“From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols…Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” –John Calvin, Institutes, 1.11.8
I’ve read this quote a few times in books that deal with idolatry. It is no secret that the human heart has a propensity towards idol worship. Calvin is really saying no more than what the apostle Paul said in Romans 1:18-25—because of the fall, humanity worships and services creation instead of the Creator.
We are idolaters. With that statement I agree totally. Furthermore, I believe with Keller, that “idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong”. It’s the root of all our problems.
Yet, I still have to wonder if we aren’t misreading and wrongly applying that Calvin quote. I don’t think “perpetual idol factory” is an accurate description of the heart of one transformed by Jesus Christ. Nor do I think that is what Calvin, or more importantly the apostle Paul, is saying. The reference for Paul—and Calvin after him is one that has not yet been redeemed.
To say that we are still churning out idols at a perpetual rate is, in my mind, to deny the transforming work of the Spirit within us.
The Image I Prefer
I believe the Scriptures teach that we were idolaters, but we have been washed, we were sanctified, we were justified (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). In other words, our idol factory was bought out by Someone else. We have a new owner. The factory that is your heart has a sign on the door that says, “Under New Ownership”.
Yes, you still churn out some of that old product. The new boss hasn’t gutted out the entire place. He hasn’t fired every one. He even uses some of the same machines that used to produce idols. The transition is a slow process. As such the factory sometimes goes back to its old way of working. That’s why you still produce idols.
But it’s still different. When you produce an idol it is now considered a defect. What once was celebrated is now met with disappointment. The Manager calls the workers to the side and disciplines them. He reminds the crew that this factory doesn’t produce idols anymore, and slowly points to the sign that reads, “Under New Ownership”.
Some day all those old machines will be replaced. The workers will no longer even know how to produce idols. The factory will be totally and completely His. And on that day we’ll all rejoice because our new Boss is marvelous. He’s given everything to ensure that this takeover will not result in business as usual. We love our new Boss and want this factory to look exactly as He designed it.
One day it will…
How about you?
Is your heart under new ownership? If you are still churning out idols without rebuke, without battle, then that tells you something. You haven’t been bought yet. You’re still an idol factory. You need a new owner.
You need Jesus.
If your management has changed, let’s stop paying homage to our old boss. Let’s stop pretending that our heart is still an idol factory. It’s not. It’s a former idol factory that is being slowly transformed into a factory that serves it’s new owner. May we not forget that.