Idolatry is a trap.
An idol, as we saw last time, is something that makes big promises, takes all it can, and gives nothing in return. This video from I Am Second featuring hit singer Tori Kelly does a fantastic job illustrating this point. Check it out:
Tori Kelly was promised the world. She was promised everything she could want – fame, fortune, success as a singer. But her “idol” deemed her not good/pretty/bubbly enough. So long, see you later. Next!
She had to learn not to tie her identity to anything other than Christ. Kelly had to learn to let go and gain her freedom (remember the Monkey Trap?).
THE THREE TRAPS
If idolatry is a trap, it’s helpful to know what kind of traps to specifically be on the lookout for. The Bible identifies three main traps, and life has confirmed this to be true. Here’s exactly what we need to watch for:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Did you see the traps? 1) Craving for physical pleasure, 2) Craving for everything we see, and 3) Pride in our achievements and possessions. These are the tools Satan uses to draw us away from God and trap us in idolatry. We fall for them all the time. Every single one of us has been trapped by at least one of these tricks. And they are literally as old as human history.
LITERALLY, THE OLDEST TRICK IN THE BOOK
The Bible opens with the story of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. God creates the world and everything in it. God crowns his creation with God’s masterpiece – humanity, God’s own image bearers. God places the first man and woman in a garden called Eden. It’s a paradise – free of sin, pain, death, and I assume mosquitoes. They have one God-given rule, only one! Don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s it. There’s one tree you can’t eat from. Everything else is fair game. How could they possibly mess that up?
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7)
Did you see the traps? Look more closely. She saw that the fruit 1. looked delicious (cravings for physical pleasure), 2. looked beautiful (cravings for everything we see), and 3. would grant her the wisdom that she wanted (pride in our achievements and possessions). The Serpent (aka Satan) pulled out all the stops. He set all three traps in place, and she fell for every single one.
**Notice, by the way, that she gave the fruit to her husband “who was with her.” Adam wasn’t some innocent bystander. It’s not like he was off somewhere else completely unaware of what was happening. Adam was fooled just as much as Eve.**
And with all three traps set and then sprung, sin and idolatry entered the world.
At the end of Genesis 3, however, God makes a promise that some day one of Eve’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent once and for all.
Fast forward to the 1st Century CE in Palestine. A Jewish Rabbi is on the scene named Yeshua (or Jesus to us Westerners). Jesus is baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River. As he came up out of the water, the heavens part and the voice of God could be heard proclaiming “You are my Son whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” And the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. This is a literal re-creation story.
And just as with the creation story in Genesis, so it is with Jesus. He is immediately led into the Judean wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and faces temptations from Satan. Imagine fasting for 40 days! That’s about the limit for the human body to survive without food. Some of us get hangry after 40 minutes without eating. Picture being on-the-brink-of-literal-starvation-hangry…and then literal Satan shows up. Ugh…. Just read this passage while I go get a snack.
Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.
Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”
Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,
‘You must worship the Lord your God
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,
‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”
When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. (Luke 4:1-13)
Ok, did you see the traps that time? Really, Satan couldn’t make it any more obvious. It’s the same three traps as he used in the Garden all those thousands of years before.
- Turn these stones to bread = cravings for physical pleasure
- I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world = cravings for everything we see
- Throw yourself down from the Temple in front of all these crowds of people, proving to everyone who you truly are and what you’re capable of = pride in our achievements or possessions
However, where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus successfully avoided the traps and exposed them for what they truly were – empty promises.
These three traps can be thought of like this:
“Cravings for Physical Pleasure” = Self-Centeredness – only caring about my needs, my physical cravings, my appearance, my schedule, my success, me – me – me
“Cravings for Everything We See” = Greed – never being satisfied with what I have, always wanting more things, new, shiny, latest and greatest, trendy, jealous, more – more – more
“Pride in Our Achievements and Possessions” = Pride – success, achievement, and being the best are the only things that matter. Second place is first loser. I have to be the best me, and I need other people to know it. Failure is not an option, win – win – win
Self-Centeredness, Greed, and Pride are the core tricks of the trade for Satan. They are the main ways our idols keep us trapped. Here’s what that looks like in real life.
My relationships become an idol when I make it all about me – what I can get out it, how my needs are being met, how that person make me feel.
Relationships become an idol when I’m greedy – always wanting more time, more devotion, or simply moving on to the next person if you aren’t good enough for me anymore.
And relationships become an idol when I become prideful – I have to have the best relationship, or at the very least we have to appear successful. I keep score of who does more for the other person and become resentful when the other person isn’t pulling their weight.
Work can become an idol when I’m self-centered – looking out for my own interests instead of the good of the company, doing anything to get more money or more promotions, making everything a competition with my coworkers.
Work can become an idol when I fall into greed – working longer hours for more overtime to bring home a bigger pay check to a wife and kids I never see so we can buy more stuff we never use.
Work can become an idol when I let my pride get in the way – making sure everyone knows how good I am, making myself indispensable, getting jealous of anyone else who gets promotions, always self-promoting and emphasizing my own achievements and successes.
FOLLOW THE GUIDE
These are the traps of idolatry. They aren’t always easy to see. Sometimes navigating life feels like that scene in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. The only way we know how to avoid the traps is by learning from those who have gone before us. Self-centeredness, Greed, and Pride can suck you in, keep you trapped, and totally derail your life. Maybe now that we know what to look out for, we can follow in the steps of Jesus and avoid these snares of life.
Which of the three traps is most difficult for you to avoid? How might these traps be lying in wait for us even in the church? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a post!