There are two things in Scripture that are classified as “the power of God” 1) The Gospel 2) Jesus Himself
Romans 1:16-17 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. Why? Because IT (Jesus and His finished work on the cross) is the power of God for salvation. This salvation is not just “entrance” into the Christian life. It’s ALL of the Christian life. The Gospel is the power that saves us (Justification) and the power to grow us (sanctification).
Christians do not grow simply by ‘trying hard to live according to Biblical principles.’ What then is the key to how we change into Christ-likeness? It’s found in the Bible’s concept of idolatry. ‘Idolatry’ in the Bible is a major theme for what ails us—psychologically, intellectually, sociologically, culturally.
The inevitability of idolatry – The very first commandment is “I am your God—have no other gods before me.” There is no third option between those two. Rom 1:25 says we will “worship and serve” either God or some created thing (an idol). It is not possible that we should worship nothing. Something will capture our hearts and imaginations and be the most important thing, the ultimate concern, value, or allegiance. So every personality, community, and thought-form will be based on either God Himself or on some god-substitute, an idol.
The range of idolatry – So an ’idol’ is anything more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity. Idolatry is the inordinate desire of (even) something good. This means any thing can become an idol, including good things such as career, family, achievement, your independence, a political cause, material possessions, certain people in dependence on you, power and influence, physical attractiveness, romance, human approval, financial security, your place in a particular social circle or institution. Idols are not only personal and individual, they are also corporate and cultural. Different societies can make into ultimate values things like the family (“traditional values”) or feeling (romanticism) or the state (communism) or racial superiority (fascism) or rationality (empiricism) or individual will and experience (existentialism) or group identity (post-modernism.)
The power of idolatry – On the one hand, an idol is an empty “nothing” with no real power to help us and save us (Isaiah 40:20; 41:6-7.) It is only a way we are trying to save ourselves (Isaiah 44:10-13.) On the other hand, paradoxically, our idols exercise great power and control over us. They enslave (Jeremiah 2:25.) Once we have come to believe that something will really make us happy, then we cannot help ourselves—we must follow our god. Idols demand complete dependence (Isaiah 44:17); they completely capture our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-5). In Romans 1 Paul shows how all the breakdowns in life—spiritual, psychological, social, cultural—come because we “worship created things rather than the creator.” (Romans 1:25)
The importance of understanding idolatry – The Bible does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many (and thus now a rare sin only among primitive people). Rather, idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. Why do we ever fail to love or keep promises or live unselfishly? Of course, the general answer is “because we are weak and sinful”, but the specific answer is always that there is something besides Jesus Christ that you feel you must have to be happy, that is more important to your heart than God, and that is enslaving the heart through inordinate desires. For example, we would not lie unless first we had made something—human approval, “face”, reputation, power over others, financial advantage–more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace of God. So the secret to change is always to identify and dismantle the basic idols of the heart.
We will continue this discussion by looking at examples tomorrow.