Could you live peaceably in your home with a home invader? Though you have a mission to protect your home and family, could you coexist with someone opposed to that mission? I’m guessing your answer is the same as mine, which is, “No!” Now, what about your heart? Could you live with something in your heart that was in complete opposition to you and everything you value? If you don’t mind, hold that thought in your mind for a couple minutes and I’ll come back to it.
1 Kings 18 is the famous chapter where Elijah, the prophet of God, challenges Baal, a false god frequently credited for fertility, rain, and other good fortunes, to make fire come down from the sky and set an altar ablaze. When an entire morning passes and nothing happens, we read in verse 28 that Baal’s followers “cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.” Obviously, Baal worshippers felt self-mutilation would somehow please their god; we can even read in other passages, like Jeremiah 19:5, that Baal worshippers engaged in child sacrifice to gain his favor. If we compare this type of destructive worship, which is also called idolatry, with the worship of thanksgiving and praise that God requires, we can easily see why God would declare, “You shall have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3) and things like, “…I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more.” (Zechariah 13:2) Idols, or false gods – however you want to label them – harm their followers. God, being all-loving, would naturally stand against anything that harmed His people.
I know you and I aren’t carving up images, naming them, and then worshipping them by cutting our wrists or burning our children, but according to the Bible, even the New Testament, idolatry can be anything we prefer over God. In Colossians 3, Paul says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immortality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (v. 5) I know when I first read that I thought, “Uh-oh, now it’s really hitting home.” With Paul’s words, idols can be any of our wrongful desires and maybe even good desires taken too far.
I think I’ve made a two-tier test for discovering any idols we have in our hearts. First, do you love it more than God? As in, when you’ve had a bad day, do you choose that thing over God? Do you find yourself frequently thinking about that thing throughout the day? Second, does it harm you or anyone else around you? Does your relationship with that thing, whatever it is, bring harm in any way?
The Idol In The Hearts Of Most Americans
Now that we’ve done a little study on idolatry from the Bible, do you remember my original question, the question of living peaceably with something in your heart that opposes you, something that has a mission counter to your own? We all agreed that a home invader wasn’t welcome, so how about idols, which are essentially heart-invaders who stand against your allegiance to God and your welfare? Can we coexist peaceably with these idols?
Joshua, Moses’ predecessor, says it’s not possible to proceed serving both God and idols. In Joshua 24:19-20 he says to the nation of Israel, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” I understand that’s a heavy verse, but I believe we do need to appreciate the choice that God is laying before us: it’s Him or idols.
In your life, what’s superseding God and harming you? The possibilities are infinite, right? I’d like to use the rest of my time to talk about maybe the most common idol of our day, specifically in the United States. I believe it’s so commonplace, even faithful Christians accept it and even outwardly enjoy it. Yes, I’m talking about the idol of food.
You may ask, “What’s wrong with loving food?” Of course, nothing is wrong with enjoying food as God’s creation but with 71% of our country overweight or obese, I would say most of us have put food into a position it’s never been designed to hold and that’s what harms us. It’s difficult to look at those numbers and defend our relationship with food.
Food Idolatry: Check Yourself
Before you move on, would you put yourself through these three questions? Through facing and battling my own unhealthy relationship with food, I stumbled across these questions which revealed a lot in my heart and tested me positive for food idolatry. Here are the three questions:
- Does food have to be perfect? If it doesn’t have the right sauce, isn’t prepared a particular way, or has a texture you don’t prefer, are you unwilling to eat it, regardless of who you offend or inconvenience?
- Is food the highlight of your day? Does that decadent dinner or sweet treat capture many of your thoughts throughout the day?
- To enjoy a particular food, do you consistently throw consequences to the wind? For instance, I knew two sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits and a large muffin would make me feel sluggish, pack on the pounds, and devastate my blood sugars and cholesterol, but I would throw those consequences to the wind when the craving arose.
