We may not have carved an image to worship lately, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have idols in our lives. Our idols are much more subtle.
I had an interesting conversation on this very topic with Bible teacher, Jen Wilkin, while in the green room at a Lifeway Women Live event, and she does a great job explaining what an idol is, how they show up in our lives today, and the unsuspecting ways we worship them.
You’ll learn about single-hearted worship, joyful obedience, and leaving all the trappings of Egypt behind. This is a straight up Bible teacher giving some straight up biblical wisdom, so get ready!
Jen Wilkin is an author and Bible teacher from Dallas, Texas. She’s an advocate for Bible literacy, and her passion is to see others become articulate and committed followers of Christ who display a clear understanding of why they believe what they believe. She’s written lots of books and Bible studies including two studies on the book of Exodus, which are the ones we’re talking about today.
Oh, and I should mention one more thing…
As Jen and I recorded this conversation, evidently we weren’t alone. Jackie Hill Perry’s cell phone was hanging out with us in the green room, so as Jackie comes in to search for it, she starts chatting with us … until she sees our microphones! Ha! So, you’ll hear an audio cameo of Jackie half-way through, right about when Jen and I are talking about the attributes of God. You’ll just have to listen for it.
Jennifer’s Highlights and Take-Aways
Because we haven’t carved an image lately, we can wrongly think we don’t have idols. But Jen defined an idol as “anything we put in the place where God belongs,” so our idols are much more subtle. When we worship ourselves in the place of God, or we draw the worship that is due Him toward ourselves, we have an idol because we’ve put something in the place of God.
For example, Jen explained that only God is omniscient, meaning He’s “all-knowing” or holds all knowledge. But, as someone who desires knowledge, I love my phone because it gives me all kinds of knowledge at my fingertips. And while my phone hasn’t become an idol, I have to be careful to not put myself in the place of God as the one who is all-knowing. Otherwise, I can create an idol of knowledge.
Jen further explained that when we try to draw worship that only belongs to God to ourselves, we don’t actually remove God from the throne and replace Him. Instead, we create a “both/and” relationship with Him, which is adding an idol to our worship. But, we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
For example, Jen said we often try to worship our own ambitions along with God. But these “God plus fill-in-the-blank” relationships are where we see the most damage. We should not be divided, and the “On Worship” section below will help you understand why.
Another reason we fall into idolatry is because we want the sense of sovereignty and being in charge. But, we often find ourselves totally enslaved by the thing we wanted to possess. And in our attempt to be in control, we desire to find a “safe” way to worship God, meaning we want Him to be containable, consumable, or even measurable. But God isn’t any of these things. This is a misunderstanding of the image of God.
Jen takes us back to the Old Testament book of Exodus, sharing the backstory of the famine that brought the Hebrew people to Egypt to begin with. She described the rise of Joseph, and then … the rise of a pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph (Exodus 1:8). Consequently, the Hebrew people were seen as a threat and enslaved.
She explained how each plague during the Exodus represented a toppling of an Egyptian deity, meaning each plague flew in the face of one of the gods worshiped in Egypt. Did you realize that?
Jen said, “Israel isn’t just being set free from slavery in Egypt, but they are being taken out of an idolatrous nation to be a nation that serves the one true God.”
Oh, girl, I get goosebumps thinking about this! The plagues don’t just bring judgment on the Egyptians for their worship of false gods, but judgment on the gods themselves.
Jen also describes the book of Exodus as a birth narrative…
The Hebrews were to remain slaves forever unless God delivered them miraculously. And miraculous intervention came! Jen described how they were brought out through blood and water (blood on the doorpost and water of the Red Sea) and birthed as a nation on the other side of the Red Sea. Then God draws his newly-born people to walk with Him and gives them the law to set them apart.
Does this sound at all familiar to our story on the other side of the cross?
Jesus was born of blood and water and gives us miraculous intervention (1 John 5:6). We are born again (John 3:3) and are called to be set apart for his purposes (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), in much of the same way as the Israelites.
