Thursday, October 11, 2012

Excerpts from *Counterfeit Gods* by Tim Keller

***This is a short little book and easy read, but it contains so much goodness. (I started underlining on the second page of the introduction!) These are just a few of the passages that got my attention:

There is a difference between sorrow and despair. Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consolation. Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others, so that, if you experience a career reversal, you can find comfort in your family to get you through it. Despair, however, is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing. When you lose the ultimate source of your meaning or hope, there are no alternative sources to turn to. It breaks your spirit.

Long ago, Saint Paul wrote that greed was not just bad behavior. "Greed is idolatry," he wrote. (Colossians 3:5)

The Bible's answer is that the human heart is an "idol factory." . . .In Ezekiel 14:3, God says about elders of Israel, "These men have set up their idols in their hearts." . . . God was saying that the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.

The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one. The living God, who revealed himself both at Mount Sinai and on the Cross, is the only Lord, who, if you find him, can truly fulfill you, and, if you fail him, can truly forgive you.

Every human being must live for something. Something must capture our imaginations, our heart's most fundamental allegiance and hope. But, the Bible tells us, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that object will never be God himself.

If we are not willing to hurt our career in order to do God's will, our job will become a counterfeit god.

Idols enslave.

We have to know, to be assured, that God so loves, cherishes, and delights in us that we can rest our hearts in him for our significance and security and handle anything that happens in life.

You will never be as great, as secure in God, as courageous as Abraham became simply by trying hard, but only by believing in the Savior to whom this event points. Only if Jesus lived and died for us can you have a God of infinite love and holiness at once. Then you can be absolutely sure he loves you.

In our lives there are always some things that we invest in to get a level of joy and fulfillment that only God can give. The most painful times in our lives are times in which our Isaacs, our idols, are being threatened or removed.

As many have learned and later taught, you don't realize Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.

We know a good thing has become a counterfeit god when its demands on you exceed proper boundaries. Making an idol out of work may mean that you work until you ruin your health, or you break the laws in order to get ahead. Making an idol out of love may mean allowing the lover to exploit and abuse you, or it may cause terrible blindness to the pathologies in the relationship. An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave.

The Bible repeatedly shows us weak people who don't deserve God's grace, don't seek it, and don't appreciate it even after they have received it.

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world [something supernatural and eternal]." ~C.S. Lewis

The gods of moralistic religions favor the successful and the overachievers. . . . But the God of the Bible is the one who comes down into this world to accomplish a salvation and give us a grace we could never attain ourselves. He loves the unwanted, the weak and unloved. He is not just a king and we are the subjects; he is not just a shepherd and we are the sheep. He is a husband and we are his spouse. He is ravished with us -- even those of us whom no one else notices.

Who can I turn to who is so beautiful that he will enable me to escape all counterfeit gods? There is only one answer to this question. As the poet George Herbert wrote, looking at Jesus on the Cross: "Thou art my loveliness, my life, my light, Beauty alone to me."

Jesus warns people far more often about greed than about sex, yet almost no one thinks they are guilty of it.

God's salvation does not come in response to a changed life. A changed life comes in response to the salvation, offered as a free gift.

The solution to stinginess is a reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, how he poured out his wealth for you.

An "achievement addict" is no different from any other kind of addict.

The false sense of security comes from deifying our achievement and expecting it to keep us safe from the troubles of life in a way that only God can.

God is not an extension of culture, but a transformer of culture, not a controllable but a sovereign Lord.

If you want God's grace, all you need is need, all you need is nothing. But that kind of spiritual humility is hard to muster.

The idol of success cannot be just expelled, it must be replaced. The human heart's desire for a particular valuable object may be conquered, but its need to have some such object is unconquerable. How can we break our heart's fixation on doing "some great thing" in order to heal ourselves of our sense of inadequacy, in order to give our lives meaning? Only when we see what Jesus, our great Suffering Servant, has done for us will we finally understand why God's salvation does not require us to do "some great thing." We don't have to do it, because Jesus has. That's why we can "just wash." Jesus did it all for us, and he loves us -- that is how we know our existence is justified. When we believe in what he accomplished for us with our minds and when we are moved by what he did for us in our hearts, it begins to kill off the addiction, the need for success at all costs.

The biblical story of salvation assaults our worship of success at every point.

An idol is something that we look to for things that only God can give. Idolatry functions widely inside religious communities when doctrinal truth is elevated to the position of a false god. This occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God himself and his grace. It is a subtle but deadly mistake. The sign that you have slipped into this form of self-justification is that you become what the book of Proverbs calls a "scoffer." Scoffers always show contempt and disdain for opponents rather than graciousness. This is a sign that they do not see themselves as sinners saved by grace. Instead, their trust in the rightness of their views makes them feel superior.

The fish was God's provision for Jonah. It gave Jonah a second chance to recover and repent.

Now Jonah says that idol worshippers forsake "their own grace." It came to him like a thunderbolt that God's grace was as much theirs as it was his. Why? Because grace is grace. If it is truly grace, then no one was worthy of it at all, and that made all equal. And with that realization, he added, "Salvation comes only from the Lord!" It doesn't belong to any race or class of people, nor do religious people deserve it more than the irreligious. It does not come from any quality or merit in us at all. Salvation is only from the Lord.

Jonah stands as a warning that human hearts never change quickly or easily, even when a person is being mentored directly by God.

Jonah shows us that it is one thing to believe the gospel with our minds, and another to work it deep into our hearts so it affects everything we think, feel, and do.

When an idol gets a grip on your heart, it spins out a whole set of false definitions of success and failure and happiness and sadness. It redefines reality in terms of itself. Nearly everyone thinks that an all-powerful God of love, patience, and compassion is a good thing. But if, because of your idol, your ultimate good is the power and status of your people, then anything that gets in the way of it is, by definition, bad. When God's love prevented him from smashing Israel's enemy Jonah, because of his idol, was forced to see God's love as a bad thing. In the end idols can make it possible to call evil good and good evil.

When people say, "I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself," they mean that they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to them than God's.

We prefer our own wisdom to God's wisdom, our own desires to God's will, and our own reputation to God's honor.

Have you heard God's blessing in your inmost being? Are the words "You are my beloved child, in whom I delight" an endless source of joy and strength? Have you sensed, through the Holy Spirit, God speaking them to you? That blessing -- the blessing through the Spirit that is ours through Christ -- is what Jacob received, and it is the only remedy against idolatry. Only that blessing makes idols unnecessary. As with Jacob, we usually discover this only after a life of "looking for blessing in all the wrong places." It often takes an experience of crippling weakness for us to finally discover it. That is why so many of the most God-blessed people limp as they dance for joy.

Turning from idols always includes a rejection of the culture that the idols produce. . . . There is no way to challenge idols without doing cultural criticism, and there is no way to do cultural criticism without discerning and challenging idols. . . . Contemporary observers have often noted that modern Christians are just as materialistic as everyone else in our culture. Could this be because our preaching of the gospel does not, like Saint Paul's, include exposure of our culture's counterfeit gods?

Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God.

Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods. If you uproot the idol and fail to "plant" the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.

Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.

"If I may speak of my own experience, I find that to keep my eye simply on Christ, as my peace and my life, is by far the hardest part of my calling. . . . It seems easier to deny self in a thousand instances of outward conduct, than in its ceaseless endeavors to act as a principle of righteousness and power." ~John Newton

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