-seenotes Ep 1:1, 3:17) It is the intention of God that we who believe should ever live in Christ Jesus, as the very element and atmosphere of our life; never travelling beyond the golden limits established by his Love, or Life, or Light: in Him as the root in the soil, or as the foundation in the rock. Always in his love, because never permitting in speech or act what is inconsistent with it. Always in his life, because ordering our activities by the laws of his being. Always in his light, because saturated by his bright purity, and illumined by his gentle wisdom. Oh to be always one of the faithful in Christ Jesus, and to be able to say with the Psalmist, “I have no good beyond Thee”! (Psalm 16:2)…

IN CHRIST AS THE CENTRE OF UNITY (Ep 1:10note) It is the evident purpose of God to finish as He began. He began by choosing us in Christ. He will end by summing up all things in Him, both the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth. All the landscape focuses in the eye; all creation finds its apex in man; and all the story of the ages shall be consummated in our Lord, the Divine Man. (For Meyer’s full discussion of “In Him” click Chapter 3 – “In Him”)

Courtesy of Precept Austin at

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Idolatry: The Principle Crime of the Human Race, Part 2,


An Idol is Not El or Elohim

It is interesting that the word eliyl is close to the name for God “El” or “Elohim.” Some Hebrew scholars believe eliyl is a contemptuous diminutive word, and combined with al “not” literally mean “Not EL,” or “Not ELOHIM.” It is a heavenly designed contrast showing that the idol is worthless as a person’s El and Elohim.

God is given a number of sacred names in the Bible that beautifully describe His nature and heart in action. The Hebrew word El is a name for God meaning the strong one and expresses the strength and power of God. It is often combined with another Hebrew word in the Bible giving us 37 deeper names for God with each title distinguishing Him in a unique and special way from false gods. Each one of these beautiful titles has a distinctive characteristic of God that illustrates what He is and what the idol is not. Put a “NOT!” in front of each of these glorious titles, and we will have a good description of the worthless value of an idol epitomized by the word eliyl.

For example, God is El Hanne’eman, the Faithful God, who keeps His promises and steadfast love to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9). An idol is the unfaithful god that never delivers what it promises.

God is El Echad, the One God, who is the first and only true God, like no other (Malachi 2:10). An idol is the false one that deceives people into thinking they have found the one thing they need to give their lives value.

God is El-Shaddai, the ever-present, all-sufficient, bountiful God who supplies every need of His children and pours out His provision, protection and blessings on them. (Genesis 17:1). An idol is the shadow god who disappears when you need it, and the empty god who can never provide, protect or bless those who worship it.

God is El Olam, the everlasting, unchangeable God, eternal, without beginning or end, the God of all ages and time (Genesis 21:33). An idol is the vapor god that vanishes quickly, here today and gone tomorrow, with no lasting purpose, and doomed for destruction.

God is El Roi, the God who sees, who looks upon our distresses, our tears, and our sufferings and is always there to tenderly care for us (Genesis 16:13). El Roi sees us in our place of quiet desperation, and pursues us with unfailing love, reaching out to help us, drying every tear and mending every wound of our tattered souls. An idol is the blind god that cannot see our sorrows, difficulties, and problems and is blind to the true needs of the heart. It can never find us in our hour of need for it cannot see.

God is El Emet, the God of truth, who revives, frees, instructs and guides the heart. (Psalm 31:5). An idol is the god of lies, the token of propaganda that deceives the heart to believe and worship a lie.

God is El Gibbor, the mighty and heroic God, who powerfully bears His arm for His people, performing miraculous deeds of deliverance; the supreme champion of the heavens and earth for whom nothing is impossible (Jeremiah 32:17-18). An idol is the weak and cowardly god, powerless to accomplish one good thing in our lives, and is like the spineless soldier who runs away from the fight, and deserts us in time of battle.

God is El Rachum, the God of compassion and tender mercies, who will never fail, forsake, or forget you, and has compassion for you like a mother with her newborn child. An idol is the cruel and indifferent god, hard-hearted, brutal and ruthless with the destruction it brings to your life, imprisoning the heart with a heavy load of oppressions and burdens. An idol always fails, forsakes, and leaves you naked and alone, forgetting you in the day of suffering (Deuteronomy 4:31).

God is El Yeshuati, the God of our salvation, our Deliverer, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior, who rescued us from the power of darkness and gives us citizenship as sons or daughters of God in His kingdom. He blessed us with every conceivable spiritual blessing in Him and washes us clean from our sin with the blood of His Son, who has broken every yoke at Calvary and set us free to worship and love Him for all eternity (Psalm 68:19-20). An idol is the god of corruption and slavery, that brings death to all those who devote their lives to it, burying you in sin, and suffocating you in the stale air of this world. An idol cannot deliver, save, liberate, rescue and redeem. An idol’s promised salvation is of no value to the soul.

God is El Hannora, the awesome, magnificent and awe-inspiring God, the God of wonders, breathtaking in His glorious works. Nothing in the heavens and earth compares to Him (Nehemiah 9:32). An idol is the god of disappointment, dissatisfaction, disillusionment and discontent; there is nothing of value, nothing magnificent, and nothing awe-inspiring that ever comes from idols.

God is El Chaiyim, the living God of our lives, who has breathed into us the breath of life and is intimately involved in every detail of our lives. God is alive and in Him is abundant, flowing life that awakens, transforms, changes, and blossoms, giving life to every living thing upon the earth. An idol is the dead god, who cannot speak, hear, see or bring life to anything. An idol is the carrier of death as it slaughters our relationship with God, murders the plans God has for our lives, and slays our spiritual growth in Christ. An idol is a deadly virus that destroys the life and health of the heart.

God is also Elohim, God the Creator, who created the heavens and earth, who created us for His glory, who created every star and galaxy in the universe, and every living organism and animal, every mountain, river and ocean, and who holds together every atom in the universe by His powerful word. An idol is the god of chaos that cannot create one grain of sand or one solitary thing in the entire heavens and earth, but simply brings chaotic disorder, confusion and disarray to those who reach out to give it their heart.

Can we see the picture of the Hebrew word eliyl describing an idol as completely worthless and having no value as anyone’s El or Elohim? It brings to life the truth spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:18, 25, NIV)

Is there truly any comparison between God and an idol? What idol could ever be God’s equal? What idol could ever be likened to El or Elohim? God wanted to make it absolutely clear to His rebellious people that no idol can ever come close to taking the place of El or Elohim in their lives.

We need to open our eyes and examine our hearts to see if we have an eliyl, an imposter El or Elohim that is stealing our devotion, time and allegiance. We must ask ourselves in all humility—who is our El and Elohim? Has a foolish and dangerous substitution taken place in our hearts? When God opens the eyes of our understanding, and we see the magnificent nature of our God revealed in His names El with all its compounds and Elohim, we will gladly face all the idols (eliyl) in our hearts and boldly declare “You are not my El! You are not my Elohim!” We will allow God His rightful place as the only El and Elohim of our hearts.

Tragically this did not happen for these elders in Ezekiel’s day, as they refused to listen to the prophet and made these idols the El and Elohim of their hearts. Ezekiel says these elders put these idols, which he calls “wicked stumbling blocks,” right before their faces. An idol is always a stumbling block in our lives, and causes us to fall into sin and rebellion against God. These were stumbling blocks of iniquity that brought ruin, destruction, and devastation to their relationship with God. Yet the elders literally put these idols in front of their faces to be their spiritual advisors. They never wanted to forget them, so they placed them right in front of their faces so they could always see and adore their counterfeit gods. They did not want to miss a moment with their idols.

They rejected God’s authority over their lives and arrogantly declared that they would live life THEIR way with the gods of THEIR choice. These elders had a complete indifference toward God, an unwillingness to obey Him, and did not think God was important when it came to matters of the heart. How they had strayed from the heritage of King David who was a man after God’s own heart! Even with their hearts sold out to idolatry, they tried to give God token honor by inquiring of His prophet. But God had searched their hearts and found no love for Him there. Their hearts were dead toward God as they tried to wind God up for a few minutes of attention like He was some fortuneteller. Their hearts had no room for God for they were full of idols.

The Old Testament word “put” in the phrase “put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces” is used in the Bible to describe planting, constructing a nest or habitation, setting up a king or prince with authority, and begetting children. The word is also used in Deuteronomy 12:5 where God says He would put His name in the temple and make it His dwelling place. By putting idols in front of their faces, the elders were planting them in the soil of their hearts to grow and flourish. They were constructing a nest or habitation for them in their hearts. They were setting up these idols as the rulers of their hearts with full authority to control their thoughts and actions. They were engraving the names of these idols in the chambers of their hearts, and the idols made it their sacred temple and dwelling place. God’s name was thrust from their hearts and this abominable substitution took place. These idols were comfortably at home in their hearts, and set their roots deep. These idols exercised such control over them that their hearts bore their names and begat their children in word, deed and action. These elders became replicas in character of the idols they worshiped. Oh what a stumbling block they had become!

Idolatry Begins with the Gaze of the Eye

To set up an idol in your heart, you must first turn your eyes away from the Lord and face the object of your adoration. Your eyes guide your heart as all idolatry begins with the gaze of the eye. Our eyes reveal what we are facing, and in the Hebrew to be face-to-face implied intimacy, friendship, affection and closeness.

God commanded the elders in Ezekiel, “Get rid of the vile images and idols you have set your eyes upon!” Where you lift up your eyes to look reflects the heart’s affections and disposition. There is anticipation, hope, and expectation toward the object that has captured our gaze. We desire what we fix our eyes upon. We want intimacy with the object we lift our eyes toward. The gaze of the eye determines where we go in life both physically and spiritually. Whether our heart is full of darkness or light is determined by what we are looking at.