The obedience God desires is a joyful obedience out of gratitude, not a grudging obedience out of fear. And anytime we think obedience to the law has anything to do with earning God’s favor, we have slipped back into legalism.
The difference between legalism and lawfulness is the motive of the heart. The legalist tries to earn God’s favor or put God in his debt. But Jen explained that those who are lawful are so thankful that they have acceptance—meaning a positional righteousness through Christ—that they want to live lives of practical righteousness. They want to try to be holy because He is holy. They want to look like Christ by obeying like Christ obeyed.
So all acceptance, righteousness, and holiness is not of ourselves, it’s of God. It’s “not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
Jen also described how we can get into a “Christian Karma” way of thinking, such as, “If I do this … then God will do that.” But, our obedience does not obligate God toward us. He is never obliged to us, but is owed obedience simply because He is our Creator.
God demands our allegiance, and Jen explained that it’s not right for our worship to be divided; it’s not good for us either. There can be no such thing as divided worship because we remove ourselves from reality when we try.
The command saying, “You will have no other gods” is not God hogging all the attention, but as Jen said, “He is inviting us into reality because, in reality, there are no other gods.” So, accepting the invitation into reality is what keeps us from being, what Scripture calls, “the double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8)
Oh, sister, accepting the invitation into reality is accepting the invitation to worship the one true God, and that’s what keeps us stable.
Sometimes we may wonder why we feel like a mess, always experiencing a tug of war on the inside. And perhaps it’s because we’re trying to conform to worshiping two gods, but we can’t. It’s not possible, and we aren’t made for that.
So, my friend, with Jen’s reminder of who God is, and who you are in Him, I hope you realize that you can leave Egypt behind. You can give full allegiance, obedience, and worship to the one true God who gives you new life because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
[Listen to the podcast using the player above, or read the transcript below. Then check out the links below for more helpful resources.]
Books & Bible Studies by Jennifer Rothschild
More from Jen Wilkin
- Visit Jen’s website
- God of Deliverance: A Study of Exodus 1-18
- God of Freedom: A Study of Exodus 19-40
- Follow Jen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
Links Mentioned in This Episode
- Starbucks Verona Coffee
- Jackie Hill Perry’s Book – Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him
Related Blog Posts
- Can I Obey God No Matter What? [Episode 86]
- Can I See the Hard Things as Good Things? With Ann Voskamp [Episode 54]
- Do You Have an Idol Hidden in Your Closet?
- Can I Loosen My Grip of Control? With Shannon Popkin [Episode 154]
- Can I Seek God More Than I Seek Control? With Angie Smith [Episode 13]
- Don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to the 4:13 Podcast here.
- Were you encouraged by this podcast? Reviews help the 4:13 Podcast reach more women with the “I can” message. Click here to leave a review on iTunes.
4:13 Podcast: Can I Leave Egypt Behind? With Jen Wilkin [Episode 188]
Jennifer Rothschild: I had an interesting conversation with author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin. We were backstage at a LifeWay Women Live event. We're talking about idols and single-hearted worship and leaving all the trappings of Egypt behind. And you're going to want to hear this, because right in the middle of it, Jackie Hill Perry shows up. This is a straight-up Bible teacher giving some straight-up biblical wisdom today, so get ready for a great podcast. K.C., it's time to go.
K.C. Wright: Welcome, welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and biblical wisdom set you up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Now, your host, Jennifer Rothschild.
Jennifer Rothschild: Hello, our friends. So glad you're here today. Two friends, one topic, zero stress.
K.C. Wright: Did you say zero stress?
Jennifer Rothschild: I said zero.
K.C. Wright: We must be podcasting from --
Jennifer Rothschild: From the closet.
K.C. Wright: Yeah, from the closet.
Jennifer Rothschild: From the closet.
K.C. Wright: But you know what? I like it in here because there's no clocks --
Jennifer Rothschild: No.
