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Have you put God in second place lately? Do you ever wonder if you are guilty of idolatry? Are you confused about what false idols really are and if you have any? And are you eager to put God first in your life again? This post answers all your questions & more!
- Let’s not be so quick to judge the Israelites for their idolatry…
- What does the Bible say about idolatry?
- What are false idols?
- Is it a false idol?
- What are you (extremely) devoted to?
- 3 easy ways to identify false idols in your life (how to identify objects of extreme devotion):
- Getting rid of your false idols
- Pin It!
9 And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.”
10 So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel.
11 In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising.
12 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’”
13 Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.”Ezekiel 8: 9 – 13
When I read about the Israelites I won’t lie — I judge them. I judge them as ungrateful, irreverent, and sometimes just silly.
Like, how were they so rebellious?? Why did they turn their backs on God so often? Why did they choose to worship other gods — idols made by humans — when the one true God was so present, so obvious and so merciful to them??
Surely if I lived in those times I could never stray from God. I could never put an idol over God and I could never be ungrateful. In my head, I imagine I’d be devoted and sincere and I’d always put God first.
Let’s not be so quick to judge the Israelites for their idolatry…
Even as I typed those last few paragraphs, I knew in my heart that I was oh-so-wrong. In John 8:7 the Bible says: “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” So, let’s be honest.
I can’t for a second judge the Israelites on the way they fell short and maybe you shouldn’t either. Here’s why:
- First of all, just like the Israelites, we do live in a time where God is so present, so obvious and so merciful.
Often we think that God isn’t working miracles like before or He’s communicating with us less. But that’s not true.
The problem is that right now we have so many distractions and so many scientific explanations and theories for the things that happen around us that we don’t recognize them as what they really are — miracles.
- Secondly we live in a time where there’s probably a gazillion more ways to put God second than there ever was back in the time of the Israelites.
We like to think that idolatry is simply the worship of false idols and that idols are just objects that look like gods with bright colors or weird looks. Under that definition, most of us like to think that the likelihood of us being guilty of idolatry is zero to none.
But is that correct?
I’d like to suggest that once something pulls us away from God, we can correctly classify it as an idol. (We’ll talk about that more in a little bit.)
So, I may not bow down to any colorful god-like statues or idols, but I am in NO position to judge the Israelites. Just like them, I struggle to put and keep God first in my life.
What about you?
In this post, we’ll identify 3 sneaky signs you may have idols in your life. Let’s get started!
What does the Bible say about idolatry?
The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of idolatry. Below are two verses in which idolatry is clearly condemned:
In Exodus 20:3-6 God commands us not to have, make, or worship any other gods:
You must have no other gods before me.
Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.
Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the LORD your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.
But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.Exodus 20: 3- 6 (CEB)
Habakkuk 2:18 -19 is a little different and helps us to see how useless it is to worship anything but God:
Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman? Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.
Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.”Habakkuk 2:18 -19 (NIV)
So we know, undoubtedly, that idolatry is wrong. But are we sure that this is a sin we’re not guilty of? We’ll find out soon.
First, if idolatry is the worship of false idols, then we need to be clear on what false idols really are.
What are false idols?
Like I mentioned earlier, we often think an idol is an object that represents some kind of god that we bow and worship. However, this is a limited definition that prevents us from noticing the real idols in our own life.
In order to spot and remove any idols from our lives, we must first have a correct idea of what a false idol really is.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an idol is an object of extreme devotion. Let’s break that down some more, from the bottom up.
What is devotion?
One definition of devotion is ‘religious fervor’ but it isn’t limited to that. The Merriam-Webster dictionary also defines it as “the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal”.
Other synonyms include attachment, commitment, or loyalty.
When we’re attached, committed, or loyal to someone or something we think about them often and consider them in many of our decisions.
What does ‘extreme’ mean?
The dictionary defines extreme as “exceeding the ordinary, usual, or expected”.
Forgive me for getting technical here, but this is important. Let’s look at this definition again.