Wisdom demands our eyes do not depart from the words of God, or our way will be like the wicked which is full of darkness. Wasn’t it the eyes that first got Eve in trouble as she gazed in admiration at the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead of the Lord God? Wasn’t one of the Devil’s first lies that her eyes would be opened and she would be like god? The Devil deceived Eve into lifting up her eyes to something other than God and His Word and she fell into idolatry.

There are serious consequences associated with the gaze of the eye. We will never be able to keep idolatry from creeping into our hearts if we do not control our eyes. We live in a visually overstimulated age where everything is vying for the gaze of the eye. But the eyes of our hearts need to look upward and heed the cry of God to “look unto me and be saved, whole, and set free!” Our confession needs to be like Psalm 123:1-2: “To Thee I lift up my eyes, O Thou enthroned in the heavens … our eyes look to the Lord our God.” This was not the cry of the elders in Ezekiel. Their eyes looked elsewhere. Look at what these elders turned their faces toward in the very inner court of the house of the Lord.

And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east. (Ezekiel 8:16, ESV)

Can you imagine this act of supreme desecration was in the Temple of the Lord, the dwelling place of God, where He was to meet His people, and that was built for the name of the Lord. Solomon declared in 2 Chronicles 2:4-5: “Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the Lord my God and to dedicate it to him … the temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods.” In God’s very home and in the midst of His presence, these twenty-five men turned their back to God’s holy sanctuary and turned their eyes to the east to worship the sun. These men set their faces like flint to gaze in adoration to their sun god in the inner court of the Temple, right beside the large Altar of Burnt-Offering and within feet of the Holy of Holies. This expressed gross contempt for God in His own house, and publicly displayed that they had disowned the God of Abraham, Jacob and Moses. They desecrated the Temple of God, thumbed their noses at God, and blatantly disobeyed His commandment, “And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them” Deuteronomy 4:19a. They had forgotten that God created the sun not as an idol, but as a blessing to give light and life to the entire earth.

Blowing Kisses to Their Idols

The Hebrew word for “worship” means to bow down and prostrate oneself. In the Septuagint it literally means to throw a kiss as a token of respect and love, and to fall upon the knees, touching the ground with the forehead, as an expression of profound reverence and adoration. The verb is in the present tense expressing continual action, as this was the elders’ habitual practice in the Temple. These men were blowing kisses to the sun god and bowing down in adoration to their idol in the inner court of God’s temple. This demonstrates the power of idolatry in turning the heart against God. These men openly committed their idolatry in the holiest place in Jerusalem, and fell on their knees and kissed their god right under God’s nose.

When the heart is wholly given to idols, love for the true God waxes cold, and He does not matter anymore. Idolatry is a defiant declaration that God is not enough, and is not who He says He is, and cannot do what He says He can do. Idolatry expresses a supreme dissatisfaction with God and causes the eyes to wander and the heart to stray as it falls in love with another.

The idolatrous heart refuses to fix its eyes upon the Lord only and obey Him. These elders wanted the best of both worlds by worshiping both Yahweh and their idols. Jesus warned that we cannot love and serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Often the master would signal the servant with a quick body movement of the head, hands or eyes, and if the servant did not have his eyes focused on the master, he could not see it. You cannot keep your eyes fixed on two gods. You cannot have your face turned to God and an idol at the same time. Where the gaze of our eyes is fixed, determines what we worship. The eyes are the windows of our hearts, and indicate what we love and desire because they bring us face to face with our god.

Let me ask a serious question for all Christians, What is going on in the inner court of your heart? In the temple of your heart, are you blowing kisses and bowing down to another god? Have we allowed our affections to burn like the rising sun for one of the thousands gods that our culture throws at us daily? Has our heart become impure, and our inner temple desecrated because the eyes of our heart have wandered away from Jesus, to lovingly gaze upon the parade of idols that the world embraces? Don’t we know as Christians that our precious heart is the temple of the Lord and the new Holy of Holies and no idol is worthy to enter into its inner chambers? Our heart is to be overflowing with the presence and glory of God, where His love, grace, mercy and peace abound. From our heart should sound out to the world a wonderful song of praise, worship and devotion to the Almighty God who holds our precious life in His hands. The spirit of the Holy God has been born within our heart, and it was never meant to have an idol as a roommate. No idol has any legal or moral right to occupy one square inch of our hearts.

We cannot mess around with idols if we ever expect to spiritually grow up as Christians. We cannot love God and love our idols at the same time. We cannot play it both ways. Our heart was never meant to be a chaotic yo-yo bouncing back and forth between Jesus and our beloved idols. Whom is our heart running to for comfort and satisfaction? Has our heart strayed away from God to follow a worthless idol? God is calling us to return to Him, and to come back from the cliff of idolatry to His loving embrace. No idol can love you like He does. No idol can provide for you like He does. No idol can deliver you from your fears like He does. No idol will treasure you like He does. No idol will wipe away all the tears from your eyes like He does. Oh why won’t your heart return to Him and forsake your idols?

This is an excerpt from The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life. Purchase at

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Idolatry: The Principle Crime of the Human Race, Part 1

idolatry-part-2There is no more important topic in the study of the heart than idolatry. Idols have more influence on the condition of the heart than any other thing in the world. The Bible is full of examples of people who set up idols in their hearts and the devastating consequences that followed, leading to the destruction of individuals, families, cities, and nations. The turning of the heart to an idol is the most tragic decision a person can ever make. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis and the introduction of sin into the human race, the heart has become an idol factory producing countless idols to love, worship and obey.

At the root of all sin is an idol that has consumed the heart and captured its affections. Idols enable sin to exercise control over our lives and enslave us in chains of bondage. There is no greater spiritual disease of the human heart than idolatry, and its death toll is infinitely larger than any cancer, black plague, or epidemic. Isaiah 24:5 states that the entire earth has been polluted by idolatry and a curse has devoured the world.

Every problem that has ever plagued the human race can be traced back to the sin of idolatry. Tertullian called idolatry “the principal crime of the human race.”[i] Idolatry devours people, cities, governments, and nations. Idolatry has infiltrated every generation, hanging over them like a dark cloud, wreaking havoc like a deadly plague. The virus of idolatry has infected the heart and seized control of its operating system in every age. Idolatry is the great destroyer of civilization.

Kyle Idleman in Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart says:

Idolatry is the number one issue in the Bible … Idolatry comes into every book … What if I told you that every sin you are struggling with, every discouragement you are dealing with, even the lack of purpose you’re living with are because of 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 will begin to see that it is always there, under some coat of paint. There are a hundred million different symptoms, but the issue is always idolatry.[ii]

The Bible is the life manual and instruction book on the ways of God, and its urgent warnings against idolatry should not be ignored. Idolatry is not some relic concept of ancient times, but is real and alive in every age. Idolatry dominates every culture on earth, and we find its endless gods everywhere. The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed: “Look now, people of Judah; you have as many gods as you have towns. You have as many altars of shame”—(Jeremiah 11:13, NLT).

The sad truth is that in America, our list of gods far exceeds the number of gods in Judah. Our altars of shame are countless, and of so many shapes, forms and categories, that it boggles the mind. We have pursued other gods with a fanatical obsession and have become a nation wholly given to idolatry. Surely God weeps over a world that has sold their souls to an endless list of worthless idols that have corrupted their relationship with Him.

Above all other things, idolatry breaks the heart of Almighty God for He created men and women in His own image and greatly desires fellowship, love, adoration, praise and worship from His precious creation. But idolatry ruined everything and caused a wall of separation between God and the human race as they gave their love to another. Idolatry is the human choice of substituting their Creator for a thing, image, person, or ideal. Idolatry is an act of treason against the God who gave us life. The sin of idolatry declares God is not good enough, not great enough, not glorious enough, not complete enough, and not all that He claims to be. It says that something else is more worthy to be loved and served.

The price to pay for idolatry is extremely high as it demands everything, and ultimately will destroy our lives. It chokes the life of God from our hearts and isolates them in spiritual darkness. This condition of the idolater’s heart is described in Isaiah 59:11: “we grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noon day as in the night: we are in desolate places as dead men.” The idolater has lost his eyes to see the magnificence of the God, lost his ears to hear the loving voice of the faithful God, lost his way to see the path of the righteous God, and lost his life to the service of a dead god that mocks his reason for existence. Idolatry causes the heart to wander away from God and always brings a man or woman to a place of desolation. All of life comes down to the choice between God and idolatry.

A.W. Tozer said in The Knowledge of the Holy that “the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”[iii] Idolatry begins when we lose the sense of awe and wonder of God and relegate Him to a simple concept that gets lost in the thousands of other things that bombard our minds daily. God becomes mundane, unneeded, unimportant and bothersome in the schemes of our lives, and other things become more exciting and valuable to us. This is fertile ground for idolatry.

Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty. (Jeremiah 2:19, NIV)

The birth of idolatry in the heart begins when we start to lose our reverence and love of Almighty God. We become blind to who He is. The true knowledge of His glorious nature shrinks from our hearts. We become vulnerable to the evil of idolatry because if we really knew God, we would see it as an act of complete foolishness and utter insanity to forsake Him for a worthless idol. Who in their right mind would give up God for an idol that cannot speak, hear, answer prayers, love and protect you? What idol can be compared to God? What idol is God’s equal? What idol has the power to save? What idol created the heavens and earth? What idol can purify my heart and deliver me from the clutches of sin, death and bondage? What idol can form my body from the dust of earth and breathe life into me? What idol can give me eternal life?