K.C. Wright: -- there's no stress --
Jennifer Rothschild: No.
K.C. Wright: -- and it's just us and you listening right now.
Jennifer Rothschild: That's right. And in here, it's full with the fragrance of coffee.
K.C. Wright: Fresh coffee. Oh, man. Jennifer's house always smells so good. When you walk in, you're either hit with a wonderful candle that makes you want to say, "Jennifer, where'd you get that candle?"
Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.
K.C. Wright: And I'm a dude asking about a candle. What's going on there? But it smells so good. Or there's this coffee aroma.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.
K.C. Wright: Yes.
Jennifer Rothschild: And this one today that we're both drinking is Verona from Starbucks, which is my all-time favorite. I'll tell you guys, no matter what you're doing right now, if you're driving, you ought to just swing through and get yourself some coffee and enjoy some coffee with us. Or hopefully you're at home. And if you're busy cleaning something, you should just stop, sit down and give yourself a break, have a cup of coffee with me and K.C., because we're about to get into a great conversation with Jen Wilkin. And I mentioned at the top that this was from a LifeWay Women Live event. So there were several authors there and I got to interview several.
And so today you're going to get to hear from Jen Wilkin. We were back in the green room. But evidently when we were in the green room, evidently that was exactly where Jackie Hill Perry had left her phone. So here we're in in the middle of this conversation, and halfway through you hear this voice, and she's talking to herself or to us -- I'm not sure who she's talking to -- about trying to find her phone, until she realizes that we are talking with microphones, and suddenly she gets really quiet. So I couldn't hear what she said. Maybe you'll hear it. But we kept talking. So you'll just need to notice. It was right about when Jen and I were talking about the attributes of God. So you'll have to listen for it. It will make you grin.
Speaking of the attributes of God, one of the messages that Jackie Hill Perry gave at that event was on the glory of God, and it was so good. So I highly recommend both those ladies, Jackie Hill Perry and Jen Wilkin. So we're going to tune in and hear Jen today.
K.C. Wright: Well, let's do it. Jen Wilkin is the author and Bible teacher from Dallas, Texas. She's an advocate for Bible literacy. Her passion in life is to see others become articulate and committed followers of Christ, with a clear understanding of why they believe what they believe. She's written lots of books and Bible studies, including two Bible studies on the book of Exodus that she and Jennifer are talking about this very day. So let's head there now.
Jennifer Rothschild: Jen, I think Christians sometimes get confused by, intimidated by this whole thing of idolatry. Okay? So I know, like, when I hear the word, it triggers this, Oh, no, I got to do idol inventory. What are my idols? I'm sure there's something I am, you know -- okay. So I want to just kind of talk about that. In essence, just by definition, what an idol is theoretically, and then in the Bible, of course, and how they show up in our lives. So we can kind of just seriously do a little bit of inventory and then I want to move us past that.
Jen Wilkin: Yeah. I mean, an idol is anything that we put in the place where God belongs. And more often than not, I think we think about the way the Bible talks about these literal carved images, or something like that, and so we think, Oh. Well, when I'm thinking about breaking God's law, I haven't carved an image and I haven't bowed down to something that wasn't God physically, so I'm good on this one.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.
Jen Wilkin: But our idols are, of course, just more subtle. They are the ways -- and I think it's often not just that we are worshiping something outside of ourselves, it's that we are actually attempting to worship ourselves in the place of God or to draw worship that is due to God toward us. So only God is omniscient, only he holds all knowledge. But when I love that cell phone, that smartphone, because it gives me all knowledge, it gives me the feeling of omniscience, then it's not just that I have created an idol out of acquiring knowledge, it's that I have put myself in the place of God as the one who can handle that.
Jennifer Rothschild: So it's interesting you use the word worship, anything that I worship instead of -- okay. So I don't hold up my cell phone and saying "How Great Thou Art" to it --
Jen Wilkin: Right.
