It’s Not What You Think – Week 7

Bible Passage: Romans 1:18-32

Big Idea of Message:

Worship’s not what you think: You Become What You Behold

 1   START

Review Session 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 before introducing Session 7.


There are countless stories of athletes who had to retire early because of a career ending injury. Brandon Roy. Sterling Sharpe. Chris Spielman. Bo Jackson. Yao Ming. Terrell Davis. Danny Manning. Daunte Culpepper. When these injuries happen, we lose a huge part of our identity in a flash. We don’t realize how much we value something until it’s gone. Money. Time. Energy. Worship. When you get your worth from something, it is your god, your functional savior. You would never say that at the moment, but the rest of life points to it.

Go back to the Garden scene. Humans are put in a unique space. We are below the Creator, but above the creation. Created in God’s image, meaning we had a capacity that no one else did. We had the weight of reflecting the very person who spun the earth into existence.

Think about mirrors that are slanted at 45 degrees. We were created to stand in this middle place. God’s glory, love, and likeness shine down on us, and like any slanted mirror should, we reflect that goodness and beauty out into the word. The reverse is true as well. It is our job as image-bearers — to be gardeners, as Adam was before he ate the fruit. We are to take raw materials, make something creative and beautiful, and offer that to God as worship. Gardeners shape, cultivate, plant, and bring value to something that before had no value. To take sounds of instruments and make music. To take vegetables and herbs and make a beautiful meal. To take paint and canvas and make art. And that’s the definition of a priest — someone who takes something and offers it as praise on behalf of others to God. Our job is to take the world, beauty out of chaos, and offer back to God, as worship.

Our job is to take the world, beauty out of chaos, and offer back to God, as worship.

God in the garden called us to cultivate by holding that mirror at a 45-degree angle. It’s a two-way thing. Something comes down and reflects out, and something comes from out and reflects up. When we reflect the beauty and goodness of the Creator out into the world, we are fulfilling this, and when we take the world and offer it through that mirror up to God, we are doing this as well.

But, the minute that Adam and Eve ate the fruit, that mirror shattered. It still might give a reflection of some sort, but we all know broken mirrors certainly don’t give accurate reflections. We no longer reflect God, but are like broken shards of glass reflecting that very first sin: the desire to be like God. We reflect evil, chaos, power, greed, corruption, addiction.

This all comes back to worship. How? When sin happened and the cosmos broke, a vacuum was created. Our life was in shalom. We were in a flourishing garden and earth with beauty, art, and amazing color. We were fully human. We knew God and walked with him in the garden in the cool of the day. We were orbiting around God and everything he offers — goodness, beauty, peace, and rhythm. But when the fracture happened, that center of ours became void. It got replaced. And like any good vacuum, stuff started getting sucked into that center. God was no longer in our hearts, so it was easy to let the first thing we came across to take its place. We took creation and elevated above the creator. The very things we were created to dominate now dominates us. The things we were to create and cultivate now enslave and rule us.

Romans 1:18-32

18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
24 Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.

26 For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.
28 And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. 29 They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 senseless, untrustworthy, unloving,, and unmerciful. 32 Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die,—they not only do them, but even applaud, others who practice them.

Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Ro 1:18–32.

The rule of the garden had been reversed. We no longer had dominion, we had slavery. And that is still happening today. Everything is asking for our all: Sex. Beauty. Security. Athletics. Money. Self-worth. Searching for these outside of God becomes our everything. Soccer wasn’t my sport — it was my god — and there’s a big difference. Idol: Something that promises to fulfill what only God truly can. It calls on our good desires – for love, intimacy, fullness, purpose- but then turns them from a good thing to a god thing. It puts the fulfillment of desire on a throne and then becomes our master.

Idol: Something that promises to fulfill what only God truly can. Idols are what consume you instead of you being consumed by God. “[An idol is] anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.”

We are statues sent from the capital.

When an ancient capital city is excavated, it’s rare to find statues of whatever god or king ruled there. Rome had hardly any statues of Caesar. Most statues were found in colonies far from the capital. Statues or images are ways of saying who is in charge. Whether it’s a huge statue or a face on a coin, the people know who is their lord when they see his face — even in a place he may never have visited. The statue set up in a colony 1000 miles from Rome is a way of saying Caesar is Lord. It serves as a reflection and a reminder. And so are we.

