Faithlife Sermons

The Struggle with Worship

Unmasking the Villains of your Heart  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:36
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Am I worshipping God as He is?

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It is natural for our imagination to create an image of something or someone we have not seen. And since God is invisible, it is natural for us to create within our minds, or in art and sculpture, images that are intended to represent Him. But can we always trust what we see? Do we ever see things with our own eyes in a way that is really not true?
Consider these 10 examples. [Play 3:39 video 10 Mind Blowing Optical Illusions]
Exodus 20:4 ESV:2016
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Limitations of Art (images)

The problem with images made by our hands is that they cannot capture the glory of the Creator. All they can do is diminish Him, and that is why God tells us in this second commandment that we are not to make any images that are intended to represent Him.
Some people say that they find icons, beads, or pictures of Jesus as helpful reminders. An image or icon may reflect part of the truth about God, but it will always obscure as much as it reveals. Our second great struggle is to properly worship our God, the majestic Creator and Lord, without diminishing Him to a little god.

The limits of imagination

Take Michelangelo's famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, The Creation of Adam, in which the finger of God reaches down to touch man. The painting communicates God's power, but it completely obscures His love. Nobody who looks at that picture could ever conclude that God is full of compassion.
Pictures of Jesus in children's books usually have the opposite effect, giving the impression that Christ is weak, supine, and anemic.
Many people wear or carry a crucifix showing an image of Jesus hanging on the cross. It shows that Jesus died for us, but it completely obscures the truth that He is no longer on the cross, that He has triumphed over death and is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory.
Art and sculpture are wonderful gifts that can be used to capture the beauty and wonder of created things, but they cannot capture the glory of the Creator. Though they may appear to enhance our worship, their true effect can only be to diminish our thoughts about God.
In 1995 Philip Yancy published a book that won the Gold Medallion Book Award and went on to be declared the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association’s 1996 Christian Book of the Year. In this Book a journalist reviews 20-some Hollywood versions of Jesus and compares these images to the Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Just as Moses did not look like Charlton Heston, The God of the Bible is not shaped by your perceptions.
At first sight this second commandment looks easy. Right now, you're probably not struggling with an overwhelming temptation to rush into the garage and shape a piece of wood to be used as an object of worship. But the second commandment goes deeper than issues of icons, art, and sculpture. God is so great that even our best thoughts about Him fall far short of grasping His glory. That's why worship is the second great struggle of your life.

The limits of Human thought

God is greater than your highest thought about Him. You cannot reduce Him to a system of logical thought. You cannot confine Him to the narrow boundaries of your experience. Nothing in creation can represent the Creator. "To whom will you compare me or count me equal?" God asks His people, "To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?" (Isaiah 46:5).
We cannot find Him or know Him through a self-initiated spiritual search, but God has made Himself known in the Scriptures and has come near to us in Jesus Christ. We know Him not by cultivating our imagination, but by believing His revelation.

There are different levels of affection

In the first commandment, God calls us to embrace Him unconditionally. In the second commandment, God calls us to embrace Him in reality.
God is not like a lump of clay that we can shape into any form that is pleasing to us. God is who He is. He is a person to be loved and worshiped, not a resource to be used.
In his book The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis points out that one of Satan's master strategies is to keep us from noticing the very different ways in which we use the word "my" when we speak about "my boots," "my dog," "my wife," "my country," and "my God."1
The five statements, "my boots," "my dog," "my wife," "my country," and "my God," take us all the way from ownership to worship. They move from things that are to be used to the One who is to be worshiped. Let's take a closer look at the spectrum.
My Boots: I choose my boots because I like the way that they look, because they fit my style, and because they are comfortable for me to wear. My boots exist entirely for my comfort, use, and pleasure. If I tire of my boots, or if they wear out, I can replace them. My boots help me avoid pain, but if they ever give me pain, I will dispose of them instantly.
My Dog: A dog can be very useful. It can be a good friend and good company. A dog can guard your property and help you to get some exercise. There are all kinds of uses for a dog, but a man who treats a dog in the same way as he treats his boots would be a disgrace. A man may own a dog, but if he does, he is responsible for that dog. A relationship of loyalty is involved here. The dog is more than the boots.
My Wife: A man who cannot tell the difference between "my wife" and "my boots" is in serious trouble. And yet, the tragedy of some marriages is that a relationship in which God intends a husband and wife to share mutual love and support can easily degenerate into an arrangement of mutual convenience in which two people fulfill certain functions for each other.
Revisiting the description of "my boots" and relating these words to marriage, we get a painfully familiar picture of a dysfunctional relationship: "I choose my wife because I like the way that she looks, because she fits my style, and because she is comfortable for me to be with. My wife exists entirely for my comfort, use, and pleasure. If I tire of my wife, or if she wears out, I can replace her. My wife helps me avoid pain, but if she ever causes me pain, I will dispose of her instantly."
My Country: Here we move even further away from ownership. I do not own my country. My country is far bigger than I am, and I owe patriotism to the country to which I belong. There may be a time when I am called upon to lay down my life for my country. In the great words of President John Kennedy, I am not to ask what my country can do for me; I am to ask what I can do for my country.
My God: Here we come to a relationship of worship in its purest form. But here's the problem: Some folks can't tell the difference between "my God" and "my boots."
Saint Augustine defined idolatry as worshiping what should be used or using what should be worshiped.
Idolatry confuses the Creator with the creation and regards Yahweh, the One who is to be worshiped, as a resource that exists for our convenience and pleasure.
Idolatry involves putting the things we love in the place of God or seeing God as a means of getting the things that we want, and that's the second great struggle of our lives.