Jennifer Rothschild: -- right?
Jen Wilkin: Mm-hmm.
Jennifer Rothschild: So tell me what it means to worship.
Jen Wilkin: I mean -- I think one of the ways to think about it with regard to idolatry is Jesus' words where he says that the eye is the lamp of the body. And if you look at the pattern of giving into temptation in the Scriptures -- like, we want to tell ourselves that the problem with sin, or when we start to wander towards sin, is when we feel the desire. Like, we say that's the starting point.
But if you look at the record in the Bible, that's actually not the pattern that it's showing us. It starts with seeing. The pattern is see, want, take. It's a pattern you see with Eve, it's a pattern that you see with Achan when he sees and desires and takes the treasure and hides it. You see it with David. He sees and he wants and he takes Bathsheba. And so even an example of, like, the cell phone, it's what we give our eyes to. And I mean that in a literal and in a spiritual sense. It's where are we focusing our gaze. And, of course, the Scriptures tell us that we should fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. I've never heard it put that way, the see, want, take. That's an interesting thing for all of us to really consider, what is it that grabs my attention and causes me to just fix my gaze on it. And then it moves toward the want and then it ends with the tape.
Jen Wilkin: Yeah, it does.
Jennifer Rothschild: And then you find out how empty it feels. Okay, so -- and that kind of feeling reminds me of this feeling of just bondage, just not being in charge anymore. I mean, that's usually why we fall into a sense of idolatry, is because we want this sense of sovereignty and being in charge.
Jen Wilkin: Right.
Jennifer Rothschild: And then we find ourselves totally enslaved by the thing we wanted to possess, not unlike these folks that you're teaching about in the Book of Exodus. Okay? So take us back to Exodus and you've got the Jewish people enslaved. And some of our listeners might not know why they're in Egypt to begin with, so give us a little backstory.
Jen Wilkin: Yeah. So they went there because of the famine. Joseph wanted to take care of the family of his father, of Jacob and all of Jacob's sons, and so he invites them to Egypt where he is ruling. And then the Book of Exodus opens with the somewhat menacing phrase that there arose a pharaoh who did not know Joseph. And their fortunes change in Egypt and they become enslaved. They become a threat because of their numbers, because they're fruitful and multiplicative and God has said they will be.
Jennifer Rothschild: That's a big word there.
Jen Wilkin: And so then Pharaoh decides he needs to lock that down, and so they end up being enslaved. And so, you know, most of us are familiar even with, like, the movie representations of what happens next with those ten plagues.
Jennifer Rothschild: "Let my people go."
Jen Wilkin: Yeah, yeah. But I think what a lot of us don't recognize in the Ten Commandments is that -- in the ten plagues is that each of those plagues is the toppling of an Egyptian deity, that each of them represents one of the gods that was worshiped in Egypt. Some of them are less obvious to us, but some of them are actually very obvious. Like when the sun goes dark, the sun god Ra was their principal deity. And, in fact, Pharaoh was worshiped as that particular deity. So there are all of these undertones of the toppling of idols that go into even the Exodus. That Israel is not just being set free from slavery to Egypt, but they are being taken out of an idolatrous country, out of an idolatrous nation, to be a nation that serves the one true God.
Jennifer Rothschild: And just even -- because we just spoke about our own personal potential toward idolatry. I mean, what a beautiful picture of what Jesus has done for us.
Jen Wilkin: Absolutely.
Jennifer Rothschild: Pulls us right out of it if we will follow. And so when we follow Christ and he becomes supreme in our lives, there is this genuine desire to worship and please him. Okay? So I'll tell you, growing up in the Church for me, it's such a desire to please God that I think for many years I relied more on my effort than grace, and didn't even realize I was doing it. I think a lot of believers do that. And so talk to me about what that looks like in a believer's life. Because God gives us the law, you know, to tell us what to do and to give us some boundaries. He's like a good father giving his children boundaries. But how does that become for us a substitute for the grace that God has set us free to live within?
