The “I” in Idolatry

Buddha and monks statue meditaing, Laos.
Photo by Anne Elliott
The American Heritage Dictionary defines “idolatry” as, “blind or excessive devotion to something.” It is interesting that throughout the Bible one theme that keeps on coming up is the topic of idols. It is germane to who we are as God’s people. God created us to worship Him and to have no other gods or idols before Him (Ex 20:3-4), but we have not taken this command seriously. Hence, we see all the heartaches and headaches in our lives from worshiping created things rather the Creator.

Once we forsake God’s intended plan of living for Him and start to live for ourselves, or other people or other things, then we will fall prey to idolatry. The interesting thing about idolatry is that we constantly attempt to make God into our image – someone that we can manipulate and control. We take the created things and set our hearts on them and start to build our lives around them. This explains why we feel so devastated when we lose our idols. When our whole lives revolve around our idols, not only does it give us a false sense of security but it can ruin us when God takes them away.

Tim Keller makes an interesting observation on this topic of idols. He writes,

“We reversed the original intended order. And when we began to worship and serve created things, paradoxically, the created things came to rule over us. We will either worship the uncreated God or we will worship some created thing (an idol). There is no possibility of our worshipping nothing. Since we need to worship something, because of how we are created, we cannot eliminate God without creating God-substitutes.

Whatever we worship we will serve, for worship and service are always inextricably bound together. We are ‘covenantal’ beings. We enter into covenant service with whatever most captures our imagination and heart. It ensnares us. So every human personality, community, thought-form, and culture will be based on some ultimate concern or some ultimate allegiance – either to God or to some God-substitute.

Individually, we will ultimately look either to God or to success, romance, family, status, popularity, beauty or something else to make us feel personally significant and secure, and to guide our choices. Culturally we will ultimately look to either God or to the free market, the state, the elites, the will of the people, science and technology, military might, human reason, racial pride, or something else to make us corporately significant and secure, and to guide our choices.”

God is passionately pursuing us. He wants our allegiance. Therefore, God will do everything and anything to get us to a point where we can repent and relinquish our idols and turn to Him. If we don’t, then idolatry has a way of leading us further into bondage and blindness. We become slaves to our idols and we get blinded to the deceptiveness of sin.

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself to help identify the idols in your life:

1) What consumes most of your thoughts and feelings?
2) What motivates you to do things?
3) What are you most afraid of?
4) What brings the highest amount of frustration or anger?
5) What is one thing that can change your mood in a second?
6) What would your friends say is your favorite topic of conversation?
7) What are some things that you feel you can’t live without?
8) What brings solace to you?
9) What do you yearn for?
10) What is one thing that you wish God would do for you?

There is a really good likelihood that some of your answers to the questions above involve good things – i.e. family, church, friends, ministry, etc. These things by themselves are not bad things, but we have to remember when we make good things into “ultimate things,” then it is a sin (idolatry). When we define ourselves or construct our lives around these good things, then they take allegiance over God and we no longer make God a priority.

This is why sometimes we never realize how much something has become an idol until we lose it. It is painful and heart wrenching. It can lead us into depression. It almost feels like the world is coming to an end. But this is the weaning process that God puts us through so that we can long for Him.

As we identify the idols in our lives, we must repent, relinquish, and resolve to live for God, who is the only One worthy of all our worship. If not, then God will pry open our fingers off the idol that grips us, in order to help us refocus our heart’s affection on Christ.

Spiritual ENTREPRENEUR, Church EQUIPPER, Leadership EDUCATOR, Ideas EXPERIMENTER & Global EXPLORER who is trying to transform lives and transform the world.
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