Then why are we bowing to idols? Why are we giving our hearts to idols? Why are we serving idols? Why are we cleaving to our idols instead of cleaving to God? Listen to what God has to say about the foolishness of idolatry.

“Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. “To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal? Some people pour out their silver and gold and hire a craftsman to make a god from it. Then they bow down and worship it! They carry it around on their shoulders, and when they set it down, it stays there. It can’t even move! And when someone prays to it, there is no answer. It can’t rescue anyone from trouble. “Do not forget this! Keep it in mind! Remember this, you guilty ones. Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. (Isaiah 46:3-9, NLT)

God has no rivals. He alone is God, and nothing from the tiniest blade of grass on earth to the remotest star at the far reaches of the universe, can be compared to Him. He is the first and the last; He is the beginning and the end; He was, is and always will be. He is unchangeable in the beauty of His character, and the holiness of his nature. He is everything we could ever dream Him to be in all His perfection, and a billion times more! God’s wisdom is infinite, His understanding limitless, His love fathomless, His righteousness untouchable and His mercy boundless. He alone has the right to be worshipped, praised and loved above all else.

Frederick Faber said, “Only to sit and think of God, oh what a joy it is! To think the thought, to breathe the Name, Earth has no higher bliss!”[iv] Who would even dare to label themselves a god in His presence? Who would even dare to usurp His throne? Who would even dare to think that they are equal to God? Who would be crazy enough to compare an idol to God? God is infinitely greater and more powerful, and no idol is even worthy to bear the name “god.”

Idolatry: The Deception of the Heart

Then, why are our hearts constantly fashioning idols and worshipping them? Why has the idol factory of the heart not been closed down permanently and put out of business? Why do idols continue to capture the hearts of so many people around the world? How can we turn away from this glorious God and sell our soul to an idol? The Bible gives us the answer to this perplexing question.

Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; (Deuteronomy 11:16, KJV)

The reason why there are idols in the hearts of every race, people and nation on earth is because our great enemy, the Devil, has led the whole world astray (Revelation 12:8). All humanity has been seduced into the snare of idolatry. Idolatry is based upon deception. The heart must first be deceived before it will turn and worship another god. The Devil is the grand master of deception. He presents his colossal buffet of idols to the human race enticing their hearts to partake from his banquet table. They feed off this false bread and contaminated food instead of God’s bread of life. They begin to get their nourishment, their fuel for living, and their reason for existence from the idol they are consuming. They do not realize that the food is poisoned and designed to bring corruption into their hearts. The more the heart feeds at this banquet of idols, the more it cleaves to its idols as its source of life and motivation for living. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is more important. Nothing else is essential. The heart is now in a state of complete deception and has been blinded to the wonderful truths about God and His Word. The toxic poison of unbelief has seized the heart. God does not matter anymore. The truth does not matter anymore. The eyes of the heart are only focused on the idol and how it can be served.

The Hebrew word for “deceived” means to be wide open for enticement, spacious, and to make roomy. Derivatives of the Hebrew word mean a doorway, opening, and gate. Another derivative verb means to carve or engrave. To be deceived literally means to open wide the doorway of the heart and make it spacious and roomy for the idols to march in. This generation thinks there is some virtue in being open to all ideals and alternatives. “Accept everything and make room for it in our hearts” is the social cry of this age. Yet this is an invitation to let the Trojan Horse of idols into the inner sanctuary of the heart. Once inside these idols carve their name as special guests, they take ownership of the heart.

No one has the right to engrave their name in our hearts but God. God wants to write His commandments, His love poems, His words of encouragement and His cherished words in every part of our hearts. We must be diligent to keep the doorway of our heart closed to idols, whose deceptive words are designed to get us to doubt the greatness of our God. We must close and lock the gate of our heart and be attentive watchmen, so that when the idols come knocking we will not be duped into opening the gate and giving them the key. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned us “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to destruction and many enter therein” (Matthew 7:13).

Deception begins by confusing the heart about the Most High God, defaming His name, and turning Him into something He is not, and then forgetting about Him altogether. Deception is built upon a lack of knowledge of God. Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” We do not trust God because we do not know Him. We have allowed religion to destroy the true image of God and corrupt our knowledge of Him. Our Heavenly Father becomes a distant relative we do not know, becoming strangers to His true nature. Our heart falls away from Him for we think something loves us more than God.

Awakening to the Knowledge of God

We stumble into the trap of deception because we have not allowed the Word of God to speak to our hearts about who God is and what God is like. We have failed to hear and believe the promises of God and His faithfulness. God never lies about who He is and what He will do. There is so little knowledge of God that lives in most churches today that the idols of this age are ravaging hearts with hardly any resistance. Our hearts need an awakening to who God is if we are ever to win this battle against idols usurping control of our hearts. We need a spiritual revival of the knowledge of God coming from every pulpit in our land, opening our eyes to God’s holy attributes.

Tozer said in The Knowledge of the Holy:

It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God in the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God … The God of contemporary Christianity is only slightly superior to the gods of Greece and Rome … That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us … Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them. Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes God is other than He is-in itself a monstrous sin-and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it … A god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God … Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which polluted waters of idolatry flow; they themselves are idolatrous. The idolatry simply imagines things about God and acts if they were true. Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear … The low view of God entertained almost universally among us is the cause of a hundred lesser evils among us … It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous and inadequate … Enlighten our minds that we may know thee as thou art, so that we may perfectly love and worthily praise thee.[v]

The image of God that has risen from the shadows of our hearts falls far below the true representation of God in all His greatness and majesty. We make God too small and try to fit Him into the box of our religious beliefs. Then God becomes too little, too indifferent and too weak to motivate us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Intimacy vanishes. We become dissatisfied with our religion and blame God for our emptiness. Out of a lack of knowledge of God’s true character, flows doubt, distrust and unbelief, as we search for a substitute that will excite our souls and fill our hearts. We want to find our golden calf and proclaim it as our newfound savior that brings happiness and meaning back into our lives. Our vision of the true God grows dim as our hearts are bombarded with thousands of ideas, images and words that defy the living God. Idolatry always is built on a defamation of God’s character

Art Katz in And They Crucified Him, Some Thoughts on the Cross says:

We all carry images of God that are not God as He is truly is. God will never force upon us that which is true as long as we are content with the imitation, the lesser thing. He waits for a cry of desperation from us–that he might answer with the True Light that only He can give by His Spirit.[vi]

God be Exalted!

We should never settle for an imitation of God in our hearts. We should never allow a counterfeit god to rule our hearts. We should never allow an artificial image of God to dominate our thinking. Every moment we draw breath upon this earth, the cry of our heart should be “God be exalted!” God’s covenant with His people demands a reverence His name and everything it represents (Malachi 2:5). God is crying out to the church, as He did in Malachi 1:6: “A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” When we fail to honor God and respect His Word, we open the door for idolatry to enter. When we have more respect and awe for something other than God, then our heart has fallen into idolatry.

A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God says:

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all we step out of the world’s parade … Our break with the world will be the direct outcome of our changed relation with God. For the world of fallen men does not honor God. Millions call themselves by His Name, it is true and pay some token respect to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question who is above, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choices he makes day after day throughout his life: “Be thou exalted” is the language of the victorious spiritual experience. It is the key to unlock great treasures of grace. It is central to the life of God in the soul … His honor will be proved by restoring again the stolen throne … Made as we were in the image of God we scarcely find it strange to take again God as our All. God was our original habitat and our hearts cannot but feel at home when they enter again that ancient and beautiful abode … The Place is His by every right in earth or heaven … While we take to ourselves the place that is His the whole course of our lives is out of joint. Nothing will or can restore order till our hearts make the great decision: God shall be exalted above.[vii]

For our hearts to be healthy, pure, and free from idols, its cry must always be: “Be Thou exalted O God above everything else!” We are no longer marching in the world’s parade of idols for we have chosen God as our first love. No idol will steal the throne of our heart! Perfect order, peace and joy are restored when the Almighty is exalted, praised and worshipped. Let your heart’s anthem be Psalm 97:9 “For you Lord are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods!”

The Heart: The Battleground for Idolatry

The heart, by its nature, is always exalting something. A thousand idols are always clamoring for the affections of the heart so they can be crowned as king. Who is the king of your heart? What is being exalted above all else in your heart? Has an idol seized the throne and the position of exaltation? We must examine our hearts with prayerful consideration and humility and ask God to open our eyes to see what is exercising the kingship of our hearts. Who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords of your heart?

The Bible teaches that the heart is the battleground of idolatry. All idolatry originates in the heart. The heart in its deepest nature was wired by God to be a place of worship. The heart was designed to be the dwelling place of God with His holy presence filling every chamber. The heart craves to worship, adore and love. The heart was designed to cleave unto God and hold fast to Him in love. The heart was designed for fellowship and intimacy with God. The heart was to be the beautiful home of God decorated with His grace, mercy, love and peace. The heart was meant to be the holy of holies, the inner sanctum, and the blessed sanctuary where the glory of God would rest.

The heart was never meant to be a place for idols. It is the highest act of desecration to the temple of the heart to thrust God out of its inner sanctum and put an idol in His place. Then we direct all the heart’s natural cravings to worship, love and adore toward the idol instead of God. The devil plays with these natural tendencies of craving something to worship and turns them to objects of his making, thereby defiling the heart with the pollution of idolatry. Idolatry turns the dwelling place of God into a pagan temple.