If you checked “yes” to any of those questions, first off, you have to get in line behind me – I’m right there with you. Second, I also understand that no one sets out to idolize food; we live in a country where food is so abundant, and our options are practically unlimited, it happens easily. However, just as we cannot hide behind a culture that normalizes sexual sin, we cannot hide behind our culture of food idolatry. Yes, I know it will be hard to combat food worship when there’s so much emphasis placed on food, but in Matthew 5:16, Jesus asked us to shine our light before others. If there were not darkness all around, what would be the point of shining a light?
Being honest before God and confessing you’ve abused food and refusing to hide behind our cultural norms is the biggest step – at least it was for me anyway. Acknowledging to God that my food obsession, though perfectly accepted in the world, was set up against Him, was the most empowering thing I’d ever done with my health. Paul reminds us in Romans 3:4, “Let God be true though every one were a liar…” Let’s make the bold decision to stand with God, regardless how outnumbered we are in the world.
From Exalting Food To Exalting Jesus
The next step, and the most important step, is turning your heart’s affections from food to Jesus. I know people don’t think about this very often, but if you try to manage an idol like food, let’s saying with extreme dieting, it’s just going to show its ugly head again and again. I truly believe that’s why diets don’t work – they don’t address the real issue of what we truly love. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Unhealthy eating comes from the heart’s affections long before it comes from our plates, so address the heart’s affections.
Changing what we love isn’t something we can do on our own – I’ll bet you’re thinking that right now. King David asked God to create in him a clean heart (Psalm 51:10); later in Psalm 33:15, he says that God fashions everyone’s heart; in Psalm 40:8 he mentions that God’s law within his heart make following the Lord delightful. If we need a change of heart, it’s God who will do it, not us.
To make these heart changes, the Apostle Paul advocates Christian meditation in Philippians 4:8: “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” What is the truest thing you can think of? Jesus. What is the most honorable thing you can think of? Jesus. Do you get the idea? Meditation on Christ will change our heart’s affections towards him and away from food or any other idol. Jesus Christ drives out the idols of our heart the way he drove out the money changers in the temple in John 2.
Here are a few Christ-centered meditations which have helped me in the face of intense food cravings:
- Will giving into this idol of food actually satisfy? Usually, after giving into some decadent, sweet treat, I regret the whole thing and actually feel worse. Can you relate? On the contrary, does Jesus ever not satisfy? Does sacrificing some particular unhealthy food for the sake of Jesus ever come back and bite me with regret and sorrow?
- What is leading me to eat this food right now? Is it fear? Insecurity? Restlessness? Guilt? Those are emotions and concerns meant for Jesus, not cookies or ice cream.
- Did Jesus die that I would live in bondage to something which harms me? Surely the blood of the cross can overcome processed sugar and fat. Jesus died that I may reign over these types of weaknesses.
What draws your heart’s affections away from food and towards Christ? I’m sure everyone is different, but those are a few thoughts which grip me and pull me away from food idolatry. If you think this sounds hard, it is, but Jesus is strong enough to overwhelm any idol, I can promise you.
I have a feeling the challenge will be the intentional-nature of this practice. What do I mean? It’s a challenge to do this, to keep the Lord and His desires on our heart and mind at all times. We have to remember the enemy wants us to “go with the flow,” and enjoy anything, in any amount, at any time – which is exactly how we’ve gotten ourselves into this obesity epidemic. Be conscious about food climbing the ranks of your heart as idols love to take power quietly over time; stand guard and be sure Jesus Christ stays on the throne of your heart.
As a final note, I’ve found and I believe you’ll discover, too, that God does has a way for us to enjoy food. Allow me to say that again. God has a way for us to enjoy food – it’s just not in the way the world indulges. Be open to new varieties of foods, different portions, and different motives behind eating. Let God shape your desire to food. I’m praying for you on this journey.
A Few Quotes on Idolatry
“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior.”
“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.”
“When God is first in our hearts, all other loves are in order and find their rightful place.”
“Could it be that desire for a good thing has become a bad thing because that desire has become a ruling thing?”
“The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.”