We are living, breathing statues on earth as image-bearers of who is in charge. The problem is that, unlike statues, we can turn around and say no. No, I don’t want to worship you. No. I don’t want to represent you. No. I don’t want to reflect you. That’s when the Bible says phrases like God “gave us over” to false gods, idols, and worship of the creation instead of the Creator.


  1. We are no longer able to properly reflect him.
  2. We become like the idols we worship.

If for some reason Rome gave up a colony and let it be, and it no longer gave maintenance or cleaned the statues, they would deteriorate and crumble. When statues are cut off from the source, they don’t realize they are cutting themselves off from the very thing that gives them their being. If Rome writes off a few statues and no longer takes care of them or “gives them over” to themselves, those statues quickly will no longer be representing Rome. They will simply be rubble and a pile of marble or stone.

When we decide to worship something besides God, that same thing happens to us. Romans 1:24 says that God delivered us over to the desires of our hearts, and we began to degrade. We begin to lose the thing that makes us human. Our humanness begins to crumble. As image bearers, we have weight, but when we abdicate that responsibility, we lose that weight. Our glory begins to fall. We become ruins of what he created us to be.

Now, of course, we never fully lose that image while we are alive. No matter how hard you scratch, gnaw, or pull, you can’t get the image of God off you fully. There’s still glory residue, regardless of how hard you try. But the principle that is impossible to escape is we can’t be image neutral — we will reflect, or we become more and more like something or someone.

When heaven crashes down on earth, it looks like we are reflecting and imaging God’s very own self in us. But to keep God from coming close, the only thing we have to do is worship something else as ultimate. Like the statue, it immediately cuts us off from the source and takes away our humanness.

Either we worship God and become like him, or we worship something else and become like it. When baseball is your life, you, at some point, realize that you become defined by your statistics. Your very person begins being defined by the numbers. You aren’t a human regardless of how you play on the baseball field; on bad days, worthless, on good days, puffed up.

Sex as on idol.

Porn takes you down a path of promise, followed by despair. We might refer to ourselves as Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist, but the biggest religion in the world is sexual fulfillment. Our society is so entrenched, so addicted, it’s blinding us.

  • 2.5 billion emails per day are pornographic
  • 25% of search-engine requests are porn related
  • Sex and porn and among the top 5 search items for kids under 18
  • 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic

Sex is a god. And like any god, when you worship it, you become like it. Psalm 115:8 says, “Those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.”

Whatever you behold, you become like. Whatever you worship, you turn into. Whatever you turn your gaze to, it rubs off on you. Everything becomes colored by the idol. So many guys today don’t see women as made in the image of God with inherent worth, dignity, and value. Instead, they see them as objects. Dehumanized because of all the hours they spent on screens watching their fantasies feed that lie. Women are simply there to satisfy men’s desires. But little do they realize that when they dehumanize a girl, they, too, become hollow. Their humanness begins to decay. They become objects themselves. They erode their dignity, beauty, and the residue of God’s image and become a pawn or commodity.

When you worship sex, you don’t see humans, you see objects.

When you worship money, you don’t see humans, you see transactions.

When you worship power, you don’t see humans, you see pawns.

And in turn, you become like those things.

We all worship something.

People tend to like Jesus. People tend to enjoy hearing about his grace and have no qualms about some of his teaching. But people get upset when they realize that Jesus asked for everything. When Jesus tells people to give up everything — how dare he? Who does he think he is? They always freak out because they thought Jesus had no right to ask for everything from them. To put their whole lives, desires, and passions at his feet.

But why do they only get upset with Jesus? Everything asks for everything. Everything asks for your life. For your all. For every last drop of your allegiance. Power does. Sexual fulfillment does. Athletics do. Your significant other does. Your job does. Jesus isn’t unique in that way. Where he’s unique is that he gave up everything first. All those things use fear and false promises to force us to get what they want.

Jesus is the only one who lays his life down first, before he asks for yours. He pursues. He dies. He gives up everything and then calls us to himself. There’s no force, only wooing. His love is so great that it compels us to lay down our lives in return. The only appropriate response when we understand just how great his sacrifice was for us. God makes the point in Psalm 115 that when we cry out to idols, they can’t save us. They’re dead. The paradox of an idol, unlike Jesus, is that worshipers gives it power. We are the ones who give it life. Alcohol can only be a god if we make it one. Money can only be a god if we worship it. But Jesus is King and Lord regardless of what we do.

