As I was listening to the sermon this week, I was struck by the idea of alternative promises. Alternative promises are those ways in which we reject God’s promises by offering our own solutions. We suggest to God new avenues for fulling God’s promises or changes to those promises which will make it easier or more possible in our understanding. As I was thinking about alternative promises, I realized that they reveal our idols. Our idols are those things within the creation to which we give the worship, service, and authority that is due to God alone. They are the things or people that we value more than God, either explicitly or implicitly.
Offering God alternative promises reveals what it is that has taken the place of the Creator God in our lives. Our idols will always distort the ways in which we relate to God and thus shape the alternative promises that we offer to God. For example, Abraham’s alternative promise of the son he already had revealed the way in which he was bound by the idol of age and barrenness. Abraham had allowed his age and Sarah’s barrenness to hold such sway in his life that he did not believe that God could or would give him a child through Sarah. This may seem like a strange idol, but it is an aspect of creation which had taken the place of God in Abraham’s life by making him doubt God.
Another important thing about idolatry is that it is the root of sins and the power of sin. To put anything in God’s place will inevitably lead to sin and to enslavement to sin. Romans spends a lot of time on sins and the enslavement of sin. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul discusses idolatry and its effects. Note that Paul states that God gave humans up because they had left the Creator God and started worshipping created things. God allowed humans to be enslaved by the forces to which they had given worship and this leads to the many different sins that Paul mentions at the end of the chapter. Because human beings would not give God proper glory and instead turned to idols, God allowed those idols to enslave them. Humans thus turned to all kinds of sins (see especially 1:29-31).
What then are our idols? What do we worship in the place of God? If we want to know our idols, we should look at the particular aspects of our lives in which we doubt the promises of God and ignore the commandments of God. These will show us, if we truly seek to recognize our idols, what those idols are. Knowing our idols will take a little bit of self-examination.
How can we be freed from the slavery of idols and sin? The answer is surprisingly simple. Jesus has already defeated the enslaving idols and sin through his death on the cross. Jesus has come and inaugurated the Kingdom of God and he invites all to join. Freedom from idols is found in joining the Kingdom of God with obedience and worship.