Counterfeit Gods

March 1, 2012

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These are my “book notes” from reading COUNTERFEIT GODS: The empty promises of money, sex, and power and the only hope that matters, by Timothy Keller

“There are more idols in the world than there are realities.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the idols

“The Human heart is an idol factory.”

There is a difference between sorrow and despair. Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consolidation. Despair is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing.

The most famous moral code in the world is the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. The very first commandment is “I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

-anything in life can serve as an idol, a God-alternative, a counterfeit God.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.

Chapter 1 All you’ve ever wanted

-we never imagine that getting our heart’s deepest desires might be the worst thing can ever happen to us.

-Why is getting your heart’s deepest desire so often a disaster? In the book of Romans, Saint Paul wrote that one of the worst things God can do to someone is to give them over to the desires of their hearts. (Romans 1:24) Our hearts fashion these desires into idols. “They worshipped and served the created things rather than the creator. (Romans 1:25)

“The central principle of the Bible is the rejection of idolatry.”

*Story of Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac.

-Ancient cultures were not as individualistic as ours. People’s hopes and dreams were never for their own personal success. These things were only sought for the clan. In ancient times all the hopes and dreams of a man and his family rested in the firstborn son.

-anyone God loves experiences hardship. (Hebrews 12:1-8)

-idols enslave. Offer up the “Isaacs” of our life.

-the most painful times in our lives are times in which our Isaacs, our idols, are being threatened or removed.

“You don’t realize Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

-sometimes God seems to be killing us when he’s actually saving us.

-the Bible is filled with stories of figures such as Joseph, Moses, and David in which God seemed to have abandoned them, but later it is revealed he was dealing with the destructive idols in their lives and that could only have come to pass through their experience of difficulty.

Chapter 2 Love is not all you need

*Story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah in the Old Testament.

“If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (something supernatural and eternal) –C. S. Lewis

Leah’s children: Reuben “to see” Simeon “to hear” Levi “to be attaché” Judah “praise the Lord”

-her focus was first on Jacob’s affection but eventually turned to wanting God’s affection. She was the daughter, the wife that nobody wanted. Just like Jesus, the man nobody wanted. Her lineage would be that of the coming Messiah through Judah.

-both the stereotypically male and female idolatries regarding love are dead ends.

Chapter 3 Money Changes everything

-greed hides itself from the victim.

-the money God’s modus operandi includes blindness to your own heart.

Luke 19:1-2

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

 1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

Luke 12:15

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

For Jesus, greed is not only the love of money, but excessive anxiety about it.

-the Mosaic law made a provision. Leviticus 5:16 and Numbers 5:7 directed that if you have stolen anything, you had to make restitution with interest. You had to give back 20% interest. However, Zacchaeus gave four times the amount which is 300% interest.

Chapter 4 The seduction of success

“Achievement is the alcohol of time.”

-if your success is more than just success to you—-if it is the measure of your value and worth—-then accomplishment in one limited area of life will make you believe you have expertise in all areas. This, of course, leads to all kinds of bad choices and decisions. This distorted view of ourselves is part of the blindness to reality that the Bible says always accomplishes idolatry. (PSALM 135:15-18; Ezekiel 36:22-36.

-the main sign that we are into success idolatry is that we find we cannot maintain our self-confidence in life unless we remain at the top of our chosen field.

*Story of Naaman 2 Kings 5

-God is not an extension of culture but a transformer of culture.

-“just wash yourself” then was a command that was hard because it was so easy.

-the slave girl of Naaman’s wife was the most important character of the story. Even though Naaman was responsible for all that befall her and her family, she says “If only my master will see the prophet.”

-God’s salvation does not require us to do some great thing.

The biblical story of Naaman assaults our worship of success at every point. Naaman to be cured had to accept a word through a servant girl, and later through a servant of Elisha, and finally other servants of his own. In those days such people were treated as no more important than a pet or beast of burden by the high and mighty. Yet God sent his message of salvation through them. The answer came not from the palace but from the slave quarters. 

