Idol I.D. Guide

In this past Sunday’s message, I focused on John 4 and the woman at the well whom Jesus met.  We looked at the relationship pattern in her life and how it revealed idolatry in her heart.  Along the way, we covered the damaging effects of idol worship and how only Jesus can set us free.

What is an idol? Anything that we elevate to ultimate importance over God.  When God becomes the means to an end, such as happiness or success, that is a clear sign of idolatry.  An idol can be anywhere we place our trust and hope for the future, other than in the living God.  Idols are false gods.  We believe they will deliver on some promise we’ve projected onto them.  I say “projected” because false gods don’t exist; they aren’t alive.  There is only one, true God (Deut. 4).  But that doesn’t stop us from placing our trust elsewhere.  Our sin nature has bent our hearts to resist our Creator and to trust in anything and everything else.  Idols always fail, consume, and destroy us – sooner or later.

To expand on a principle or two that I covered very quickly in Sunday’s message, I’d like to offer this guide for identifying the idols we’ve set up in our hearts:

Follow the lines of time, talent, and treasure in your life.

  • Where are large amounts of my time being spent?  If this isn’t clear, keep a detailed calendar for a few weeks.
  • To what do I commit my abilities, talents, and skills?  What excites and energizes me?  What makes me feel useful or important?
  • How do I spend my money or direct my material wealth?A checkbook register or bank statement are helpful records for this. (Not keeping track of how financial resources are used is poor stewardship and should be noted in the next section below.)

These aren’t necessarily areas of idolatry, but they are areas of vulnerability. They require significant commitment of the resources God has given us, and are themselves usually good things that God has given us, but may or may not be areas of idolatry in our lives.  Examples are work, family, home, and even the church.

Look for clear disobedience, according to scripture, in these areas.

  • Am I doing things that I clearly SHOULD NOT be doing?
  • Am I not doing things that I clearly SHOULD be doing?
  • Is there anything I am not willing to sacrifice in order to rebuild my life around the mission of Jesus Christ?

Look for absence of fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) in these areas.

  • Love: Am I failing to put the needs of others before my own?
  • Joy: Am I attempting to find happiness somewhere other than in God?
  • Peace: Am I anxious or troubled?  Do I struggle to pray about something?
  • Patience: Do I get angry or impatient when dealing with others?
  • Kindness: Do I seek to actively bless others?  Do I withhold doing good?
  • Goodness: Am I seeking excellence for God’s glory or my own?
  • Faithfulness: Am I keeping commitments toward truly important things?  Am I trusting God or relying on myself?
  • Gentleness: Do I try to control others?  Am I using my strengths to serve?
  • Self-control: Am I exhibiting addictive tendencies or lack of discipline?

These questions are just starting points, but they take us in the right direction.  We also may need the counsel of a trusted friend to help us see ourselves more objectively.  Finally, the Holy Spirit is able to reveal the conditions of our hearts and bring conviction over sin; there is no substitute for seeking His help.

Confess our sin, resting in the completed work of Christ.

Only Jesus can free us from the enslavement of our idols!  We have no hope or future apart from Him.  If you’ve identified idolatry in your heart, ask for God’s forgiveness.  Remember the following:

  • Idols fail:  In Jesus Christ, God keeps his promises.
  • Idols consume without giving satisfaction:  In Jesus Christ, the price of sin has been satisfied.  Only the eternal, living God is able to give satisfaction.
  • Idols destroy:  In Jesus Christ, we receive abundant and eternal life.

Take concrete steps of obedience.

Seek ways to bring these areas into greater obedience.  That might mean leaving certain activities behind, or perhaps making adjustments that bring God’s purposes into greater focus.  Use the accountability of others in the church to move forward and maintain a right perspective.

My hope and prayer is that this guide is helpful for you.  May real life be yours in Jesus!

What do you think about this guide?  Is it helpful for you?  Did I miss anything?


About Larry Lakey

Jesus follower, husband, father, pastor, preacher, leader, bass player, recovering legalist.

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