Some of us, instead, still settle for idols, even though we don’t realize it. We laugh at the imagery of the OT, as if we are more enlightened and would never do anything so foolish. Yet, nothing has changed except for the clothes idols wear.

When is the last time that the alcohol really satisfied? When’s the last time it forgave you? Gave you joy? Fully loved you? It can’t. We crafted it with our own hands.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that an idol can be anything. It can be good things like relationships or work. The problem is that even good things can become “god” things.

Young people are tempted to orbit their lives around significant others. Suddenly, a switch flips in the heart, and we begin to get our satisfaction, worth, and identity from that person.

God is against idols because when the pieces of life are in their proper place, we can enjoy him and those things best. When we make another person an idol, we end up squeezing life out of them. Only one person has the ability to sustain being God, and that’s Jesus.

Idols are fickle. Be it a person, alcohol, sex, anything — they all make for cruel gods. When it’s sports, when your stats go up and down, when it causes your identity to go up and down — it is ruthless. Yet, God is constant. Always forgiving. Always loving. Never changing. Who are we going to worship?

One of the biggest traits of an idol is that we are blinded to it. It seems normal to us. That’s the allure and power of an idol. We don’t usually know we have one unless it gets attacked or taken away. The easiest way to find an idol is to poke it. If it’s an idol, it’ll show its teeth. It’ll bark back — they always do.

But Jesus didn’t need defending. He never defended himself but gave himself up as an offering and in the process defeated evil (at the moment when everyone thought evil had won)! Spurgeon said it best:

“The gospel is like a caged lion. It does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage.”


The mystery of Jesus is like the mystery in Revelation 5. He’s called the Lion of Judah, but when John looks, he sees a lamb slaughtered. Jesus is a powerful, victorious lion who achieved that victory by the act of the lamb who was slain.

May we be people who, similar to the creatures around the throne in Revelation, worship the Lamb and sing his praise: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb / be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”


Worship’s not what you think: You Become What You Behold


So how do we identify and kill the idols in our lives?

The reason idolatry is listed first in the Ten Commandments is because idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. As Tim Keller points out, “We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one.” The secret to change, then, is always to identify and dismantle the basic idols of the heart.

Dismantling our idols, however, is often difficult because we don’t want to expose them. We don’t want to admit—even to ourselves—that we’ve made an idol out of our politics, our work, our relationships, or our comfort. It’s easier to rationalize that they’re not really idols at all, merely good things we sometimes focus on too much.

Not everything that we love is an idol, of course; there is much in creation that we’ve been given for our enjoyment. We can appreciate the gifts of God without making them a replacement for him. But if they are the first things our mind turns to, then you may have identified a problem area.

  • Examine your imagination. What do you daydream about? When your mind wanders, is it to material goods, like fishing or vacations? Or intangible items like fame or approval of peers?
  • Examine your attention. What are the times you would rather be doing something else rather than practicing a spiritual discipline. What would you rather be doing instead?
  • Examine your finances. How do you spend your disposable income? For what goods or services are you likely to go into debt to finance?
  • Examine your prayer life. How do you feel when God doesn’t respond to your prayers in the way you wanted? Do you trust he knows best? Or do you get angry and bitter?
  • Examine your relationships. What person do you love most? What person do you want to please most?
  • Examine your emotions. What do you worry about? What makes you most anxious? What do you fear losing?
  • Examine your past and future. If you had a time machine, what would you use it to change? What makes you nostalgic? What are your biggest regrets? What do you want to happen in your future? What would cause despair if it didn’t come to fruition?

Exodus 20:3

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

Exodus 20:4  

“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.”

Psalm 135:15-17

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.

Habakkuk 2:18

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!

Isaiah 37:19

And have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed.

Leviticus 26:1

“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God.

Hebrews 13:5

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Jonah 2:8

Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.

10 Common Idols

Self. I filter everything through the lens of how it affects me, and in social settings, my focus usually lands on myself.

