What are your idols?

Image: What are your idols?

Idolatry isn't just about golden statues...

Well-known Christian writer Tim Keller has penned a book that is one of my absolute favourite Christian books (after the Bible, of course!). It’s called Counterfeit Gods, and every time I open it my mind swirls with all the wisdom Keller shares.

Counterfeit Gods is all about idolatry. When you hear the world idolatry, I bet you probably think of stories from the Old Testament – the Golden Calf, perhaps – or the commandment “You shall have no other God’s before me”.

Initially, I was the same. I thought idolatry meant worshipping statues or false gods. But after I read this book, I realised something: idolatry is a sin that I (and so many Christians) struggle with!

Anything can be an idol

In his book, Keller points out that actually, anything can be an idol. Anything that we put before God, and before our relationship with him, is an idol that has displaced God as our first priority.

So can an idol be an object? Yes. It could be your phone or computer. It could be money.

Can an idol be a person? Yes! It could be your boyfriend or girlfriend, someone really popular you’re trying to impress, or a celebrity you love.

An idol can also be something less concrete, like the idea of success or power or popularity. It could be the idea of having a perfect future with a spouse and kids and a pretty house.

All these things by themselves are not problematic, but when we let them surpass God as first priority in our lives, that’s where the problems begin.

Idol identification

How do you find out if a good thing in your life is turning into an idol? The best test is to take a look at what shapes the decisions you make in your life.

Start by looking at the really big decisions. Why do you want to do the career you’re planning for? If it’s because you want to be really rich, maybe money is an idol. If it’s because you want to be famous, maybe you’re your own idol!

Then, look at the decisions that dictate your everyday life. Did you choose a party over youth group five weeks in a row? Popularity might be an idol. Has playing on your phone pushed out prayer? Your phone might be an idol. Are you dating a non-Christian because you don’t want to be alone? Romance and relationships might be an idol.

The things you prioritise in your life will impact the decisions you make, so working in reverse and figuring out what fuels your decisions may help to reveal the idols in your life.

Fighting idolatry

If you’ve realised idolatry is a problem for you, don’t worry! You’re not alone. Many Christians, myself included, have battled idolatry at points. And it is possible to fight against idolatry and give God back the number one spot in your life.

Firstly, pray. Apologise to God that something displaced him from top spot, and ask for his help to put him first.

Secondly, take action to remove the idol. In some situations, this may be easy. Turn off your phone during quiet times. Take down all the celebrity posters and spend time with real friends. But in other situations, it might be harder. Letting go of an idea of how you want your life to look, for example, can be challenging.

In these situations, turn to God’s word and to his people. Remind yourself of his goodness, and the good things he gives you. Fill yourself with awe at God’s wondrous deeds and his perfect character, and remember why he deserves to be your top priority. He gave everything for you, so it’s only right that you give everything for him.  

Finally, you might like to tell someone you’ve been struggling with idolatry. Ask them to keep you accountable, and ask you how you’re going. Having a person like this in your life is a gift from God that will help you battle your idols each day.

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