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G. Campbell Morgan makes an interesting observation in his discussion of the First Temptation which relates to the concept of idolatry as it is being developed within the biblical counseling world:

And yet consider still more closely. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.“’ Weak from the hunger following upon forty days of fasting, the devil suggested that He should strengthen Himself with bread. His reply, “It is written,” is a revelation of the true sources of strength. The strength of manhood does not lie in the assertion of rights, but in submission to the will of God. Mark well how that answer of the perfect One drags into light the false philosophy of evil, which the fallen race has universally accepted. The most applauded position that man takes is that in which he declares, I drove my manhood by the assertion of my rights; but this perfect Man declares that the strength of manhood lies in the absolute abandonment of His will to the will of God, that being the only right He possesses.

In the last analysis the argument of the devil had been a presupposition that all man needed for his sustenance was food for his physical life. That unwarrantable assumption Christ answered by declaring that no man’s whole life can be fed by bread that perishes. He needs more, that his spirit shall be fed, and its strength sustained by feeding upon the word proceeding from the mouth of God, and its safety ensured by abiding within the will of God.

G. Campbell Morgan, The Crises of Christ (170-171).  To see how this ties to the concepts of “idolatry” and “heart” in the existing biblical counseling work, consider the following statement of Lambert in The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams where he sets out “an area still in need of advancement”:

This is how idolatry functioned in Old Testament. The fundamental problem with the Israelites in the Old Testament was that they reserved for themselves the prerogative to determine what they needed and when they needed it, instead of trusting the Lord. The self-oriented hearts of the Israelites then looked to the world (the neighbors in their midst) and followed their lead in blowing to gods that were not God in order to satisfy the lusts of their self-exalting hearts. When this comprehended, it portrays the terrible irony of Israelite false worship. When the Israelites followed the lead of their neighbors and bowed before blocks of wood, that act of false worship underlined their desire for autonomy and, in an ironic way, was an exultation of themselves even more than of the idol. The idol itself was incidental; (in our world it could be a pornographic picture, a spouse as the particular object of codependency, or an overprotective mother’s controlling fear attached specifically to her children) the self-exalting hert was the problems, which remains the problem today. 

The main problem sinful people have is not idols of the heart per se. The main problem certainly involves idols and is rooted in the heart, but the idols are manifestations of the deeper problem. The heart problems is self-exultation, and idols are two or three steps removed. A self-exalting heart that grasps after autonomy is the Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) that unites all idols. Even though idols change from culture to culture and from individual to individual within a culture, the fundamental problem of humanity has not changed since Genesis 3: sinful people want – more than anything in the whole world – to be God.[1]



[1] Heath Lambert, The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 148.