Thursday, November 27, 2014

Image Is Everything

Part 2 of Keep Yourselves from Idols

Text: Romans 1:18-25

You can listen to this sermon here.



[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:23). 

Those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).


A Foolish Trade 

Have you ever made a bad trade?

In Romans 1, the apostle Paul declares that those who worship idols have made a foolish trade. He writes that idolaters “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (v. 23). Paul also states that idolaters “exchanged the truth for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25).

Idolatry is the worship of a God-substitute. Idolaters exchange the worship of God for the worship of a substitute.


Resembling Our God

How does our worship—either of God or an idol—affect us?

Paul was probably thinking of Psalm 106:19-20 when he wrote verse 23: “They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” The psalmist is referring to the golden calf incident. After God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, they “made a golden calf” (Exod. 32:4) and “worshiped it” (Exod. 32:8).

The worship of the golden calf took place while Moses was receiving God’s commands for the Israelites. And what were the first two commands? First, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). And, second, “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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exod. 20:4-5).

After the Israelites made and worshiped the golden calf, God described them as “a stiff-necked people” (Exod. 32:9; cf. 33:3, 5; 34:9; 2 Chron. 30:8; Neh. 9:16, 17, 29; Jer. 7:26; Acts 7:51). The golden calf would have been a bull (an ox?), a stiff-necked animal. The Israelites resembled their idol. [1] Psalm 115:8 says, “Those who make [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them” (cf. Ps. 135:18; Isa. 42:17-20). This is true for both traditional idolaters and idolaters of the heart. 

We become like what we worship. 

We were not made to worship and resemble an idol; we were made to worship and resemble God. Genesis 1:26 says that God made us “in [his] image, after [his] likeness.” When we worship idols, God’s image in us is distorted. Idolatry is a distortion of reality. Idolaters think they are wise, but they’re really fools. Traditional idolaters pray to idols who “have ears, but do not hear” (Ps. 115:6). Idolaters of the heart seek happiness in things that can’t satisfy. Paul says that idolaters “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18; cf. vv. 21-22).


Ruin and Restoration

In his book We Become What We Worship, G. K. Beale writes, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” [2] In Romans, the Greek word for “image” (eikon) occurs twice: “images [i.e., idols] resembling moral man and birds and animals” (1:23) and “the image of [God’s] Son” (8:29). Idols ruin God’s image in us. God restores his image in us.

Idolatry is really the root of all sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they doubted the goodness of God. They thought that God was withholding something from them that would make them happy. The serpent said to Eve, “God knows that when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4). Adam and Eve made knowledge an idol, desiring to eat the fruit more than desiring to obey God. Their idolatry brought ruin to their lives. And Adam became like his idol, acting like a know-it-all when con-fronted by God about his disobedience (Gen. 3:12).

When we give our hearts to God, he begins to restore his likeness in us. 

Do you want to know what God’s image looks like? It looks like Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). For God to restore his image in us means to make us like Jesus: “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). The gospel is the story of God’s restoration plan.


Image Is Everything

Back in the ‘90s, Andre Agassi used to be on Canon camera (EOS Rebel) commercials, and the slogan was “Image is everything.” The image that Agassi portrayed in those commercials seems kind of silly today.


For God, image is everything. He made us to be like him. He made us to know him. When we trade God for idols, we further distort his image in us. In the end, there will be ruin.

Salvation is not just about delivering us from God’s wrath against our sin. It’s also about restoring us. Contrary to popular opinion, obeying and imaging God is the path to true happiness.


[1] The Israelites repeatedly acted in a stiff-necked manner in the wilderness, refusing to obey God. This was espe-cially seen when they refused to enter the promised land.
[2] G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, 16.