How to identify idols

The Bible has grave warnings against idolatry. The thing with idols is that they’re not always easy to identify. Sure, sometimes there are literal idols in the form of statues and shrines. Obviously, Christians should not continue to engage in explicit idol worship deliberately. But the Bible teaches that the dangers of idolatry are far more insidious. The devil is crafty, and our hearts are deceitful!

For example, many good things can become idols. Family. Education. Recreational pursuits. Holidays. Relationships. We may not find it easy to discern when something changes from a gift we properly enjoy, to an idolatrous fixation that takes the place of Jesus in our lives. So, how can we identify the idols of our hearts? Here are some diagnostic questions we might consider: When things are hard, what do you turn to for release?

What is the big-ticket item of your x-year plan? What is your, “I can’t wait until…”? When looking at other people’s lives, what do you envy about them? Where do you spend your disposable income? Or what would you be willing to get into debt for?

Our own idols are not always easy to identify

Sometimes, idols are the source of pain and frustration. Idols can have power over us. We find ourselves plagued by the thought of them, longing to satisfy their constant demands while also forever anxious that our offerings are not enough. Such idols often torment us, causing us to be full of worry and fear; our relationship with idolatry can be a discordant combination of longing and dread. It could be an unhealthy relationship with social media and our thirst for affirmation. It might take the form of more obvious perversions, like pornography. We can hate an idol while still finding ourselves enslaved to it. Some more diagnostic questions that may help: Who do you long to please? Is there someone who can single-handedly make your day feel great or terrible? What do you hide from others, hoping it never comes up in conversation? What are your biggest regrets? What causes bitterness or hatred in your heart? Are there things you continually turn back to but feel are a complete waste of time

These questions are not the definitive test of idolatry, but they may be of some help. Our own idols are not always easy to identify. Not least because not everything we love is an idol; it is right for us to enjoy the many good gifts that our Heavenly Father has lavished on us. The problem is that our hearts are quick to replace God, pushing him aside for created things. Neither is it easy to break free from them. Just as an addict may want to be free from their vice, but find themselves returning to it again and again, so our idols can often have a stranglehold over us. The very nature of our brokenness is that we are often unable or unwilling to break free from the snare of idolatry.

What then can be done? The only thing we can do. Run to Jesus. Cry out to him for help, asking that he would so fill our hearts and minds that the things of earth might grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace. Seek support from a trusted Christian friend, asking them to help you to keep your eyes lifted to heaven.

Associate Minister