Dr. Tim Keller on The Pervasive Influence of Idolatry in the Human Heart

(Nobody has impacted and influenced my understanding of Jesus Christ and God’s amazing grace in the Biblical Gospel than Pastor Tim Keller – you will find more posts by Tim Keller on VLM’s website than any other writer – because nothing is more important than understanding, receiving, and applying the Gospel for closure on our past, present, and future justification and sanctification with the God of the Gospel – And nobody explains the Gospel in a more deep and applicational manner, in my opinion, than Tim Keller – DPC)

“Counterfeit Gods – The Personal Story”

I often get asked how I personally became acquainted with the pervasive influence of idolatry in the human heart.

Like many younger ministers I worked far too many hours, never saying “no” to anyone’s request for my pastoral services. When salary increases were offered to me, I turned them down. When administrative help was offered to me, I declined. I was quite proud of being the kind of person who worked very hard, never complained, and never asked for any help. This regularly brought me into conflict with my wife, who rightly contended that I was neglecting my relationships to her and to my young sons. It also led to health problems, although I was only in my early thirties.

Nevertheless, I continued to feel that the way I was living was noble and good. I believed I was sacrificially committed to the ministry of the Word. I was especially delighted to make sacrifices that nobody saw — not my people or even my family. That made me feel most noble of all. If all this created some problems for me personally, wasn’t that just evidence of how truly devoted I was? It was a very dangerous situation. My future was bleak, though I didn’t know it. In the short run, this kind of ministry workaholism is often rewarded by admiring people all around.

Some well-meaning friends, however, saw the problem and literally “laid the law” on me, showing me that I was violating the commandments of taking Sabbath and of honoring my family. I usually responded with incremental changes that never endured. Others used the modern technique of self-esteem — “You need to think of yourself; you need to do things that make you happy.” I despised that advice as terribly selfish.  I valued self-sacrifice.

It wasn’t until I began to search my heart with the Biblical category of idolatry that I made the horrendous discovery that all my supposed sacrifices were just a series of selfish actions. I was using people in order to forge my own self-appreciation. I was looking to my sacrificial ministry to give me the sense of “righteousness before God” that should only come from Jesus Christ. People make idols out of money, power, accomplishment, or moral excellence. They look to these things to “save them” — to give them the sense of purity, value, and acceptability that only Jesus can give. In my case, I was using ministry (and my own people) in this way.

Without the category of idolatry — a good thing turned into a pseudo-salvation — I would never have been able to see myself. Nothing but the concept of counterfeit gods could have blasted me out of my illusion of virtue and superiority. I thank God for this life-saving insight — though I still struggle mightily with the implementation of what I’ve learned.

*Article Originally posted by Dr. Tim Keller on October 20, 2009 at the excellent resource site: http://redeemercitytocity.com/blog/view.jsp?Blog_param=60

 About Tim Keller and His Absolutely Brilliant Gospel Centered Books:

 In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. New York, Dutton, 2011.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2011.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.



Author: lifecoach4God

I am the Lead Pastor of Marin Bible Church (Bay Area), born and raised in Huntington Beach, Ca., and currently living in Novato, California. I am married to my best friend of 30 years - Dana - and have five adult children; and seven grand children. I have been a Teaching Pastor for over thirty years. I was privileged to study at Multnomah University (B.S. - 1988); Talbot School of Theology (M.Div. - 1991); Westminster Theological Seminary & Northwest Graduate School (D. Min. - 2003). I founded Vertical Living Ministries in 2008 with the goal of encouraging Christian Disciples and Leaders to be more intentionally Christ-Centered in how they live by bringing glory to God in nine key areas of life: (1) Intimacy with God, (2) marriage, (3) family, (4) friendship, (5) vocationally/ministry , (6) emotional and physical health, (7) stewardship of resources, (8) discipleship, and (9) mentoring.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: