I ran across the following post on idolatry this last week.  I believe understanding idolatry is vital for understanding our own hearts and battling sin.  I'd encourage you to find some time this weekend to work through this material and examine your heart.

Thoughtful Quotes about Idolatry

The principle crime of the human race…is idolatry. For although each individual sin retains its own proper feature… they all fall under the general heading of idolatry…. All murder and adultery, for example are idolatry, for they arise because something is loved more than God‑‑yet in turn, all idolatry is murder for it assaults God, and all idolatry is also adultery for it is unfaithfulness to God. Thus it comes to pass, that in idolatry all crimes are detected, and in all crimes idolatry. (Tertullian, On Idolatry)

Sin predisposes us to want to be independent of God, to be laws unto ourselves or autonomous, so that we can do what we want without bowing to His authority. At the most basic level, idols are what we make out of the evidence for God within ourselves and in the world, if we do not want to face the face of God Himself in his majesty and holiness.  Rather than look to the Creator and have to deal with his lordship, we orient our lives toward the creation, where we can be more free to control and shape our lives in our desired directions…since we were made to relate to God; but do not want to face Him (and let him control and shape us), thus we forever inflate things in the world to religious proportions to fill the vacuum left by God’s exclusion… We do not just eliminate God, but we erect God-substitutes in his place. (Richard Keyes, “The Idol Factory,” in No God but God).

Since idolatry diminishes the glory of God, and since humans are made in the image of God, it follows that idolatry is also detrimental to the very essence of our humanity.  As the Westminster Confession reminds us, ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ To refuse to glorify God, and even worse, to exchange ‘the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles’ (Romans 1:23) is to frustrate the purpose of our very existence.  Idolatry is radical self-harm. (Chris Wright, in The Mission of God)

The Bible exposes us for who we really are. Scripture never allows us to believe in a neutral, undirected, or unmotivated humanity. It requires us to admit that behind everything we do or say, we are pursuing something—some hope or dream or thing that we refuse to live without. There are things we value so much that we will willingly sacrifice other good things to get them. We will debase our humanity in order to deify the creation. The very things we seek to possess begin to possess us. We live for shadow glories and forget the only Glory that is worth living for. (Paul Tripp)

False gods destroy and devour lives, health and resources; they distort and diminish our humanity; they preside over injustice, greed, perversion, cruelty, lust and violence.  It is possibly the most satanic dimension of their deceptive power, that in spite of all this, they still persuade people that they are the beneficent protectors of their worshipers’ identity, dignity and prosperity, and must therefore be defended at all costs.  Only the gospel can unmask these claims.  Only the gospel exposes the cancer of idolatry.  Only the gospel is good for people. (Chris Wright, Mission of God)

Types of Idols

  • Cultural:  Practices or patterns of life that are lodged deep within the norms of the culture.  These can good or neutral, but when they are exalted to the place of supremacy within the heart they are turned into idols.
    • Work: a commandment of God, such as work, can become an idol if/when it is pursued so exclusively that responsibilities to ones family (spiritual and physical) are ignored in the pursuit of performance.
    • Family: an institution that was established as early as creation can become an idol if one is so preoccupied with their family, or in the pursuit of a family, that they are unable to care for those outside of their family.
  • Religious:  Practices or attitudes of life that are lodged deep within the norms of a belief system, yes, even Christianity.  Religious idolatry can be subtle yet is very pervasive.  The deification of some aspect of creation can lead to a religious idolatry.  Religious idolatry can also happen when certain practices are divorced from their intention and the action itself becomes a way to get God to owe you. (E.g. Prayer, Fasting.)
  • Personal:  These idols are centered not around a community but in the individual.  They can be manifested as a distorted and over-exaggerated need for comfort, approval, control and/or power.

Key question to identify your idols (from GCL): What do I love, trust, or fear?

More Questions to identify your idols (adapted from David Powlison)

  1. What hope are you working toward or building your life around?
  2. What do you fear?  (Fear is the flip side of desire.  For example, if I desire your acceptance, then I fear your rejection.)
  3. What would hell on earth be for you (If ________ happened I would consider ending my life?)
  4. When ______ happens, I feel like I am somebody.
  5. Describe your ideal vacation.  (Vacations are usually times to indulge our idols.)
  6. What makes you an acceptable person?
  7. What would complete you?
  8. What prayer, if it went unanswered, would cause you to seriously doubt God?
  9. What do I think most easily about? Where does my mind go when I am free? What preoccupies me?
  10. What does your bank statement say your idol is?

Thoughts of the Heart

  • Power idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I have power and influence over others.
  • Approval idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I am loved and respected by ____________.
  • Comfort idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.”
  • Image idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I have a particular kind of look or body image.
  • Control idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of ________________.
  • Helping idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, people are dependent on me and need me.”
  • Dependence idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, someone’ is there to protect me and keep me safe.”
  • Independence idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.”
  • Work idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I am highly productive getting a lot done.”
  • Achievement idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I am being recognized for my accomplishments, if I am excelling in my career.”
  • Materialism idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.
  • Religion idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.”
  • Individual person idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, this one person is in my life and happy there and/or happy with me.”
  • Irreligion idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and with a self-made morality.
  • Racial/cultural idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.”
  • Inner Circle idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, a particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.”
  • Family idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, my children and/OR my parents are happy and happy with me.”
  • Relationship idolatry: idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, Mr. or Ms. ‘Right’ is in love with me.”
  • Suffering idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, I am hurting and in a problem only then do I feel noble or worthy of love or am able to deal with guilt.”
  • Ideology idolatry: “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if, my political or social cause or party is making progress and ascending in influence or power.

(HT: Bob Thune)