Hosea 4:11 says that idolatry “takes away the heart.” It turns the heart away from God, who is love, and gives it to another lover. Idolatry is spiritual adultery for a Christian. He commits the ultimate act of betrayal against His covenant God and Heavenly Father by giving his love and devotion to another god. Idolatry is handing the key of our hearts to a false god. It is building an altar in our hearts and sacrificing our time, commitment and energy to this false god. The monumental question for every human being is what is being worshipped at the altar of our hearts? Who is receiving the songs of praise that sound out from the shrine of your heart?

The heart becomes what it worships. It always reflects the image of its god, like a person beholding his reflection in a mirror. The heart becomes a true likeness of the idol that it trusts and has fashioned to sit upon its throne: “Those who make them (idols) will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Psalm 105:8).

The Bible sets forth the urgent plea of God Almighty to tear down the altars of idolatry in our hearts, so we will worship, love and cleave to the Lord. God declares in Psalm 81:9 “There shall be no strange God in thee” (emphasis added). Idols are always internal before they are external. An idol must first capture the heart before it is worshipped outwardly. External practices of idolatry are simply evidence that the heart has sold out to its new god.

Ezekiel sets forth the truth that idolatry begins in the heart.

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumblingblocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’ “Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices! (Ezekiel 14:1-6, NIV)

The elders of Israel were older statesmen who should be full of godly wisdom for their nation. They were supposed to obey God and follow His commandments, setting an example for their people. Instead they rebelled against God and set up idols in their hearts. These men were in a position of authority, and made spiritual, social and community decisions that affected the entire nation. God showed Ezekiel by revelation the condition of their hearts. He told Ezekiel they had set up idols in their hearts. The Hebrew word for “set up” is alah and means to cause to ascend or climb, to exalt, and to go from a lower place to a higher place. This word implies that these idols had gained supreme ascendency over them, and had been exalted to the position of king of their hearts. These idols were assuming the position of the Most High God in the rulership of their hearts.

Alah is also used in Genesis 8:20 when Noah offered (alah) burnt offerings on the altar after the flood and in Genesis 22:2 when God commanded Abraham to offer (alah) Isaac as a burnt offering. It was used by Lucifer when he said, “I will ascend (alah) into heaven and I will ascend (alah) above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13-14).

This is high treason against the God of Israel! He only deserved to be exalted as the true captain of their hearts! Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord by his faithful obedience to God’s Word. Abraham, the father of all us who believe, put God first in His life, trusting God’s promises above all else. But the elders in Ezekiel’s followed the way of Lucifer, the first idolater, and rebelled against God Almighty. As a result, they brought devastating consequences on themselves and their nation.

What is an Idol?

So what exactly is an idol? An idol is anything that is more valued, loved, sought after, desired and honored than God. An idol is worshipped in place of God and becomes the obsession, passion and craving of the heart above all else. Timothy Keller in, Counterfeit Gods, says:

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God. It is anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing. It can be romantic relationship; peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brain, a great political or social cause, your morality or virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure” … If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol.[viii]

Do you have an idol that has captured your heart? What are you most devoted to? What occupies almost all your time? What commands your attention? What do you think about constantly? What makes you happy above all other things? What gives your life value and meaning? What absorbs you on a daily basis and controls your life? What consumes you? What can you not live without? What drives you on a daily basis? These questions are a litmus test to determine what idols you may have in your heart. These are mountaintop questions meant to reveal what has climbed to the peak of your heart. Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol.”

At the root of all idolatry is a misplaced trust in a person, object, idea or image above God. We trust the idol to make us whole and give us value. We have faith in the idol to fulfill its promises. We believe the idol more than we believe God. We lean on our idol in times of trouble. The idol has captured the gaze of our eyes. The idol becomes the voice we listen to. The idol energizes us to action.

The heart cleaves to what it trusts. The heart follows and obeys the object of its faith. A heart that has sunk into idolatry has great trust and faith in its idols. The heart grabs its idols and holds them close not wanting to let go for they bring a false sense of security and comfort. The heart trusts that its idols will bring love, happiness, satisfaction and value to life, but tragically it never does. Fleeting moments of satisfaction soon replaced with misery, confusion, disillusionment and hopelessness. Idols are full of empty promises. Idols are full of shallow dreams. Idols hide the destruction that lurks behind them and the spiritual danger of giving them the heart’s allegiance. Idols shatter dreams and break hearts. Idols steal. Idols kill. Idols destroy. Idolatry always ends in disappointment. Idols mask the real consequences of bowing the knee to them and giving our faith to something other than God. We must examine our hearts constantly to see what we are really trusting in regarding all the issues of this life. Idolatry is the mark, badge and evidence that we have failed to follow God’s calling and love something more than God.

The Hebrew word translated “idols” in Ezekiel 14 is very interesting and sheds light on God’s opinion of idols. It is gilluwl and is used thirty-six times in the book of Ezekiel. It is a derisive term meaning logs, blocks, trunks, or clods which are shapeless things that were rolled out to worship. It is derived from the Hebrew word for dung, manure and human excrement, and literally means “dung pellets” The Word Biblical Commentary Ezekiel, Vol. 1 fitly describes this word:

The adoption of the word as a designation for “idol” may have been prompted by the natural pellet shape of sheep feces, or less likely, the cylindrical shape of human excrement. The name has nothing to do with the shape of the idols, but it expresses Ezekiel’s/Yhwh’s disposition toward them. Modern sensitivities prevent translators from rendering this expression as Ezekiel intended it to be heard, but had he been preaching today he probably would have identified these idols with a four letter word for excrement. A more caustic comment on idolatry can scarcely be imagined.[i]

Do you see a clear picture of God’s opinion of idolatry? Is there anything more offensive, worthless, disgusting, and repulsive than dung? God did not just compare idolatry with dung. He inspired Ezekiel by revelation to use this vile word to name it. All idols in God’s sight are mere dung and this visceral term was meant to be revolting and nauseating to the Hebrew people. Would we worship dung? Pray to dung? Love dung? Sacrifice to dung? Praise dung and devote our lives to dung? God’s message is clear that this is exactly what we are doing when we set up an idol in our hearts. God never wants us to forget the vile nature of idolatry and He has given us a vivid word picture to remember.

When you see the true picture idolatry, would you rather worship the Creator of the heavens and earth or dung? This does not seem like a hard choice. But the Devil is the master of deception, and he masquerades dung to look so wonderful and alluring. But when we take off our spiritual blinders and open our eyes, we will see an idol’s true composition. When we peel away all the glitter and subterfuge, all we are left with is dung. No matter how great the idol may seem, it is worthless excrement in God’s eyes. No better word could be used to describe the thousands of idols that have captured the hearts of so many.

Another Hebrew word for “idol” paints an even broader picture of God’s thoughts about idols. In the Old Testament the word is ‘eliyl’ which means worthless, of no value, and good for nothing. The equivalent Greek word used in the Septuagint means a foul odor, a stench, something loathsome, detestable and abominable. An idol has absolutely no value to our lives. It is worthless to accomplish one good thing. Idols cannot save, deliver, or bring peace, strength or lasting joy. Idols are like a foul stench arising from a pile of garbage.

How tragic that so many have given their hearts and dedicated their lives to something that is completely worthless! It is only when these poor souls face the gateway of eternity, and stand before God’s judgment seat, that their eyes will be opened to the utter worthlessness of their idols. They will see in anguish that these idols robbed them of eternal life and brought them the sentence of destruction. Oh that we might see like God sees when it comes to these detestable idols and understand that nothing of any worth ever arises from idolatry.

[i] Leslie C. Allen, Word Biblical Commentary: Ezekiel 1-19 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994).

[i] Tertullian, On Idolatry (Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2004), 3.

[ii] Kyle Idleman, Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2013), 22.

[iii] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1961), 3.

[iv] Frederick Faber, Hymn: My God How Wonderful Thou Art, 1849.

[v] A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1961), 1-3.

[vi] Art Katz, And They Crucified Him, Some Thoughts on the Cross (Asheville: Burning Bush Press, 2011), Kindle Edition, 163, 164.

[vii] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (New York: Start Publishing LLC, 2012, originally published in 1948), 67.

[viii] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2010), 5.

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The Power of Music to Alter the Heart, Part 3: God’s Beautiful Design for Music

psalm-138-5Music originated from God, and it has a beautiful purpose: to minister healing, peace, and inspiration to His children. The human heart needs music to function in its optimal healthy condition. We are designed to crave music that inspires us to praise and worship God with an attitude of thankfulness. We were created to have a song in our hearts for God. Psalm 144:9 says, “I will sing a new song unto thee, O God.” Spurgeon said, “When the heart is in its right state, it must praise God, it cannot be restrained; its utterances leap forth as waters forcing their way from a living spring.”[i]

This is where music was born: in a heart that is overflowing with praise, joy, and awe of our magnificent God. Music is meant to stir the heart into action for God. Music is the refreshing drink of water that rejuvenates our passion for God to fight the good fight of faith and finish the course that God has set for our lives. Music plays a vital role in preparing the heart to worship God in spirit and in truth. Music fills the courts of heaven with praises of the Lord God Almighty. Music was created to be an expression of celebration and reverence of the wondrous works and nature of our God.