Jen Wilkin: Oh, anytime that we think obedience to the law has to do with earning, we have slipped back into legalism. The obedience that God desires -- you know, he says, "Sacrifice and offerings I have not desired." What he desires from us is a joyful obedience out of gratitude, not a grudging obedience out of fear.
Jennifer Rothschild: Repeat that one more time for us.
Jen Wilkin: Joyful obedience out of gratitude versus a grudging obedience out of fear. So obedience to God's law -- I think a lot of times Christians can get into almost like a Christian karma way of thinking where they're like, If I do this, then God will do that.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.
Jen Wilkin: And our obedience to God's law never obligates him in any way toward us. He's owed our obedience simply because he's our Creator. The difference between legalism and lawfulness, lawfulness is something that the Bible celebrates. The lost person, or the Godless person, is called the lawless man, the man of lawlessness. The difference between legalism and lawfulness is the motive of the heart. The legalist is trying to earn God's favor or to put God in his debt. And those who are lawful are so thankful that they have acceptance, that they have positional righteousness through Christ, that they want to live lives of practical righteousness. They want to try to be holy as he is holy. They want to look like Christ by obeying the law even as Christ did.
Jennifer Rothschild: Not of works --
Jen Wilkin: No, not of works.
Jennifer Rothschild: -- lest any man should boast.
Jen Wilkin: Absolutely.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. So could those -- even though there were thousands of them, could those Jews have freed themselves from each other?
Jen Wilkin: Absolutely not, no. I mean, just like us, there was no freedom in sight for them. And, in fact, if you look at the way that the text is laid out, it's a birth narrative. It's a from death to life kind of thing. They are basically going to be slaves forever unless there is miraculous intervention. And there is indeed miraculous intervention in which they go through passageways of blood -- there's blood on the doorposts -- and then water -- they go through the water of the parted seas -- then their birth as a nation on the other side. And then God takes his newly born people and draws them to himself and says, "This is the way, walk in it" and gives them the Ten Commandments.
Jennifer Rothschild: And those who may not be as familiar with the story, that wasn't the end.
Jen Wilkin: No.
Jennifer Rothschild: When God gave the Ten Commandments -- because there's just something about us and how quickly we are willing to turn back toward idols. So just give us a little bit of that part of the story. When the Israelites did get the Ten Commandments, what happened?
Jen Wilkin: Well, even as they're waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, they -- you know, there's that famous story of Aaron gathering up all the jewelry and they make a golden calf. And I think a lot of times we don't pause there enough and ask, Why is that the image that he made? Like, why is that --
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, why is it?
Jen Wilkin: -- what he settled on?
And then he actually -- if you remember the story, he tells the people that they're going to have a feast to Yahweh. Like, it's not that he's making a calf for them to worship, it's that the calf is supposed to represent Yahweh. It's supposed to be God in this limited representation. And so there's significance that, you know, it only can diminish people's understanding of God, because just by definition it is a limited form. But beyond that, a calf is an interesting image because the bull god, Apis, is a major god in the Egyptian pantheon. And then the bull was also a major god in the Canaanite pantheon, which is where they are headed. And so when Aaron conceives of what Yahweh would look like if he made him -- fashioned an image of him, he takes sort of a cuddly, snuggly version of what is the foreign god. He makes this sort of accessible, non-threatening image that they would have identified with other cultures' worship. And so it's basically like saying, "Here, here's a safe version of God for you."
Jennifer Rothschild: Wow.
Jen Wilkin: And I think how often that's the kind of idolatry that we are tempted to practice with God. We want him to be containable or consumable, or even measurable, and he's not. He refuses to be those things because he is beyond searching out.
Jennifer Rothschild: Well, and I know you've written a book about the attributes of God. So just give me kind of a feel of what it looks like when we have a misunderstanding of the image of God, what our lives look like, and how we miss out. Because we think we're creating an image of God so that our lives will be better.
