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Every single one of us worships idols. Maybe we don’t all bow down before a a little golden calf or other obvious false gods, but we certainly struggle with putting our desires before God. Use these 4 questions to identify idols in your life.
I have a confession to make. I worship idols.
Every. Single. Day.
I don’t like this about myself, and I pray about it constantly. But I still do it.
And I bet you do, too.
John Calvin stated that “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”
I’m going to ask you to hang around. Don’t assume this is the same old sermon about loving your husband, kids, home, and life more than God, okay? Now, let’s get to the truth…
What Is Idol Worship?
What do you think of when imagining idol worship? Many times people conjure up Old Testament images in their minds or picture mystical Eastern religions.
Perhaps you have a mental picture of a big statue and people bowing down before it. Maybe it’s more of a New Age image in your mind, with yoga poses and meditation. Maybe it’s of an altar and fire.
But maybe it’s what you see when you walk down the hallway in your house. Examples of idolatry today could include (but certainly would not be limited to): pursuing money, unhealthy admiration for certain people, or even things like elevating exercise and diet over time with God.
If you’re a Christian, the simple explanation for idol worship is anything you elevate above God or give to God’s rightful place in your life. Modern day idols are less tangible and more thoughts, habits, and attitudes.
Romans 1:23 (NLT) gives this insight: “And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols.”
What Is An Idol?
Idols are the thing(s) that distract you from the glorious, ever-living God. They are what captures your affection and passion away from Him.
Idols are what consume you instead of you being consumed by God.
What Is An Idol According To the Bible?
God speaks to Ezekiel and says, “Son of man, these leaders have set up idols in their hearts. They have embraced things that will make them fall into sin. Why should I listen to their requests?” (Ezekiel 14:3)
What is an idol? And idol is something you love in your heart and makes you fall into sin.
But it’s also more than that…
The literal translation of the Hebrew word for idols in this passage refers to little round things and might also have referred to ‘dung.’ That’s right, God was calling the idols in the hearts of the leaders ‘poop.’
That stinks! (okay, okay, bad pun). But in all seriousness, if God says it’s poop then that means we need to be serious about this.
Idols are anything that present a challenge to God’s sovereignty or to which you turn to answers of meaning, fulfillment, and purpose instead of God.
It’s time to identify idols that may be present in your life and get rid of them.
First Things First
Before we get too deep into this, I want to ask you to remove your expectations.
I’m sure you’ve heard the sermons on loving your kids too much or your clean house or even your marriage.
But it’s also true that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).
And God doesn’t give good and perfect gifts to us and expect us not to love them, delight in them, and use them. Not at all!
In fact, that would be appallingly rude, ungrateful, and lacking in stewardship.
He just wants us to remember some simple truths.
Why Do We Worship Idols?
We worship idols because we are sinful human beings who need more of Jesus Christ and we often turn to other things (idols) to satisfy that need.
“[An idol is] anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.”Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods
Why on earth do we do that?
Personally, I do it because it’s easier than the alternative. Receiving grace is hard. It’s far easier to believe that I can create my own feelings of contentment or control my own satisfaction in life.
Do you do that, too? It’s certainly easy to do. Culture spouts off these ideas that sound so profound and empowering but are nothing but lies.
Grace, however, showers truth.
When I accept the truth that God’s grace is a gift and I can’t control it, I have to let go of the lie that I determine my future, my happiness, and my life.
That’s scary for a recovering-by-the-grace-of-God control-freak like me. What about you?
What Is An Idol Of The Heart?
An idol of the heart is any lie that exalts itself against the truth of Jesus Christ as found in Scripture and I would dare to say the most common form of idol worship today.
Idolatry Examples: Lies V. Truth
Lie of idolatry: “If I just go hang out with my friends, I’ll be happy. If I fall in love, I’ll be happy.”
No! This makes idols out of the relationships in your life.
Truth of grace: God is with you and He never leaves you (Joshua 1:9, Psalm 139).
Lie of idolatry: I deserve to be happy and I need to do what works for me. I can’t handle all of this and I need to run away from it and do something for myself.
No! This makes an idol out of yourself.
Truth of grace: God will deliver you from this (Psalm 34:17). It’s not your job to manage your anxiety; give it to God (1 Peter 5:7).
Lie of idolatry: Being a wife will complete me; after all, the two become one.
No! This makes your husband into an idol.
Truth of grace: Your husband can never complete you; that’s not his purpose. You are, however, the Bride of Christ and HE will complete you (Colossians 2:10).
Lie of idolatry: I’m a good mom and everything I do is for my kids.
No! This turns your children into idols.
Truth of grace: The only good things you do are established by God (Proverbs 16:9 – read more HERE). Love God first and then love people and this honors Him, but also seek Him first (1 John 4:7-8, Matthew 6:33).
What Is In Your Heart?
In Ezekiel, the things that God identified as idols were (a) set up in their hearts and (b) made them fall into sin.
If I have set something up in my heart, it is because it matters to me. I hold it dear. I don’t set things up in my heart that I don’t like or that make me wrinkle my nose in disgust.
