Lisa Sheffler, author
John Calvin famously said, “the human mind, so to speak, is a perpetual forge of idols.” In other words, an idol factory.
God has placed within us a need to find meaning and purpose. We also long for a sense of identity and security in a chaotic world. If we do not allow God to meet these needs, we will manufacture idols to try and meet them. In the ancient world, people would invent gods. In our modern world, we will turn all kinds of things into gods — wealth, success, status, and yes, even politics.
Let’s ask ourselves some hard questions. Are we spending a lot of time fretting about the outcome of an election? Does the idea of our political opponent’s victory fill us with hatred or dread? Have political differences soured relationships or are we avoiding friends or family who support the “wrong” candidate? If we are answering yes to any of those questions, we might be looking to political solutions for the peace and security that only God can provide. We need to prayerfully consider if politics has become an idol.
How can we break the hold of an idol? Jesus helps us in our passage for this week.
19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
What do you think Jesus meant by “give back to God what is God’s”? What do you think he had in mind?
We owe everything to God. All our blessings come from God as gifts of his grace. He is our true benefactor and Lord. God also created us, loves us, and knows how to meet our needs even better than we do. So not only do we owe everything to God, it is to our benefit to seek him, honor him, and obey him. No one loves us more.
So what does it mean to “give back to God what is God’s”? I’d like to propose a few ideas backed up by verses. See if you would add anything else.
- We must give him our allegiance, loyalty, and commitment. Jesus is the Messiah – our true Savior and Lord. Our primary allegiance should be to him above all else.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34–35)
- We must give him our faith and trust. God will never fail us. His goodness, mercy, and steadfast love know no bounds. He is worthy of our ultimate trust.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5–6)
- We must give him our obedience. As our divine designer, there is no one who knows better how we will flourish. Not only do we owe God our obedience because he is our Lord, we will thrive when we obey his Word.
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (Jesus speaking, John 14:21)
Complete allegiance, faith, and obedience is what we owe God. These are all acts of devotion. They’re given to whomever or whatever we worship. And only God is worthy of worship. To give to people, things, or human institutions that which belongs to God is idolatry.
Idolatry can easily become our undoing because idols are insatiable. They will demand more and more of our time, money, energy, effort, thought, and emotional investment, but leave us increasingly disappointed, deprived, and distraught.
We must give ourselves to God first, let him fill us with his Spirit and satisfy us with his love, and then we can put everything else in proper perspective. Elections will still be important, but our faith in God will allow us to face any outcome. We will still disagree with others about which candidates to support and which issues matter most, but Christ’s love can overcome our differences. The decisions that our government makes will sometimes concern us, but they will send us to our knees in faith-filled prayer, not in fear or dread. We will still admire some political leaders and advocate for them, but we will feel free to admit their flaws and hold them accountable, because our identity isn’t tied to their reputation.
Let’s not let our political climate seduce us into putting our trust in the wrong things. Let’s not let others drum up fear and anxiety in our hearts. Let’s give to Caesar what we owe, but to God let’s give our undivided worship. It’s the first commandment for a reason.
- What would you add to the list above? What else do we owe to God?
- Invite the Spirit to search your heart for idols. Is there anything that challenges God for your worship? Your allegiance, faith, and obedience? If so, confess it and receive God’s forgiveness. Meditate on the scriptures above, and ask the Spirit to speak to you through them. How can you grow in those areas?