The Prevalence of Idolatry

Worshiping What Should Be Used

Idolatry takes a thing that is to be used and puts it in the place of the One who is to be worshiped. It might be my truck, my house, my career, my sports, my sexuality, my money, my family, or my country. All of these are good gifts from God, but when created things take the place of the Creator, they become idols.
Families can become idols if we forget what they are for. Children are a gift from God, entrusted to parents as stewards who are to raise them for His glory. Seeing God's purpose in giving children will save you from making an idol of your children or your desire to have a family.
The same principle applies to your money, which is also a resource to be used wisely for God's glory. Seeing this will save you from making an idol of the money you spend or save.
Most important, you need to know what your own life is for. You are not a machine that exists for production or a soul that exists for pleasure. You are a special creation of Yahweh made in His image and for His glory. That's why the way to find and fulfill your purpose is to become a worshiper of Him.

Using What Should Be Worshiped

The second dimension to idolatry is attempting to use the One who should be worshiped. When Yahweh invites us into a relationship with Him, the instinctive response of our fallen nature is to think that a relationship with God could be very useful.
After all, God is very powerful, so think what He could do for us. We could ask Him to protect our country, give us health and prosperity, bless our families, grow our church, and generally make our lives wonderful. So we come to think of God like Aladdin's genie, an excellent way of getting what we want, and that is idolatry.
We are never in more danger of seeing God as a resource to be used than when we come to Him in prayer. Somewhere deep within our hearts lurks the idea that if God really loves us, He is under an obligation to give what we ask and that if we ask in faith, He really owes it to us to come through. That's idolatry. Prayer is not a tool for manipulating God. True prayer is offered in the name of Jesus Christ, and that means that it can only be offered in submission to His will.

Three Reasons to Avoid Idols

Idols Are Offensive

"You shall not bow down to [idols] or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…" Exodus 20:5
Notice that the word LORD is printed with capital letters. Literally translated, God said, "You shall not bow down to [the idols] or worship them, for 'I am who I am.'"
The reason God gives for not bowing down to idols is that He is who He is, and He does not want you or me pretending that He is whatever we want Him to be. That would be deeply offensive.
This is a message that our postmodern culture desperately needs to hear. God is not whoever we want Him to be. God is who He is and that's why we are not to make idols by projecting our own ideas and desires onto Him.
Imagine the scene in a candlelit restaurant as Romeo proposes to Juliette. Stooping to one knee, he reaches into his pocket, produces a ring, and says, "Juliette, will you marry me? You are not really what I am looking for, but I think that you have potential. I'd like you to lose a little weight. I need you to change your entire wardrobe, and the strange way that you laugh really irritates me. Also, you need to do something about your strange accent, but I want you to know that I love you."
Romeo's words are utterly offensive. Most likely, Juliette will rise up, slap Romeo across the face, and say, "You don't love me at all. You are in love with an image that only exists in your mind. I cannot be your fantasy. I am who I am!"
The second commandment is a good test of your response to the first commandment. If the God you believe in has been shaped for your own convenience, you have not made Yahweh your God, but have put another god of your own making before Him.
Embracing God unconditionally (the first commandment) means embracing Him as He is (the second commandment). If the god you worship is a god of your own making, you are not worshiping Yahweh, but a collection of your own ideas.

Idols are Destructive

Exodus 20:5 (ESV) — …I the Lord your God am a jealous God, “visiting” the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
The word “visiting” may be translated as “intervening”. When we introduce ungodly idols into our lives, the effects of sin often become generational. [addiction, broken covenants, abuse]
Because God is a redeemer, He finds Himself stepping into the effects of sin that often manifest generations later.

Idols Are Useless

The twentieth century in America saw the attempted dethroning of God and the enthroning of the individual in our society. We put ourselves in the place of God. But having put ourselves in the place of God, we are left with no place to turn in times of trouble. We are alone with no hope or help beyond ourselves.
Pathetically those who have dethroned God now turn to government, employers, or their own social movements to gain power through demonstrations and violence, expecting that some transfer of wealth will solve their problems.
In contrast to the loneliness, isolation, and ultimate futility of having no one to turn to beyond yourself, the Bible tells us about the living God who came into the world in Jesus Christ so that you could know Him and share in the triumph of His risen life forever.
The comfort of knowing and belonging to Christ is beautifully expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism, which is a marvelous statement of the Christian faith set out in the form of questions and answers. The first question and answer are as follows:
Q. "What is your only comfort in life and in death?"
A. "That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ."

God's Image in Christ

The reason God places such importance on us not making images to represent Him is that nothing should detract from the one true image of God that we have in Jesus Christ.
God jealously excludes every other image because it is through the one true image that He has made Himself known. God has taken human flesh and entered the world, making Himself known in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one true image of the invisible God. He is the exact representation of God's being (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). That is why Jesus could say, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
· Nothing created can lead you to the Creator.
· You won't find your way to God through an idol.
· You won’t find your way to God through a pyramid or a crystal.
You won’t find your way to God in a quiet brook or an awe-inspiring sunset.
But you can come to God through Jesus, in whom God has drawn near to you. If you will embrace Him, He will embrace you, and that is where eternal life begins.


Are you willing to believe Jesus is God in the flesh and declare Christ as the only way to God? Then expect opposition on earth.
Let God be the "I am who I am," and some will call you intolerant, arrogant, or even a bigot. But others will consider the words of Christ and because of your declaration and the Spirit's power believe the no-holds-barred words of Jesus: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). No matter people's responses, we are to honor the name of the one true God.
Closing Song #382........ “Be Thou My Vision


Hebrews 13:20–21 ESV:2016
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
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