What about you? What’s in your heart? Things you love, things you dream about, things you hold sacred. Things that matter to you.
Not all of those things are bad. After all, you have most likely put in your heart your relationship with God, your husband, your children, your friends, and your purpose in life.
But it’s the next part of the definition that will really help identify idols in your life: idols are set up in your heart and lead you into sin.
What Makes You Fall Into Sin?
The danger comes when we seek the other things in our heart out over God. This is when we fall into sin. The idols in their heart led them to sin.
How do you know if the things in your heart are godly desires planted there by your Beloved, or ugly little sin seedlings that you need to uproot before they grow into full-blown idols?
These questions will help you identify idols so you can pray and ask for God’s grace to either uproot them completely from your life or move them into order in your life.
4 Questions To Help Identify Idols In Your Life
Are You Willing To Compromise Your Beliefs For It?
Every person alive has a set of beliefs that drive their actions. If you’re a Christian, that should be the Bible.
If you want a result so badly that you are willing to compromise Biblical standards to achieve it, that’s a good indication that there’s an idol in your life.
Sometimes this is glaringly obvious. For instance, someone wants something so badly they are willing to steal or lie to get it. Chances are, that item (or whatever that item represents) is an idol.
Stealing and lying are clearly defined sins and so it’s obviously wrong.
But then there are the situations in which it’s not so clear cut. Perhaps your child’s feelings got hurt because they aren’t quite old enough to go on a trip with their friends and they feel left out. You sign the permission slip that states they are old enough to go, even though they won’t be that age for a few months yet.
After all, you just want to make them happy.
Your child’s happiness has become an idol here because you are willing to sin to make it happen.
Will You Get Angry If You Can’t Do It/Don’t Get It?
When you are denied what you want, do you accept it or does it make you rage on the inside (or even on the outside)?
If you are so determined to get what you want that any contrary result sends you into a tantrum, that item or result is most likely an idol in your life.
Let’s imagine you are on your way to meet some friends and you stop at the grocery store on your way to get a snack to share. Someone cuts you off in the parking lot and grabs your spot. You’re annoyed, but you move on and take another one.
Now you’re in line and someone cuts in front of you with a full cart. You’re going to be late now and this really makes you angry. You stew over it the entire time you’re in line and end up thinking very ungraciously about that person, even though that’s not how God would want you to think.
It’s possible that your schedule or your plans have become idols if something that derails them causes you to have a sinful reaction.
Do You Value It Over People?
Are you so tied to an end result that you will trample on feelings to get to it?
It’s easy to say, “No, of course not!” but let’s take an honest look.
When someone’s actions make you late, how angry do you get?
When someone’s incompetency or laziness cost you time and money, do you handle it well or do you shout at them?
When someone hurts your feelings, do you pause and wait until you can respond calmly or do you lash out in anger at them?
When you’ve just cleaned the house and the kids leave a trail of lego down the hall and your husband makes a snack and trails crumbs across your clean counter, do you shout at them about the mess or calmly ask them to pick it up?
It’s way too easy to get angry when others inconvenience us. And when that happens and you shout at them, it’s sin. And that sin can lead us to allow our schedule or clean house or budget or any other good thing to become an idol.
Does It Push You Closer To God or Pull You Farther Away?
Lastly, what about its impact on your walk with God?
Paul teaches that you are to “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT).
Why do your thought matter so much? In Romans 12:1-2 Paul explains that in order not to be like the world, your mind has to be renewed in Jesus and that will lead to a life transformation.
If what you are thinking about, reading, watching, or listening to is is not pushing you closer to God, the question must be asked: Is this necessary?
If it’s not excellent and worthy of praise and it’s not renewing your mind, why are you spending your time on it? Is it, perhaps, an idol?
If it’s how you escape, calm down, feel happy, or what you “need”…is it replacing God? Only you can know this, but ask the Holy Spirit to clearly show you.
The True Cost of Idolatry
When you make idolatry more about the way you think and react, it’s a lot harder to dismiss its existence, isn’t it?
And the cost is incredibly expensive.
Those who pay regard to vain idolsJonah 2:8, ESV
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
What else does justifying the presence of these behaviors cost you? Let’s go back to Ezekiel and check out what comes next.
Tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Israel have set up idols in their hearts and fallen into sin, and then they go to a prophet asking for a message. So I, the Lord, will give them the kind of answer their great idolatry deserves. I will do this to capture the minds and hearts of all my people who have turned from me to worship their detestable idols.‘Ezekiel 14:4-5, NLT
When we worship idols, our minds and hearts are the prices we pay. And yet God will answer our idolatry. He will “give [us] the kind of answer [our] great idolatry deserves.”
I don’t know about you, but I do not want that to happen.
I want God’s grace. I want to fix my thoughts on Jesus and His Word, and let the Bible change my life. I want to tear down every altar I’ve erected that isn’t for God, and lay waste to every idol I’ve given space to in my mind or heart.
If you’re ready to eliminate idols from your life, READ PART 2 HERE.
Related: The Bible Changes Your Life
Related: Is Your Heart Idolatrous?