“The human heart is a factory of idols… Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”
– John Calvin
It’s far easier to confess sinful behavior than it is to repent from a sinful heart.
I see this often in conversation with Christians. We recognize our anxiety, impatience, busyness, insecurity, lack of prayer… but we end up religiously trying to fix our behavior rather than attacking the source of our sin, which is idolatry.
Idolatry is extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone. An idol is anything that ranks higher than God in our affections, priorities, thoughts, and desires. An idol can be a good thing (i.e. friends, work, health) that we turn into a “god” thing (an idol)–in which case, it becomes a bad thing (sin).
The depraved human heart is like a factory machine that produces broken products.
In order to fix the products (your fruit), you’ll need to fix the machine (your heart). But first, you need to figure out what your machine is producing.
1. IDENTIFY THE PRODUCT: Name your sin.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
– Galatians 5:22-23
Fruit grows holistically. No one eats a blueberry and thinks, “The color, size, and firmness of this blueberry are perfect, but it’s more sour than a lemon. What a great blueberry.”
Reflect on a period of your life, whether it be the last 24 hours or last 24 years. What is your sin? How do you sin? Name your sin. Confess your sin.
Biblical fruit equals spiritual maturity. You’re only as mature as your weakest traits.
– Darrin Patrick
2. Check the machine: Know your idols.
Your heart “machine” is broken. You bear bad fruit because it’s a result of your broken heart. You need to know how your machine is broken before you can treat it.
Assess your sin to find your idols. When do you sin? Why do you sin? With whom do you sin? Against whom do you sin? In what circumstances are you most tempted to sin?
Surface idols are observable idols. The following list (not exhaustive) contains examples of surface idols:
- Image idolatry – “I must look certain way.”
- Helping idolatry – “People need to depend on me.”
- Work idolatry – “I find worth in productivity.”
- Materialism idolatry – “I must have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and possessions.”
- Inner Ring idolatry – “I must be a part of a particular social or professional group.”
- Family idolatry – “I must have a spouse/family/children.”
Surface idols can likely be identified through the symptoms: if you’re a self-proclaimed workaholic, you likely have work idolatry; if you daydream about marriage all the time, you may have marriage idolatry; etc.
All surface idols, though, are driven by source idols. Based on your personality and experiences, source idols may take more time to be identified. The following contains examples of 4 main source idols:
- Comfort idolatry – You desire ease and pleasure. You avoid stress and demands. You find yourself bored/discontent.
- Approval idolatry – You desire affirmation, praise, sense of worth. You fear rejection. People can feel smothered by you.
- Control idolatry – You desire security, standards, order. You fear uncertainty. Your tendency is to worry/be anxious.
- Power idolatry – You desire success, winning, influence. You fear humiliation and failure. People may feel used by you.
Dig deeply into your past. What motivates you? What drives you? You may find that all four apply; however, typically there is one that hits closer to home than the others.
3. Fix the machine: Believe the gospel, kill your sin.
After identifying your source idol(s), connect your behavioral sins to your source idol(s). Notice how your “bad” behavior (sour blueberries) is deeply rooted in your sinful heart (broken machine).
The better you understand how God has designed you and how your past has shaped you, the more deeply you’ll understand your heart. And as you grow in your understanding of your utterly depraved, idol-producing heart, the more clear your repentance from your idolatry will be.
And as you repent, you will bear more Christ-like fruit: fruit that is good all-around, benefits others, and honors God.
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols”
– 1 John 5:21