David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets. (1 Chronicles 13:8, NIV)

Hear this you kings! Listen you rulers! I will sing to the Lord, I will sing; I will make music to the Lord, God of Israel. (Judges 5:3, NIV)

Praise the Lord with the harp. Make music to him on the lyre that has ten strings. Sing a new song to him. Play with skill, and shout with joy.What the Lord says is right and true. He is faithful in everything he does.The Lord loves what is right and fair. The earth is full of his faithful love. The heavens were made when the Lord commanded it to happen. All of the stars were created by the breath of his mouth.He gathers the waters of the sea together. He puts the oceans in their places. Let the whole earth have respect for the Lord. Let all of the people in the world honor him. (Psalm 33:2-8, NIRV)

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:1–3, NIV)

God is so awesome and magnificent that the heart yearns for a way to express and proclaim His glory. Music is meant to be an outward expression of the awe-inspiring magnificence of our God. Music that blesses, inspires, and heals comes from hearts bubbling over with joy, love, and passion for their Creator. Music was intended to draw people closer to God and to place their hearts on the same pitch as God. True music is the song of a heart in love with God. Music is meant to ignite the heart with the presence of God and infuse it with the joys of His kingdom.

Revelation 4:11 says that God created all things for His pleasure, and this includes music. The beauty and splendor of music were birthed from the heart of God. God also made the human voice to praise Him. He created the musical scale, with its potential for amazing harmonies and melodies, to express the wonders of His artistic heart.

Dennis McCorkle, in The David Cipher: Unlocking the Hidden Music of the Psalms, says:

From the early chapters of Genesis through the pages of the entire Bible, music has played an integral role in the history of the Hebrew people. Not only defining and solidifying their own culture, religious beliefs, and practices; the music of the Hebrew people and the Bible have shaped the music of our day in the works that have been passed on from generation to generation since the time they were written.[ii]

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary says:

Expression of the full range of human emotions vocally or instrumentally through music was as much a part of the lives of biblical people as it is in modern times … Indeed all of life could be touched by song. The celebrations of a community, ritual practices of worship, even the act of warfare gave rise to song.[iii]

Some of the great men of the Bible were musicians and composers.

Moses the Songwriter

Moses was a wonderful songwriter in the Bible and we see his first song in Exodus 15 after the miraculous deliverance of the children of Israel from the Egyptian army. In Deuteronomy 32 we see another song of Moses written shortly before his death. In Revelation 15, the song of Moses is sung in heaven.

Dennis McCorkle, in The David Cipher: Unlocking the Hidden Music of the Psalms, writes:

Moses and the people eventually arrive at the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea) in advance of the pursuing army and are miraculously provided an escape route through the waters. Safely reaching the far side, they witness the destruction of Pharaoh and his troops in the water. It is now we get our first glimpse of Moses, the songwriter. Now most people do not generally associate Moses with the field of music, but he was evidently well-versed in this art. We know from the biblical texts that Moses, raised apart from the general population of Israel in the house of Pharaoh during his youth, had learned to not only read and write, but as demonstrated in his later years, to read and write music.[iv]

Yahweh is My Melody

McCorkle says that this first song of Moses has a fundamental statement of truth in its first lines that becomes the foundation of the music compositions of Israel and is echoed in the musical system of the Levites, the psalms, and the prophet Isaiah. This beautiful lyric is, “Yah [abbreviation for Yahweh-God] is my melody!” What an awesome truth that God is our melody, and that God is our song! This is the true heart of music. When music has “God is my melody” at its center, it will have a profound spiritual impact upon the heart.

God fills our hearts with melody and makes them overflow with joy. This is the love song of all love songs, as Psalms 89:1 declares, “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever.” When our love for God is the motive for the song of our hearts, music will be an incredible healing balm to our souls because it is birthed in love and praise.

Colossians 3:16 says that our hearts should be “singing with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts for God.” Our hearts should not be singing the latest “top 40” songs on the charts, but rather a love song of thankfulness to our God. When the word of Christ dwells richly in our hearts, we cannot help but sing this song of love, for God is our melody.

Make Music in Your Heart for the Ears of God

Ephesians, one of the greatest revelations to the church, states that music and song is an important part of fellowship with God, with one another, and in the church of Jesus Christ.

Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19, NASB)

Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God. (Ephesians 5:19, PHILLIPS)

Christians who walk by the Spirit of God will express their joy in song and melody to the Lord. We are to make music in our hearts for the ears of God. This music comes from a Spirit-filled heart that overflows in love, adoration, and devotion to God.

We are also to sing along with others in the church, in concert with our joy and love for God. A symphony of praise with our brothers and sisters in Christ should be present wherever Christians fellowship together.

The Greek word translated psalm means a sacred song sung to the accompaniment of instrumental music. The Greek word translated hymn means a sacred poetical composition whose main purpose was to praise. A spiritual song is the natural outburst of a joyous heart prompted by the indwelling Spirit of God.

God loves it when a heart is full of music for Him and sings His praises. This type of music brings us back to the light of God’s presence and focuses our attention on the wonders of God. Exuberant joy and thankfulness overflow from music dedicated to God.

All Music Originates in the Heart

All music originates in the heart, and the content of the heart determines the content of the music. The musician’s music is a reflection of his or her heart. What is in the heart will come out in the music. When the heart is devoted to God and full of love and praise for Him, the music composed will be a melody pleasing to God and a song that glorifies Him. When the heart is not devoted to God, but full of selfishness, lust, greed, and other forms of darkness, the music composed will be a song that pulls the heart away from God to idolatry.

In Exodus 15 we see the heart of Moses, the musician, in his song for God. As you read this passage, imagine Moses and all of Israel lifting up their voices and singing this magnificent song of victory. It has been estimated that as many as three million Israelites came out of Egypt in this Exodus. How awe-inspiring it must have sounded to hear the melody of God sung by millions of people!

David the Musician and Songwriter

David was a wonderfully skilled musician and songwriter. He was also an inventor of musical instruments (1 Chronicles 23:5, 2 Chronicles 7:6, Amos 6:5). He helped to reestablish the functions of the Levites in regards to music in the tabernacle and also selected singers and musicians from the non-priest Levites to participate in worship services of song and music to God. At the heart of their music was the wonderful book of Psalms.

Psalms is the hymn book of the Bible. These compositions were played and sung by the Levites in conjunction with the formal rituals of the tabernacle and later the temple. The Psalms are a compilation of 150 songs written by composers who were moved by the Holy Spirit over a period of about five hundred years. The Hebrew word translated psalm means “praises,” and it comes from the root word meaning “to make a jubilant sound.” This word included all that is worthy of praise and celebration, especially the works and ways of Yahweh. Most of the psalms were composed for public worship in Israel and praised the ways and works of God. These were songs of God, breathed into the heart of a musician to give the listener inspiration, comfort, and guidance. The book of Psalms contains some of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. The lyrics express joy, grief, wonder, faith, love, and suffering in poetic song to our amazing God.

David is believed to have written as many as forty-seven of the psalms, and they set forth the heart of this man who loved God passionately. They describe the trials and joys of walking in intimacy with his Creator. The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), so his music must have been especially important to God.

Here is one of the magnificent psalms written by David:

My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered. (Psalm 108:1–6, NIV)

David’s heart was established and steadfast in God, and from this firm foundation he sang, composed music, and played instruments with every ounce of his soul. He played musical instruments, praising God for His love and faithfulness. His music exalted God.

David’s music taught people to trust God for help and deliverance. It elevated the listener’s heart to worship God. His sacred songs filled hearts with the glory and majesty of God Almighty. David had a heart full of music that filled the earth and the heavens with awesome lyrics. As with Moses, God was David’s melody and his song.

Music Igniting the Flame of God in the Heart

This is the beauty of music at its highest level and for its most noble purpose. The Spirit of God moved mightily in David’s music to lift, inspire, and ignite the flame of God in the hearts of His people. This is truly music as it was supposed to be—a divine healing balm, a divine joyous celebration, a divine song of thankfulness that rockets the heart into the presence of God and establishes it in His love. The energy, power, and glory of God flows like a rushing river into the hearts of those whose ears are tuned to the music of the musician who walks with God and is moved by the Spirit of God.

Playing the Name of God with Music

In the psalms, musicians not only sang about the name of God, some actually played the name of God.

I will be glad and rejoice in you: I will play your Name, Most High. (Psalm 9:2, KJV)

I will give thanks to Yahweh according to his righteousness, And will sing praise to the name of Yahweh Most High. (Psalm 7:17, WEB)

I will play your Name forever, that I may fulfill my vows day after day. (Psalm 61:8, KJV)

Sing to God, play His Name. Raise Him up who rides upon the desert plains by YAH, his name, and be joyful before Him. (Psalm 68:4, KJV)

Dennis McCorkle, in The Davidic Cipher: Unlocking the Hidden Music of The Psalms, explains what it means to play the name of God:

To a non-musician, the above interpretation of these verses might seem strange and you are probably asking yourself, “How can you play someone’s name?” If you are trained classically in music, you may however be familiar with the Italian phrase soggettocavato … In a musical sense, the phrase soggettocavato refers to a type of compositional device in which the letters of a word or name are mapped to specific tones of a musical alphabet or scale … For example, during the Renaissance it was common for composers to honor their patrons and rules with compositions using names as the source for the themes and melodies … King David, who was directly associated with four of the five instances in which this technique is alluded to in the Scriptures, was apparently familiar with this type of compositional device … This compositional device literally enabled the Levite musicians and singers to not only sing the Name of God, but also to play the Name of God as the Scriptures state … The Names YAH and YHWH were directly integrated in the music that was written and the instruments that were played.[v]

David loved God so much, and was so in wonder of His magnificent works and covenant with His people, that he designed his music to contain the name of God in both musical lyrics and notes. This music was like a sweet song in the ears of God, as every note and every word glorified Him. It was a musical masterpiece, an exquisite symphony of song that brought the listener’s heart to the throne of God Almighty, where it would ascend to joyous celebration.

