Earlier in this chapter, the Pharisees and scribes accuse Jesus and His disciples of breaking traditions because “they do not wash their hands when they eat.” (Matt. 15:1-2). Washing of the hands was a traditional cleansing ritual done if the person had touched or done something impure. If they did not wash their hands, especially before eating, then it was understood that they defiled themselves. But Jesus contradicts this idea by saying it’s not what goes into the mouth, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person. What comes from the inside, the heart, of a person is what defiles them. Jesus later on uses the example of cleaning a cup to represent this idea (Matt. 23:25-26). They worry about making the outside of the cup (their outward appearance) clean and pretty, but the inside is still dirty. Jesus is worried about our hearts, our spiritual life. Jesus is battling for the purity of our hearts. Our hearts are the battleground of the gods.
The ancient Hebrews considered the heart the center of someone’s identity. Everything flowed from the heart. Not just blood, but personality, motives, emotions, and will flowed from the heart (gods at War, 31). Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” Our hearts are our identities, our life. This is why the gods in our life fight for ownership. God, as we’ll see next week, fights fiercely for it, also. Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37). We should love God with all of our heart, our entire being.
Now, imagine you you’re out on a hike and stumble across a creek where trash has been dumped into it. You can’t stand the sight of it, so you begin to clean it up. You clean up the area pretty nicely, and then you come back the next day to finish up what you missed yesterday. You come back to find that it looks like you did nothing the day before. All of the trash you cleaned up is back. You decide to walk upstream to see where the trash is coming from. There’s a garbage dump emptying into the creek. It’s the source of the trash that you found at that particular area of the creek. To just clean that area won’t fix the problem. It’s a symptom of the problem. You have to fix the source of the problem (gods at War, 32).
We tend to just fix the symptoms of the problems in our lives. If you have a pornography issue, then put blocking software on your computer. If you have an anger problem, take deep breaths or remove yourself from the situation. If you have a weight issue, then join a gym and start dieting. Now, these are all good steps, but they’re still just symptoms of the real problems. As we saw last week, we have to ask ourselves why? Why do I have a porn addiction? Why do I have anger management issues? Why do I have weight problems? What god has won my heart and has become the source of my problems and sins?
An arteriogram is a procedure to determine the health of a heart. A dye is injected into the bloodstream, and then x-rays are taken of the arteries to locate any blockage. A stent is then inserted to remove the blockage or open up the blood vessel to allow normal blood flow again. The problem is that many heart problems are undetected and untreated because they symptoms don’t seem relevant. People may suffer from insomnia, pains, loss of appetite, or other issues. But they seek medical attention for the symptoms not realizing it is a heart issue. Until the heart issue is fixed, the other issues will not go away (gods at War, 36).
We must do a spiritual arteriogram on ourselves to discover the health of our heart. So, in addition to asking “why?”, we need to ask “what” and “where?”. This is our “dye” following the symptoms to the actual problem (gods at War, 36-40).
What Disappoints You?
Erwin Lutzer writes, “Have you ever thought that our disappointments are God’s way of reminding us that there are idols in our lives that must be dealt with?” (Managing Your Emotions, 109). Our disappointment can reveal that something has become way more important to us than it should.
What do You Complain about the Most?
This is similar to the last. The last question looks inward, and this one looks outward. You can probably ask a friend’s or spouse’s input on this one. What we complain about can show what is really important to us. Kyle Idleman says:
Whining, in many ways, is the opposite of worshiping the Lord. Worship is when we glorify God for who he is and acknowledge what he had done for us, but whining is ignoring who God is and forgetting what he had done for us. (gods at War, 38)
Where do You make Financial Sacrifices?
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21. Where is your money going? Is it going to things that can be used better elsewhere? What we spend the most money on can often be a sign of what god is winning our heart.
What Worries You?
Whatever it is that wakes you, or keeps you up at night, can very well be an idol in your life.
Where is Your Sanctuary?
Where do you go when you’re hurting or emotional? Psalm 46:1-2 states that God is our refuge and strength, but we often forget this and run to other things. Do we run to the refrigerator after a bad day? Do you escape into television, video games, or pornography? Where we find emotional rescue is probably an idol in our lives.
What Infuriates You?
We all have something that gets us heated. Are you so competitive that you can’t stand your team losing? How do you respond in traffic when you’re cut off, someone drives too close or too fast? What is your reaction when you’re embarrassed or disrespected? Maybe our quick tempers reveal the idol of me.
What are Your Dreams?
Aspirations are great. It’s okay to have goals in our life, but do our dreams consume us? Is our motivation for these goals to give God glory, or is to gain glory, fame, and fortune for ourselves.
Our hearts are the battleground of the gods. What gods are winning yours? Will you let the Lord God have your heart? He wants and deserves every inch of it. I want to encourage you to find out the idols in your life and return your heart to the Lord God. If you have never given it to the Lord God before, then let this be a new day for you. Let today be the day that you allow the Lord God to have victory over your life.
Idleman, Kyle. Gods at War: Defeating the Idols That Battle for Your Heart. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2013. $15