Security. Modern-day idols often arise from really good things and even necessary things. The problem comes when we attempt to fill our needs by our own strength apart from God. Our efforts will always be insufficient, our hearts will remain empty, and we’ll keep grasping.

Approval. It’s normal to want to belong. We’re created as social beings. The problem is when we place our desire to be liked above our relationship with God. When we fail to obey when prompted, whether that means speaking truth or reaching out to the marginalized, for fear of what others might think, we fall into the trap of idolatry. Matt 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Relationships. No human can fill the empty places of our hearts. In fact, when we seek fulfillment from others, be it children, spouses, friends, and we elevate those above God, we end up depleted.

Success. First question we ask people: What do you do? We’re enslaved by the idol of success and when asked “what we do” we either feel insecurity or pride. As soon as we find ourselves listing our accomplishments in effort to prove our worth or gain respect. But God measures success on obedience, not results. Our identity is and must be found in Christ alone.

Wealth. Whatever we feed, grows. What we starve, begins to die. More toys. More gadgets. More promises to fulfill and entertain. But eventually, all things will lose their allure and leave us grasping for the next best thing. (See Mark 10:17-21).

Health. Almost all of these idols are interested in that it’s not usually the “god” we cling to as much as what we hope it will provide. We guard the idol of self out of fear of harm or fulfillment. We hold countless false securities for fear of want. We fight for others approval and obsess over human relationships for fear of rejection or loneliness. It’s good to do what we can to improve health. Increase strength and energy. Enhance productivity. But when we shift from a tool to an object of worship, we’ve crossed the line. Ask: Which do I think of more — my weight or my Savior? Do I more readily clear my schedule for a gym workout or a Bible study meeting? Our schedule usually reveal where our deepest love and loyalties lie.

Food. Scripture says that every good and perfect gift comes from God and is designed to bless us and draw us closer to the Gift giver. Unfortunately, we are fickle and easily swayed so that we trade intimacy with the Savior for the momentary rush of a sugar high. C.S. Lewis said, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak… like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The solution isn’t to forsake pleasure, but to set our hearts on the One who is the source of all that is good, right, fulfilling, and pleasurable.

Intellect. I want to be smart. But I also want other people to think that I am. Over time, my God-given drive to learn morphed into pride and self-elevation. My Bible reading became an academic pursuit. I cross-reference and digest knowledge, but starve my heart. God gives us intelligence and curiosity to make sure of it — for worship. As we investigate our world, we’ll discover its Creator and hold Him in awe. When surrendered to Him, our studies become acts of worship that bind us to the Creator. Intellectual pursuits, apart from Him, are not only futile, but dangerous.

Comfort. I like to be comfortable. Just the right lighting. Just the right music. Just the right food. Just the right smells. I enjoy ice cream and weighted blankets. I prefer extra sleep over pretty much anything. I prefer vacation to labor. I prefer sitting with friends at church over enduring the social awkwardness to reach out to the strangers. I often elevate my comfort over my obedience — over the gospel.

What are your idols?

Why ladder:

Why do you do what you do? Why is your calendar the way it looks? Keep asking why and being honest with yourself until you come face to face with your idol.

Worship’s not what you think: You Become What You Behold




No day of my life has passed that has not proved us guilty in your sight. Prayers have been uttered from prayerless hearts; praise has been often praiseless sounds; our best services are filthy rags. Blessed Jesus, let us find security in your appeasing wounds. Though our sins rise to heaven, your merits soar above them; though unrighteousness weighs us down to hell, your righteousness exalts us to your throne. All things in us call for our rejection. All things in you plead our acceptance. We appeal from the throne of perfect justice to your throne of boundless grace. Grant us to hear your voice assuring us: that by your stripes we are healed, that you were bruised for our iniquities, that you have been made sin for us, that we might be righteous in you, that our grievous sins, our manifold sins, are all forgiven, buried in the ocean of your concealing blood. We are guilty, but pardoned, lost but saved, wandering, but found, sinning, but cleansed. Give us perpetual broken-heartedness, keep us always clinging to your cross. Flood us every moment with descending grace. Open to us the springs of divine knowledge, sparkling like crystal, flowing clear and unsullied through our wilderness of life. We love you, help us trust you.

(The Valley of Vision, pgs. 150-151)


Source: It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die (Jefferson Bethke)