The Levites as Musicians

David taught the Levites the essence of this music of worship. 1 Chronicles 23:4 declares that four thousand Levites were designated to praise the Lord with instruments that David gave them for giving praise. In 1 Chronicles 15, when the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem to be placed in the tabernacle, David assembled a ceremonial marching band of Levites playing harps, cymbals, lyres, trumpets, and horns. Skilled singers raised sounds of joy and praise to God. King David was leaping, dancing, and celebrating as he led this band of musicians into Jerusalem. What a breathtaking musical demonstration of love, joy, and celebration this must have been.

Once the ark had been set in Jerusalem, David appointed some of the Levites to minister in music and praise before the ark of the Lord.

He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel: Asaph was the chief, and next to him in rank were Zechariah, then Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-Edom and Jeiel. They were to play the lyres and harps, Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God.

That day David first appointed Asaph and his associates to give praise to the Lord in this manner:

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.

He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.

He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations.

Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the nations are idols; but the Lord made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are his dwelling place.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations the Lord reigns.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Then all the people said “Amen” and “Praise the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 16:4–15, 23–29, 31, 34, 36, NIV)

What beautiful lyrics! We can worship God in the splendor of His holiness and ascribe to Him the glory, majesty, and greatness due His name. This inspiring music gave thanks to God in song for His goodness and unfailing love. Does the music you listen to glorify God with this type of awesome heart?

King David used his musical abilities to proclaim God’s name, to make Him known, and to tell all who would listen of the might, strength, and glory of the God of Israel. His music led people to seek the face of the Lord. What does the music you listen to lead people to do?

Music always leads the heart to seek something, and we must be vigilant to not allow the songs we listen to lead our hearts down a path that God has not ordained. Our music should encourage us to seek the Lord.

Biblical Kings and Music

The Bible is full of other examples of men of God who understood the importance of music in the worship of God and even in bringing great victory against the enemies of God. When King Solomon had the Ark of the Covenant brought to the temple at its dedication, he had the Levites play cymbals, harps, lyres and trumpets. Singers raised their voices to praise God with this magnificent musical accompaniment. The glory of the Lord filled the temple with a cloud after this musical display. (See 2 Chronicles 5:12–14.)

When a vast army of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites came against Jerusalem, King Jehoshaphat and all of Judah stood before the Lord and prayed. They received a word from the Lord to go out and face their enemies in battle, for the Lord was with them. Early in the morning, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out ahead of the army. As these men sang and praised the Lord, God set ambushes that caused this mighty army of the enemies of Judah to be utterly destroyed. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem in victory, they went to the temple of the Lord with harps, lutes, and trumpets, praising God in music and song. (See 2 Chronicles 20:21–22, 28.)

In 2 Chronicles 29:25–28, we read that when King Hezekiah opened the doors of the temple and cleansed it from idolatry, one of the first things he did was reestablish music and song there. He furnished the Levites with cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets, and all the instruments of David. As they began to sacrifice a burnt offering on the altar, they sang to the Lord, accompanied by music from all these wonderful instruments. The entire assembly bowed in worship while the singers sang and the trumpeters played.

King Hezekiah ordered the Levites to praise the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph, another psalmist. They sang these praises with gladness and bowed their heads and worshipped. After this worship service of song and music, King Hezekiah declared that the people had dedicated themselves to the Lord and that they should bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the Lord. Music can often be the catalyst to a rededication of the heart to the Lord and a commitment to follow Him with thanksgiving and love.

After rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah immediately established the singers in the temple. At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites joyfully celebrated with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. At the dedication, Nehemiah formed two large choirs to give thanks to God. They positioned themselves on top of the wall on opposite sides and were joined with the music of trumpets and all the instruments David had prescribed for the worship of God. Their joyous music and song could be heard from far away, as all Jerusalem rejoiced on this wonderful occasion in the history of Israel. (See Nehemiah 12:27–43)

The book of Nehemiah indicates in the time of David there were directors of music for the singers and songs of praise and thanks. All Israel contributed to the daily portions for the singers. (See Nehemiah 12:44–48) Nehemiah realized how important music was in the service of God in the temple and for the worship of God among the people.

Jesus Singing with His Disciples

After Jesus instituted communion as a memorial of His death, Matthew 26:30 says, “When they had sung a hymn, they went to the Mount of Olives.” Mark 14:26 states that Jesus sang this hymn along with His disciples right before He prayed in Gethsemane shortly before He was crucified. This was probably not the first time they had sung together, but this is the only time recorded in Scripture that our Lord sang. Jesus sang right before He gave His life on the cross and endured the most horrible torture and beating ever known to mankind.

This hymn is believed to be from the psalms called the “Great Hallel” or the “praise Psalms,” which were Psalms 113–118 and 136. I can only imagine how Jesus’ heart poured out to His heavenly Father in song before the most trying time of His life, realizing that He would bear the sins, sicknesses, sorrows, and punishment of the whole world. Knowing this road of rejection, persecution, and death was hours away, Jesus sang. How important this song was to the heart of our Savior! How the lyrics must have comforted and strengthened Him.

If music was so important to Jesus that He sang with His disciples on the evening He was taken to be crucified, how important should music be to us! A song can lift us into the presence of God and comfort our hearts even in life’s darkest hours. It can encourage us to follow God’s will and stand for Him even in the midst of the fiery darts that Satan is throwing at us. Our hearts should always be singing to God, because nothing in heaven or earth compares to Him.

Paul and Silas Singing in Prison

Paul and Silas were severely beaten for preaching the gospel and thrown into prison with their feet in stocks, but they sang praises to God in the midst of this seemingly hopeless situation. God moved with a great earthquake that shook the entire foundation of the prison and they were set free. The world longs for a song in the night when all seems lost, and only God can deliver this song to the depths of the heart.

Music in Church History

Throughout time, great men in church history have understood the profound effect of music on the heart and the importance of godly music in the life of a Christian.

Martin Luther: The Composer

Martin Luther, who is credited with igniting the flame of the Protestant Reformation, was a wonderful composer. He must have understood the importance of music to the Lord in the midst of relentless persecution.

Luther began singing at a young age as a soprano in the choir. He later studied music theory and composition, and learned to play flute and lute quite skillfully. He wrote thirty-seven songs. One of his greatest contributions was the return of music to the church.

For about a thousand years, congregations had not sung as music and melody to the Lord had died in the church. Some hymns were written during this period, but they were use only on special occasions outside of the church. Luther brought music back to the church and made the congregation an active participant in song.

One of his greatest hymns, which was one of my favorites growing up, is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The words and music are majestic and heavenly, and they never failed to motivate my heart to stand for God, no matter what the world might throw at me.

Don Cusic, in A Sound of Light: The History of Gospel Music, expounds on Luther’s heart for music:

Martin Luther had a legendary love for music. He was an accomplished lutenist and could improvise accompaniments for singing. He often played after dinner with his family and guests and composed songs for his children. Through his life, he carried his lute with him on his travels and entertained friends and guests after dinner with singing and playing. Music was not just a recreational tool for Luther—it was an integral part of his life and he found a source of strength and comfort in music.

He stated that we “should praise God with both word and music, namely by proclaiming (the Word of God) through music” and another time said “He who believes (the gospel) earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it so that others may come and hear it … Luther’s prophetic statement “I intend to make … spiritual songs so that the Word of God, even by means of song, may live among the people” became a guiding principal in his life …

Luther was well aware of the power of music and insisted that its proper use was “to the glorification of God and the edification of man.” He said, “We want the beautiful art of music to be properly used to serve her dear Creator and his Christians. He is thereby praised and honored and we are made better and stronger in faith when His holy Word is impressed on our hearts by sweet music.” Luther said of music, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.”[vi]

The power of Luther’s music, which came from a heart fully devoted to God, helped to fuel the Protestant Reformation and renew the beautiful worship of God and the lyrics of His mighty Word in the body of Christ.

Charles Wesley: The Inspired Man of Thousands of Hymns

Another revival in history was inspired by a man who was also a composer of music and song. During the Wesleyan Revival in the 18th Century, Charles Wesley wrote more than six thousand hymns, including some that became classics of the Christian church, like “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

A. W. Tozer: The Love of the Hymnal

Christian writer and preacher A. W. Tozer loved hymns and acquired an extensive collection of old hymnals. The Fellowship of the Burning Hearts states this about Tozer:

He longed for a “God-conscious soul”—a heart that is aflame for God. … He often used these hymnals as means for meditation and devotional reading. Often, he would counsel people to get a hymnbook—“but don’t get one less than a hundred years old.” In one the articles for the Alliance Weekly he wrote, “After the Bible, the next most valuable book for the Christian is a good hymnal.”[vii]

Music: Times of Refreshing from the Lord

Listening to music is not meant to replace a Christian’s time in studying and meditating on the Bible, or prayer and intimate fellowship with the heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus. This is always our first priority. However, to keep the heart spiritually tuned to the heartbeat of God, and continually renewed and refreshed, music can be of critical significance.

The soundtrack of the heart is a measuring stick to its overall health. We must never be careless about this vital truth, that music can be either a healing balm or a toxic poison to the life of the heart. Music can help us stay on the path that God has ordained for our lives, or quickly turn the heart to a path that leads to destruction. Music either pulls you into the heart of God or pulls you into the heart of the world. God is crying out to the church and to every Christian believer, “Do not be ignorant or fooled by music and think your listening choices are harmless to your walk and relationship with Me!”

Since the fall of Lucifer, music has been a major weapon in the battle for the heart. When we examine the condition of our hearts, we must ask ourselves this vital question: “Who is the great musician of my heart? Who is feeding my heart its song and melody?”