Jen Wilkin: Well, I think -- the pattern I've seen in my own life, and that I see in the lives of many of the women who I minister to and with, is not so much that we put something where we totally remove God from the throne and then put something else there, whether that's us or another person or an ambition or something like that. What we tend to do is have a both/and relationship, where we want God and this other thing, and we add an idol to our worship of God and we tell ourselves that we can make that work.
Which is why you see these passages where Jesus says you can't serve both God and man and no man can have two masters. Because we're not -- you know, we're like, Oh, yeah, God. That's good. I'm for him. But also, can I worship my pocketbook or can I worship my own personal ambitions or can I worship having the perfect family, or whatever it is. I need both of those things. And that God and fill in the blank relationship that we keep is, I think, where we can see so much devastation happen. God demands -- he's a jealous God because he is worthy of all worship and he knows that. And not only is it not right for our worship to be divided, it is not good for us. It eats away at our souls.
Jennifer Rothschild: How does it eat away at our souls? Why is it so bad for us? Because it happens.
Jen Wilkin: Yeah, there's no such thing as divided worship. I mean, that's what Jesus says basically, right? You can't add to God. He refuses to do that. And it is removing ourselves from reality. When God says, "You will have no other gods before me," he is not saying, I would like to hog up all the attention in the universe. He is actually giving an invitation into reality, because there are no other gods. And so his invitation into reality is what keeps us from being what the Scriptures describe as the double-minded man. We're able to have a wholeness of being because not only is he the only God and he invites us into that reality, but we're made in the image of that one God. And so to divide our attentions between two foci of worship, so to speak, is to have a split personality. We will try to conform to two different images. And it can't be done. We're not created for it.
K.C. Wright: Accepting the invitation into reality is accepting the invitation to worship the one true God --
Jennifer Rothschild: That was good. So good.
K.C. Wright: And that is what keeps us stable.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yes, it does.
K.C. Wright: Hello?
Jennifer Rothschild: Well, because a double-minded person is unstable in all their ways. I'm telling you, that last point was worth the price of the podcast. Sometimes we wonder why we feel like we're just such a mess inside, always this tug of war on the inside. Well, it might be because we are trying to conform to two gods, and we can't. Like Jen said, we're just not made for that. This was really, really a good conversation today. So I'm going to actually have some highlights and takeaways on the show notes this time at 413podcast.com/188. And I'm also going to have a link to her Exodus Bible studies, because you will want to go deeper.
K.C. Wright: This was so good today. And next week we promise it will be so good, you don't want to miss it.
Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, yeah.
K.C. Wright: So until next week, my friend, whatever you face, however you feel, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. I can.
Jennifer Rothschild: I can
K.C. Wright: And you can.
Jennifer Rothschild: You sure can.
K.C. Wright: So I do want to give a little plug, because my soul sister here has her own coffee line.
Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, that's true.
K.C. Wright: As a matter of fact, did you know that at your last Fresh Grounded Faith conference, I landed a big ol' bunch of your coffee.
Jennifer Rothschild: Did your mama buy it?
K.C. Wright: Yeah. Okay, so --
Jennifer Rothschild: K.C., you should never have to buy my coffee.
K.C. Wright: I know. But when people come to our church, we have a first-time visitors bag, and they get a coffee mug, a pen, and -- wait for it -- a Fresh Grounded Faith packet of Jennifer Rothschild's coffee to go with the coffee mug.
Jennifer Rothschild: That's awesome.
K.C. Wright: Yeah. And we're going to keep that going.
Jennifer Rothschild: It's good coffee.
K.C. Wright: Because you get a mug and coffee, you know, for coming and checking out a church for the first time.
Jennifer Rothschild: I love it.
K.C. Wright: Yeah. And it's good coffee.
Jennifer Rothschild: Well, we'll have my coffee on the show notes for sure.
K.C. Wright: Oh, it's so good.
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