This post last updated on November 6th, 2021
If you were asked to identify idols, where would your mind take you? American Idol? Billy Idol? If you’re like me, you may tend to think about carved wooden figures or giant metallic statues. Or maybe even the Tower of Babel as an enormous, in your face representation of idolatry.
Idolatry isn’t just an Eastern mysticism thing and it’s not a Western consumerism thing. It’s a human thing and regardless of whether or not we physically bow down before a statue, we all have idols in our lives.
Idols are anything that becomes more important than God and we all have something at sometime that does it.
Is it that a 12-inch tall piece of wood or bronze can do something bad to us? Or is it that we do something awful to ourselves when we place adoration and attention that should go to God in other things? When it comes to idolatry, the danger is not in an item… it is in us.
In order to recognize idols, you don’t always have to use your eyes, particularly when dealing with spiritual idols. Idolatry is anything that either disproportionately consumes your thoughts, actions or resources, or that take your focus off of God.
What are these things in our lives? That’s something only you can answer for yourself, but the available idols are endless. If you were to make a list of all of the important things in your life, would that yield any clues?
Here are a few of those things that we deal with in today’s world that compete for our attention and that could become idols in our busy, always “on” and connected lives if we give these things undue attention…
1. People. Many people in our lives can take the front seat, consuming our thoughts, actions and energy. This could be a spouse, a potential spouse, a boss, or a child. This could be an entertainer or a public figure. In some cases this could even be a pastor or a church leader, especially in today’s Western church environment where sadly, unreachable “celebrity pastors” are becoming more and more common.
2. Your Church. Again, the modern church model in the West is producing a spiritual-consumer mentality that is replacing the traditional church model. Programs, buildings, and real estate all have a place in our church, but when these are the things that prevent us from discipleship and church multiplication, we may have to back up and dissect the situation.
3. Your Ministry. Believe it or not, ministry and “religion” are among the easiest things in life to become idols. When you’re involved in ministry at any level, it can be very easy to fall into a place of how much “good” you’re doing. What’s more, if you’re like me, then desire for encouragement could become striving for encouragement. What that looks like in my life and ministry is that I have to keep a guard against seeking out approval and commendation for what God decides to do through me or my work. Guess what idol that could lead to? Number 4…
4. Humility. What? Being humble could be an idol of the heart? You bet it can! If seeking out recognition for accomplishments could lead to idolatry then wouldn’t it make sense that humility can also be abused? This could look like someone wearing their humility like a neon badge, and that’s not true humility.
5. Lifestyle and the Idol of Self. This has been an American Achilles heel. “Keeping up with the Joneses” may have first been used by Mark Twain (affiliate link)as far back as 1923, but in today’s economy this idea of social inferiority based on our possessions has translated into crippling amounts of debt and has even contributed to the housing market crash. These insurmountable debts have wrecked many good marriages, destroyed lives and has rendered entire households unproductive.
6. Rights and Freedom. As an American, I have enjoyed rights and certain freedom that a huge number of people in other parts of the world don’t even consider possible. Sadly, the establishment of rights and freedom have begun to erode around us into a constant, all inclusive demand for everything under the sun to fall into the categories of rights and liberty. With freedom comes responsibility, and without responsibility liberty becomes slavery. But when our demands for freedom outweigh our surrender to the cross, our arrogant expectations of rights keep our eyes from the freedom that only Christ can bring.
7. Your Challenges. If there is one thing that can always take a person’s eyes off of God that would be life’s challenges. Sometimes, the smaller the challenge the easier the distraction. It’s saddening how many people navigate their lives from one challenge to the next, never able to see anything else. It ultimately robs them of any real accomplishments that God would bring into their lives.
8. Social Media. The new human Achilles heel. The subtle idol of self in it’s full modern glory comes in the form of likes, shares and follower counts. This one has led to lower self esteem, depression and even suicide. Rather than ditching the social networks, it’s now more important to be noticed in a stream of posts that more than 80% of our “followers” will never even see.