These great men in church history also illustrate that we must have a vibrant and joyful song in our heart for God. Whenever we remember God’s faithfulness, mercy, and love, a great song will come forth, praising Him for His goodness.

Music in Times of Trouble

Often our greatest songs of praise are borne in trials and temptations. Martin Luther was relentlessly persecuted and hunted for his faith in God and his belief in the Scriptures. David was hunted and hounded by King Saul and his army, who were trying to kill him at every turn. Hezekiah was attacked by hostile kingdoms at the outskirts of Jerusalem. Charles Wesley faced unbelievable persecution as he was threatened, mocked, hit, and violently opposed. Moses had to deal with a rebellious and idolatrous nation of murmurers and complainers who challenged his every move. Jesus faced the callous hearts of the religious elite, the betrayal of a disciple and a friend, the vicious beating of His body to the point where He could not even be recognized as a man, and the horrible death by crucifixion. Yet each of these men had songs in their hearts.

Many Christians today have lost the song in their hearts for God. They cry like the psalmist, “Oh, how could we ever sing God’s song in this wasteland?” (Psalm 137:4). When the heart is bitter and unforgiving, when the heart forgets God, when the heart becomes entangled with the things of this world, it loses its song. An unforeseen problem, a tragic circumstance, or a bewildering turn of events can cause Christians to question God and lose the song in their hearts for God.

In Exodus 15, the children of Israel sang the right song when they were delivered from the army of Egypt, but they sang it on the wrong side. They should have been singing this song even when they were in bondage in Egypt, not simply after a great miracle and deliverance from God. The song they sang was not really in their hearts, because just a few days later they were complaining against God and cursing Him for bringing them out of Egypt. The challenges of the wilderness took the song for God out of their hearts.

Our God will never fail us. He will deliver us from any foe. He is always faithful to His Word, and we are His children. Our God will never leave us or forsake us, and His strength is perfect in our weaknesses.

A Song in Our Hearts for God

What a song our hearts should have for God! We should always be singing and making melody to the Lord. Our hearts cannot remain silent. The song of our salvation and our love story with God should be filling our hearts with music every moment of every day.

Yes, indeed—God is my salvation. I trust, I won’t be afraid. God—yes God!—is my strength and song, best of all, my salvation! Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what he’s done! Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out … The Greatest lives among you. (Isaiah 12:2, 5–6, MSG)

Our song is never a song of anxiety, fear, or worry. The song of our hearts boldly declares that “God is.” He is everything we will ever need in this life, and He will come into any circumstance for us when we call on His name. God is our salvation. He is our strength, our defender, our provider, and our deliverer. The almighty God is our song. He is the greatest in heaven and earth, and He lives within us! We should be raising the roof with our praise-song to God.

When we begin to get a glimpse of how magnificent and glorious God is and that He cares about every detail of our lives, the song of God will rise in our hearts. We cannot keep silent about the wonder of our God and His amazing works. God is grieved when we rob Him of this song of love and praise. We lose our song when we do not completely surrender to Him, when we allow something else to be our first love, when we do not trust Him with our very lives. God cries when the song of our hearts goes silent.

Carter Conlan, in The 180 Degree Christian; Serving Jesus in a Culture of Excess, says:

What I believe grieves God most is we have robbed Him of our hearts. It is as if He would say to us, “You have robbed Me of the full heart of surrender that I was looking for that would have allowed Me to fill you from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet. If only you would have turned to Me! I would have caused you to live such a profound life that you would have stood out as a light shining in a darkened world.”[viii]

Don’t lose your love song for God by turning away from Him when things get tough. If you sing praises to God in all circumstances, your heart will rest firmly in His presence and you will experience the faithfulness of our God.

God Sings Over You: You are His Love Song

Did you know God sings? Did you know that the song of His heart is about you? The Creator of the heavens and the earth has blazed in His heart a joyful song that He loves to sing just for you. The song that is constantly in His heart is a love ballad dedicated to you. He is singing this song to you right now, even as you are reading this book. He will sing this song to you in all your tomorrows, and He will sing it to you throughout eternity.

The Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. (Zephaniah 3:17, NLT)

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (ESV)

Yahweh your God is there with you, the warrior-Savior. He will rejoice over you with happy song, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shout of joy for you. (NJB)

Can you imagine how beautiful it must be when God sings? It has to be simply breathtaking to hear God’s voice in song. The even more astounding truth is that is He is singing to you. The song bursting forth from His heart is about you. The Creator of every living thing, and the maker of every mountain on earth and every star in the universe, has a song that is constantly on His mind and it concerns you. You are His song! You are His melody! You are His music! God is rejoicing over you with a song that deeply expresses the joy and love He has for you. God calms our hearts with a lullaby of His love, like a mother singing sweetly to her child as she gently rocks him to sleep. God even dances over us with shouts of joy!

This song of God is a hymn of deliverance, victory, and salvation. Psalm 32:7 says that God “surrounds us with songs of deliverance.” He wants His songs of victory to fill our hearts with rejoicing and thankfulness for His mighty salvation. God sings because He knows that He has made you in Christ and that He has given you a name and a divine destiny.

The world will rarely sing over you in triumphant song. But God says, “No matter what anyone says, you are My beloved, My treasure, My pearl of great price, My heart’s desire. I have made you beautiful, precious, and more valuable than all the treasures of the earth. Let our hearts rejoice in song together, for you are My song and I passionately desire to be your song. Let our hearts make music together, for My song never fails, fades, or disappoints. My heart is always singing for you. Never forget My love song and My songs of deliverance for you.”

The music that is born of above, with its sweet melody, sounds out from every corner of our hearts. God sings to us. We sing to God. We are God’s melody and He is our melody. This is the music that can fill our hearts and transform us into the image of our glorious God and Redeemer.

[i] Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David: Volume 4, Study of the Psalms, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), Psalm 144, Kindle Edition, 87898.

[ii] Dennis McCorkle, The David Cipher: Unlocking the Hidden Music of the Psalms (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2010), Kindle Edition, 294.

[iii] Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1159.

[iv] Dennis McCorkle, The David Cipher: Unlocking the Hidden Music of the Psalms (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2010), Kindle Edition, 329, 330.

[v]Ibid., Kindle Edition 662.

[vi] Don Cusic, A Sound of Light: The History of Gospel Music (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2002), 15, 16, 18, 19.

[vii] A.W. Tozer, Fellowship of the Burning Heart: A Collection of Sermons by A.W. Tozer (Alachua: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2006), 10.

[viii] Carter Conlan, The 180 Degree Christian; Serving Jesus in a Culture of Excess (Ventura: Regal Books, 2012), 68.

This is an excerpt from my new book “The heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life” You can order from my books on this website or from Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble.



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Listen More, Talk Less and Calm Down


We live in a time of information explosion. I read recently that over 100 billion emails are sent each day. That’s more than ten times the population of the whole world. Each day 5000 new books are published. This year the number of text messages will exceed 6 trillion.

If we take the year Christ was born as our starting point, it took 1500 years for all the knowledge in the world to double. The next doubling took only 250 years. It doubled again in 150 years. By the end of World War II, knowledge doubled every 25 years. Today knowledge is doubling every 12 months. No wonder we can’t keep up.

According to Stephen Davey, “If you happen to read the New York Times newspaper for one week, you will be exposed to more information than the average person, living in the 1800‘s, came across in their entire lifetime.” (From the message “Tutored by Truth.”)

We are being swamped by a tidal wave of information that pours in 24/7/365. The whole world is now “live” and in “real-time.” Stories change every few minutes, and the screen you’re watching may have an anchor reading a story with an image to the right, a sidebar to the left, with a screen crawl at the top and another at the bottom so that you’re following five different information sources at the same time on the same screen.

We are easily distracted

No wonder we are easily distracted. We look without seeing, we listen without hearing, and we speak without understanding. We are a wired up, tuned in, hyper-caffeinated generation. Some years ago Bob Moorehouse wrote an essay called The Paradox of Our Time. Here’s a brief excerpt:

-We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life.

-We’ve added years to life not life to years.

-We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.

-We conquered outer space but not inner space.

-We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

Every part of that seems very true, but I was especially drawn to this sentence: “We’ve conquered outer space but not inner space.” Everything we build is bigger, stronger, faster, and larger. We’ve come a long way in a short time. The engine of human progress hums right along. We send men to the moon, satellites into orbit, and radio waves to the stars. But inner space is another matter. We’re not even close to conquering that. The human heart seems as unruly as ever.

My Greatest Challenge

If we are honest with ourselves, we all know that the real battles of life are inside, not outside. My greatest challenge is the man in the mirror. When I say that the human heart is unruly, I’m not talking about yours. I’m talking about mine.

What we are on the inside matters more than what happens on the outside. That’s where the little book of James becomes incredibly relevant. This epistle, written 2000 years ago to beleaguered, scattered, oppressed Jewish believers who were just barely hanging on to their faith, speaks with amazing clarity to life in the 21st-century. James wants us to discover the freedom that comes when we respond the right way to the pressures of life.

We look without seeing, we listen without hearing, and we speak without understanding

James 1:19-20 specifically answers the question, How do you respond properly when the heat is on, the pressure is building, and you are about to lose it? Pay close attention to his answer:

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

These verses appear simple, but putting them into practice is a daily challenge. Let’s focus on the three basic commands James gives us.

  1. Listen More

“Be quick to hear” (James 1:19a).