Chapter 5 The Power and the Glory

-it is the settled tendency of human societies to turn good political causes into counterfeit Gods. We can look at our political leaders as Messiahs, our political policies as saving doctrine, and turn our political activism into a kind of religion.

-one of the signs that an object is becoming an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life. When we center our lives on an idol, we become dependent on it.

*Dutch philosopher Al Wolters taught that in the biblical view of things, the main problem in life is sin, and the only solution is God and his grace. The alternative to this view is to identify something besides sin as the main problem with the world and something besides God as the main remedy. That demonizes something that is not completely bad, and makes an idol out of something that cannot be the ultimate good.

*The original temptation in the Garden of Eden was to resent the limits God had put on us (You shall not eat of the tree Genesis 2:17) and seek to be “as God” by taking power over our own destiny.

*Ideology, like an idol, is a limited, partial account of reality raised to the level of the final word on things. An example of this is communism.

-they view that evil is a by-product of circumstances and therefore can be altered and eliminated.

-human thinking always elevates some finite value or object to be the Answer.

*In Daniel 2 we learn that the most powerful man in the world slept uneasily.

-95% of what sets the course of people’s lives is outside their control. Example: Your parents, the time you were born, etc.

-the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represented the kingdoms of the earth. It appeared as a giant idol. What smashed the idol was a stone. It was from God. Though the stone was less valuable than any of the metals in the statue, it was ultimately the most powerful component. It was as Daniel says, God’s kingdom (verse 44) that would someday be set up on the earth.

-Daniel 4:24-27 This means that anyone who is successful is a recipient of God’s unmerited favor.

-when he looked up, he became even greater than before.

“The way up is to go down; the way down is to go up.”

Chapter 6 The Hidden Idols in our lives

An idol is something we look to for things that only God can give.

*Idols in our religion

-when doctrinal truth is elevated to the position of a false god. This occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing than on /god himself. And his grace. The sign that you have slipped to this kind of self-justification is that you become what the book of proverbs calls a scoffer. Scoffers show contempt and disdain to opponents instead of graciousness.

-another is when we turn our spiritual gifts and ministry success into a counterfeit God.


-Nineveh was the most powerful city in the world, the seat of the Assyrian empire whose military threatened to overrun Israel and its neighbors.

-Jonah had a personal idol. He wanted ministry success more than he wanted to obey God. He also had a cultural idol. He put the natural interests of Israel over obedience to God. Finally, he had a religious idol, simple moral self-righteousness that he felt superior to the wicked, pagan Ninevites.

When God’s love prevented Him from smashing israel’s enemy, Jonah because of his idol, was forced to see God’s love as a bad thing. In the end idol can make it possible to call evil good and good evil. Idol distort not only our thinking, but our feelings

Matt 12;39-41, JESUS the ultimate Jonah

The ending is brilliant and satisfying. Its satisfying because we don’t need to wonder whether Jonah repented and saw the light. Who you would ever tell a story in which he is seen as an evil fool on every page except a man in whom God grace has reached the center of his heart.

Chapter 7 The End of Counterfeit Gods

Idolatry “Though few will own it, nothing is more common.”

*If we think of our soul as a house, idols are set up in every room, in every faculty.

-is there hope? Yes, if we begin to realize that idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. We need a living encounter with God.

*Story of Jacob wrestling with God.

-he was looking to all the wrong places to get the blessing of God.

-he wrestled with God and will not let go until he receives his blessing.

Epilogue: Finding and replacing your idols.

Idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. The fundamental motivation behind law breaking is idolatry. We never break the other commandments before breaking the first one.

Your religion is what you do with your solitude. The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.

Another way to discern your heart’s true love is to look at how you spend your money.

A third way is to check what your reaction is to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes.

Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. Colossians 3:1-5.

*Rejoicing and repentance must go together. Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair. Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration without deep change.

-Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.

*Rejoicing in Christ is also crucial because idols are almost always a good thing. To rejoice is to treasure a thing, to assess its value to you, to reflect on its beauty and importance until your heart rests in it and tastes the sweetness of it.

*The gospel asks, what is operating in the place of Jesus Christ as your real, functional Salvation and Savior?

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