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How to Recognize Idolatry and Repentance

How to Recognize Idolatry and Repentance

Our idols take various forms — power and success; approval; comfort and pleasure; control; security. Since true change only occurs when we repent of and turn from the deep-seated idols in our lives, a key aspect of gospel coaching is learning to identify our idols and repent of them. Just as we can’t kill a tree by cutting off a few branches, we also can’t hope to defeat sin by simply feeling bad about its outcomes.

Since our idols are the things we treasure and value more than Jesus, we discover them by honestly asking what gives our life meaning, worth, and value. Consider this list. Which of these idols give your life meaning? What are the things you treasure, that give your life value and worth?

  1. Power Idol: control, position, influence, success, exerted strength
  2. Approval Idol: relationships, achievement, ethnicity, social circles, appearance
  3. Security Idol: family, finances, protection, religion, safety, future
  4. Comfort Idol: pleasure, health, freedom, excesses, home and vehicles, recreation

Our new “saviors” make promises to provide us with meaning or worth — ways in which we will achieve wholeness. But these self-made idols also threaten us, warning us that if we do not serve them, our lives will be worthless, meaningless, and empty. We start out by asking them to serve us, but eventually their allure is too strong. They overtake us, mastering our desires and ending up controlling almost every aspect of our lives.

True, lasting change can only occur when we repent of the deep-seated idols we have trusted in and in faith believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, relying on him as our only means of salvation. Gospel coaching moves beyond the outward, methodologically driven process that often characterizes coaching to the motivational, heart level of the disciple-leader. Gospel coaches direct a person in a process of repentance and faith, releasing their idolatry to trust in Christ.

Martin Luther set off the Protestant Reformation by nailing the ninety-five theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The very first of these theses emphasizes the essential importance of repentance in the Christian life: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ . . . willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

The gospel’s two dynamics of repentance and faith, leading to obedience, are the only solution to the ongoing battle of unbelief. Obedience flows from the freedom of the gospel.

It is necessary for a gospel coach to know what repentance truly looks like if they are to help their disciple develop a life of continual repentance. Both John the Baptist and Thomas Watson tell us that a change of life — visible fruit — accompanies repentance.

Watson identified six ingredients necessary for true repentance in his book Doctrine of Repentance:

  1. The first is sight of sin, whereby a person comes to themselves (Luke 15:17) and clearly views their lifestyle as sinful.
  2. The second ingredient for true repentance is sorrow for sin (Psalm 38:18).
  3. Confession of sin.
  4. Shame for sin.
  5. Hatred of sin.
  6. Finally, the sixth progressive ingredient of repentance is turning from sin and returning to the Lord “with all your heart” (Joel 2:12).

Most importantly, though, this repentance is not just a turning away from sin; it is also a turning “of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

A gospel coach should invite the disciple-leader to joyfully repent of his doubt by believing in the gloriousness, goodness, greatness, and graciousness of God and to turn in faith to trust in the freedom Christ offers in the gospel. Repentance is rooted in a hatred of sin and a joyful awareness of God’s loving-kindness, which leads to joy: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).

We rejoice that Christ has done everything for us — all that we need to secure our salvation and our growth in holiness.

Our prayer is, “Lord, I am an adopted child, not a slave to sin. I am accepted because of Christ. I have forgotten how loved, secure, rich, and free I am in Christ. Please let me be astonished by your love.”

— Scott Thomas and Tom Wood, Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God.

How to Use This Book

Every church leader, from full-time ministers to volunteer leaders, needs a “gospel coach.”

A gospel coach comes alongside you with words drawn from Scripture and godly wisdom, grounded in the gracious saving work of Jesus Christ, and presented in the context of a trusting relationship.

Give this book to your leadership team and it will help your leaders find (and become) gospel coaches. Gospel Coach will help you explore the process of coaching and shepherding that’s rooted in the patterns of the Good Shepherd himself. Your leaders won’t be the same.

What others are saying

“This is an outstanding book, filled with immense amounts of spiritual and practical wisdom concerning the training of leaders among God’s people. The book reflects a solid understanding of Scripture and many years of pastoral ministry experience. It challenged and encouraged my own life, ministry, and walk with God. Highly recommended!” –Wayne Grudem

“I’ve seen my friend Scott Thomas shepherd church leaders for years. Scott is aware of the issues leaders face in their personal, spiritual, and ministry lives. Gospel Coach is a practical and theologically rich book that will help produce healthy leaders to lead missional churches.” –Ed Stetzer

Get your copy today.