Wisdom begins when we listen more and talk less. In context, this sort of listening starts by paying attention to what God has said in his Word. In the first century, believers didn’t have all the advantages we have. They didn’t have printed copies of the New Testament. For that matter, if James was indeed the first book of the New Testament, they couldn’t read Romans because it hadn’t been written yet. Likewise for all four gospels, the book of Acts, the rest of the epistles, and the book of Revelation. They didn’t have the Bible on a smartphone app so they could read it wherever they went. For the most part, hearing the Word meant meeting with other believers and listening to the Word being taught. It meant hearing, memorizing and then meditating on what you had heard.

Wisdom begins when we listen more and talk less

I sometimes think our modern technology has made it so easy to hear the Word that we hardly hear it at all. When I look at my iPhone, I see tons of apps, all of them brimming with information that flows in 24 hours a day. I have news apps, email apps, message apps, music apps, and video apps. We have enough online stimulation to keep us occupied round the clock. In the old days (maybe 10 years ago), when you got on an airplane, you might actually chat with the person sitting next to you. That rarely happens nowadays. At the gate and on the plane, you see people with their heads down, looking at their smartphones, or apparently talking to themselves (though they are actually on the phone).

A heinous crime paid an impossible debt

I wonder who is better off, the first-century believers who had almost no copies of the Word or 21st-century believers who have the Bible at our fingertips. No one would trade our technology for life 2000 years ago, but I will say this. Technology is useless (and even dangerous) if we are so busy and so distracted that we are not “quick to hear” what God is saying to us.

This principle applies in every area of life. Some people talk so much that they never hear what anyone else says. A few days ago Marlene and I read Proverbs 8 together. In that chapter wisdom is personified as a woman speaking to the reader:

Wisdom calls (v. 1).

She speaks noble things (v. 6).

Wisdom is better than gold or silver (vv. 10-11).

By wisdom kings reign (v. 15).

God blesses those who walk in wisdom (v. 32).

Wisdom gains favor from the Lord (v. 35).

But no one gains wisdom by chance. Wisdom says, “If you seek me, you will find me.” Are we too busy, too worried, too preoccupied, too distracted (a very modern problem) to seek the wisdom God offers in his Word?

No one gains wisdom by chance

The word translated “quick” was used in a slightly different form in John 20:4 to describe Peter outrunning John to the empty tomb. That’s a helpful picture. We ought to be “outrunning” ourselves to find out what God has to say to us. I have a friend who says that he and his wife have a simple morning rule: “No Bible, no breakfast.” I used to hear that said 40 years ago. Not so much nowadays. I like it as a personal habit to adopt.

We would all be better off if instead of checking Facebook first thing in the morning, we went running to the Word of God. I can’t make rules for you or for anyone else, but here’s a challenge to think about. Being “quick to hear” doesn’t happen by accident.

We have to plan to hear the Word.

We’re quick to do many things that don’t matter.

Are we quick to listen to the Word of God?

  1. Talk Less

“Be slow to speak” (James 1:19b).

Ecclesiastes 5:2 says it this way: “God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” It’s hard to argue with that.

You’re not as smart as you think you are, and neither am I.

You’re not as clever as you think you are, and neither am I.

You’re not as wise as you think you are, and neither am I.

We’re not as smart as we think we are

There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Most of us are better at the former and not so good at the latter. Proverbs 29:20 has a helpful word about this. “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Ogden Nash put this principle into a neat little rhyme: “To keep your marriage brimming, with love in the loving cup, whenever you’re wrong, admit it. Whenever you’re right, shut up.” It’s so easy to kill a marriage or a friendship with unkind words. How many times have we said something in anger only to regret it a thousand times later?

Let me pause to make an application that I would not have made (or even thought about) 25 years ago. Social media encourages quick feedback. Someone says something we don’t like so without thinking it through, we post a snappy reply, a snarky comment, a clever comeback or a mean-spirited innuendo. Sometimes we are so eager to post our comments that we hit Send and then start chuckling over our cleverness. Here’s a simple piece of advice when you are tempted to do that:

It’s easy to kill a marriage with unkind words

Slow down.


Think about it.

You can delete a foolish comment, but you can’t erase it from the Internet. Once you post it, the record floats in cyberspace forever.

You can’t erase a foolish comment completely

When James says “Be slow to speak,” he is thinking about our tendency to speak when we are angry and frustrated. I’m sure you’ve heard it said: Speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. How true it is. When I was a child, people used to say “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s a nice, brave saying, and it works pretty well if you have no feelings. Words hurt far more than sticks and stones, and the wounds they leave take far longer to heal. Unkind words don’t break bones; they break hearts.

III. Calm Down

“Be slow to anger” (James 1:19c).

The translators handle this last command in a variety of ways:

“Slow to anger” (ESV).

“Slow to wrath” (ASV).

“Don’t get worked up into a rage so easily” (Voice).

“Slow to lose his temper” (Phillips).

James is not saying don’t get angry. That’s unrealistic. We’re all going to get angry from time to time. The word translated “anger” actually refers to a deep-seated rage. It doesn’t refer to a passing moment of displeasure which is soon gone and forgotten. No, James is speaking of that deep emotion which, when released, is like a volcano erupting. It spews red-hot lava all over the living room.

Anger is under our control

Anger is under our control. Sometimes we talk of “blowing up” as if it happened against our will. But that’s a cop-out. Anger is an emotion we control. Here’s the proof. Have you ever had an argument with your spouse and the phone rang right in the middle of the argument? You were raising your voice and getting red in the face and then, “Hello, how are you? I’m so glad you called. Goodbye.” You hang the phone up and go at it again. That’s because anger is an emotion you can control.

But notice the progression. If we are quick to hear, we will be slow to speak. But if we are slow to hear, we will doubtless be quick to speak. Quick speaking leads to quick anger. The angrier we get, the faster we speak, and the less we hear.

Quick speaking leads to quick anger

Not long ago I spoke to a group of men who serve the Lord in various leadership positions around the world. I talked to them about the character qualities of a godly man in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. When you study the 25 character qualities and put them in groups, you discover the single largest group involves a man and his anger. As I studied the two lists Paul made, I found 5 of the 25 character qualities unquestionably related to a man and his anger:

Not overbearing – Titus 1:7

Not quarrelsome – 1 Timothy 3:3

Not quick-tempered – Titus 1:7

Not violent – 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7

Gentle – 1 Timothy 3:3

I reminded the men of Solomon’s wise counsel in Proverbs 16:32, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” But of course we don’t really believe it. Which would you rather be called, a patient man or a warrior? The world rewards the warriors while the patient men change diapers and take out the garbage. It’s not much of a contest.

Jesus didn’t come to make us nicer people. He came to make us new people

Solomon says it is better to control your temper than to “take a city.” We use that military imagery all the time in Christian circles. We talk about taking our cities for Christ and winning America back to God. That sort of talk can lead to some disastrous results:

“I took my city for Christ, but my wife left me.”

“I took my city for God, but my children no longer follow Jesus.”

Would you rather be called a warrior or a patient man?

I think James knew we would have an issue with this third command so he added a reason in verse 20: “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” The CEV offers this practical warning: “If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done.” Did you ever know a person who was angry all the time? They get up angry, they shower angry, they eat breakfast angry, they go to work angry, they come home angry, they watch TV angry, and they go to bed angry. When they are happy, that makes them angry. Nothing pleases a person like that. Anger leads to jealousy, harsh words, and it can even lead to murder.

That sort of anger can never produce a life pleasing to God.

That sort of anger only destroys; it never builds up.

That sort of anger brings the smell of death with it.

Sorrow and Love Flow Mingled Down

In order to move away from bitterness, anger, and hurtful words, we need to take Ephesians 4:32 to heart:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

We are to extend grace to others as God has extended grace to us. We who have been showered with God’s grace in Christ are to give to other undeserving sinners the same outpouring of grace. From God to us to others. Grace to us, grace to others. This is God’s plan. We do for others what God has done for us. We have been forgiven; we know what it is like. Now do the same for others. We are not left to wonder what it means to forgive those who have hurt us.

Grace to us, grace to others. This is God’s plan.

You cannot understand God’s love unless you go to the cross.

You cannot understand the cross unless you see in it God’s love.

Man’s murder became God’s sacrifice. A heinous crime paid an impossible debt. Through the death of an innocent man, we the guilty go free. If we had been there, the stench of death would have overwhelmed us, but the cross smelled good to the Father. The work of salvation was finally done:

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down!

Did e’er such love or sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

We need the Lord Jesus living in us

Jesus didn’t come to make us nicer people. He came to make us new people. If you read this sermon and think, “I should try harder to listen more, speak less, and calm down,” that’s a good sentiment, but it misses the point. We need the Lord Jesus living in us. In one of his books, British Bible teacher F. B. Meyer talked about how Christ living in us makes all the difference in the moment of temptation. Meyer said that when he felt himself getting angry or irritable, he asked the Lord for the quality most needed at that moment:

Your patience, Lord Jesus.

Your kindness, Lord Jesus.

Your love, Lord Jesus.

Your courage, Lord Jesus.

Your wisdom, Lord Jesus.

Your joy, Lord Jesus.

Your compassion, Lord Jesus.

If we believe that in Jesus Christ dwells all the fullness of God (and we do), and if we believe Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (and we do), then we may believe that in our lives this week the fullness of Christ, the beauty of Christ, the grace of Christ, the mercy of Christ, the holiness of Christ, and the kindness of Christ may fill us and drive out the evil—the lust, greed, impatience, unbelief, critical spirit, and the angry intolerance that holds us back.

When we are living in Christ and Christ is living in us, then by God’s grace we will be . . .

Swift to hear,

Slow to speak, and

Slow to anger.

Come, Lord Jesus, transform us by the power of your Word so that your beauty may be seen in us. Do it, O Lord! Amen.

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