Do people make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods! (Jeremiah 16:20)
Oh, how often the children of Israel would chase after false gods—idols of their own imagination—and this sin of idolatry is still alive and well in the hearts of spiritual Israel and all those who call upon the name of our Lord. The great reformer John Calvin once declared that the human heart is “a perpetual factory of idols.” Calvin wrote those words more than five centuries ago, but it is important for you and me to understand what Calvin was saying in order to strengthen our Christian walk today.
Time and time again, the people of Israel erected various idols to worship instead of the one, true, living God. The most memorable of these was the infamous golden calf that is recounted in Exodus 32, but, sadly, this pattern repeated itself throughout the Old Testament, “and the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 2:11). They would turn away from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and worship various make-believe gods. This apostasy would be followed by God’s rebuke, the people’s repentance, and a return to God . . . until they devised a new idol in their sinful hearts.
Finally, the Lord intervened with the promise of a new power that He would give to His people:
I will sprinkle clean water on you; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
When John Calvin spoke of the human heart as an idol-making factory, he was speaking specifically of our natural, unregenerate, unbelieving heart—the heart that is not yet changed and filled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But even the presence of the Spirit of God does not mean we are immune to idolatry. We must be careful not to look down on “the poor heathen” who bow down to a god of stone, while we ourselves worship a god of gold . . . or of power, prestige, position, pleasure, etc. When the unbeliever is raised from death to life, the fleshly heart of stone is exchanged for a new heart of flesh that beats faithfully for the purpose of pleasing God. But that new heart still beats imperfectly! Our fundamental nature has indeed been changed, but all too often our hearts still beat for things smaller than Jesus.
However, to say that the heart of the Christian is a “perpetual factory of idols” would be to shroud the glory of God’s promise of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and to deny the finished work of the cross of Christ. As Christians, our nature has been transformed from depraved to delivered, and that includes deliverance from our natural propensity to manufacture idols. When we slip back into our old patterns of idolatry, the power of the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, causes our repentance, and calls us back into the presence of God.
So whatever “golden calf” you may be dealing with today, take it to Jesus and lay it at His nail-scarred feet. He has promised to deliver you . . . again and again and again.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!