Identifying Your Idols

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Take an honest look at your life and pray that God would grant you the grace to identify your idols.

To begin this post, let me say that this is first and foremost for your joy in Jesus, and for Him to be prized and praised as infinitely glorious. I thought it would be helpful to post a few things about “idols” that I have been reading in a study guide by Tim Keller, called The Gospel in Life. I think it would be best to first define what an idol is. If we don’t understand clearly what an idol is we may dismiss this as irrelevant to our lives in this post-modern, advanced, enlightened world that we find ourselves in. I suggest you take an honest look at your life and pray that God would grant you the grace to identify your idols. Ok? Ok. I love you and want you to be joyful in Jesus and God to be glorified in your life. That is my aim! Here is the definition I have come up with, by the grace of God and the help of His Spirit and other pastors: An idol is anything in your life, other than Jesus Christ, that if you lost it you would lose personal worth and identity; an idol is anything, other than Jesus Christ, that if you lost it it would utterly destroy your life. On the other hand, an idol is anything you’re looking to in your life, other than Jesus Christ, that if you received it it would give you personal worth and identity; an idol is anything you’re looking to in your life, other than Jesus Christ, that if you received it it would make your life complete. Idols are often not inherently bad things, but rather good things that we turn into ultimate things. Idols are often things that should be received and used in such a way to worship Jesus, but we receive them and use them in such a way as to worship them instead of Jesus. This is one of the points that the Apostle Paul is driving home in Romans chapter 1 as he says, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:22-25).

Idols are often not inherently “bad” things, but rather good things that we turn into ultimate things.

The rest of the post is by Tim Keller and taken from his study guide The Gospel in Life. The last verse in 1 John is, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” John has not mentioned idolatry by name once in the entire letter, so we have to conclude one of two things. He is either now, in the very last sentence, changing the whole subject, or he is summarizing all that he has been saying in the epistle about living in light (holiness), love, and truth. The latter seems more reasonable- and these implications are also significant. John, in one brief statement, is expressing in negative terms what he has spent the whole letter putting in the positive. This must mean that the only way to walk in holiness, love, and truth is to keep free from idols. They are mutually exclusive. Underlying any failure to walk in holiness is some form of idolatry.

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21

Why do we lie, or fail to love, or breaking our promises, or live selfishly? Of course, the general answer is, “because we are weak and sinful,” but the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to be happy, something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires. The key to change (and even to self-understanding) is therefore to identify the idols of the heart. Theologian and author Thomas Oden writes, “Every self exists

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in relation to values perceived as making like worth living. A value is anything good in the created order- any idea, relation, object or person in which one has an interest, from which one derives significance… The values compete… In time one is prone to chose a center of value by which others values are judged. When a finite value has been elevated to centrality and imagined as a final source of meaning, then one has chosen… a god. One has a god when a final value is…viewed as that without which one cannot receive life joyfully.”

The key to change is therefore to identify the idols of the heart

We often don’t go deep enough to analyze our idol structures. For example, “money” is of course an idol; yet, in another sense, money can be sought to satisfy other very different idols. That is, some people want money in order to control their world and life (such people usually don’t spend their money, but save it), while others want money for access to social circles and for making themselves beautiful and attractive (such people do spend their money on themselves). The same goes for sex. Some people use sex in order to get power over others, others in order to feel approved and loved, and others just for pleasure and comfort. Richard Keyes in his essay The Idol Factory notes,

“All sorts of things are potential idols… If this is so how do we determine when something is becoming or has become an idol? … As soon as our loyalty to anything leads us to disobey God, we are in danger of making it an idol… An idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an idea, an image, a pleasure, a hero…”

  • Work, a commandment of God, can become an idol if it is pursued so exclusively that responsibilities to one’s family are ignored.
  • Family, an institution of God Himself, can become an idol if one is so preoccupied with the family that no one outside of one’s family is cared for.
  • Being well-liked, a perfectly legitimate hope, becomes an idol if the attachment to it means that one never risks disapproval.

Answer these questions, which will help you begin to identify your idols.

  • What is my greatest nightmare? What do I worry about most?
  • What do I rely on or comfort myself with when things go badly or become difficult?

  Always seeking your joy in Jesus, Pastor Brett