Notice the words ‘the ordinary’, ‘usual’ or ‘expected’. How do we know when something is more than ‘the ordinary’, ‘usual’, or ‘expected’? There are two ways to know:
1. We can use other people as a guide.
For example, if we say something like ‘She is stronger than the ordinary person.’ We mean that compared to other people she has more strength.
Or if we say ‘Her IQ is higher than what is expected of her age.’ We mean that her IQ is higher than other people of her age.
2. We can also use a person’s own characteristics as a guide
For example, if we say ‘Today she is earlier than usual.’ We mean that today she arrived before the time she arrived on the other days.
Similarly, when it comes to something like devotion, we can also use personal characteristics as a guide.
If we say ‘She is more devoted to it than expected.’ We may mean that compared to her devotion to other people or things in her life, she is more devoted to that one thing.
I hope that makes sense.
Finally, what is an object?
Based on the definitions and context above, I like this description of an object:
“something mental or physical toward which thought, feeling, or action is directed”
For example, we could say: ‘an object of his admiration’ or ‘an object of her abuse’ or an ‘object of my devotion’.
So, what are false idols really?
From the definitions above, we know for sure that a false idol isn’t just an item that we bow and worship.
Rather, a false idol is something physical (like a person or item) or mental (like a mindset or belief) that we are more attached, committed, or loyal to than all the other things in our lives, including God.
Social media, our relationships, celebrities, and the pursuit of success and wealth are just a few things that can be idols in our lives.
Note! Let’s just clarify that although we should be extremely devoted to God, God can’t be an idol because an idol is either physical or mental and God is neither. Rather, He is a spiritual being. You can read more about that here.
Is it a false idol?
It’s important to note that someone or something isn’t an idol simply because it exists.
For example, it’s unlikely that the Israelites’ issue was that they were easily distracted by colorful and shiny objects. Their issue wasn’t that they gave too easily into peer pressure or that they just couldn’t resist the temptation to have an idol of their own in their home.
In fact, the Israelites could have kept those same man-made objects and figurines as decor in their homes.
It’s not a far-fetched idea… many of us do this today. (Check out the photos below.)
No, the issue wasn’t that these objects were present. Rather, it’s more likely that the Israelites issue was an issue of devotion.
Like we saw earlier, when we’re devoted to something, it shows. It shows in the way we act, the things we give our attention to, and the things we make a priority.
The Israelites were quick to worship man-made gods because they weren’t devoted to God. They weren’t attached or committed to Him so other things easily took first place.
It’s our devotion that transforms ordinary things into idols. And not ordinary devotion but extreme devotion — the kind that exceeds even our devotion to God.
What are you (extremely) devoted to?
Now we know what a false idol is and that it’s our extreme devotion that turns an ordinary thing into an idol.
But how do we know when we’re extremely devoted to something?
It’s not always easy to tell and sometimes hard to admit.
So here’s a helpful exercise: using a pen and paper, honestly evaluate your relationships, possessions, goals, and mindsets to see if they fall into any of the following categories.
If you’re already sure you have false idols, check out this post about how to get rid of them and put God first.
Related: These 5 Tips Will Help You Put God First In Your Life
3 easy ways to identify false idols in your life (how to identify objects of extreme devotion):
1. False idols cause you to stray away from Biblical principles and virtues
The Bible is the Christian’s guidebook for life. It lays out principles and commands that God expects us to follow and helps us develop good values and morals.
Some Biblical virtues and principles include love, honesty, justice, peace, and self-control.
If there is something in your life that causes you to act in a way that is against the Bible’s principles, it means that you’re putting that thing before God’s Word and by extension, before God.
You are extremely devoted to it, even more than God.
For example, a job/business and hard work in itself aren’t bad things — in fact, the Bible encourages us to work hard.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.Colossians 3:23 – 24
Both Aimee and Jen have jobs that they love and work hard every day in the hope of getting a promotion.
But, to give herself an advantage, Aimee has become dishonest about her sales and selfish about sharing tips she’s learned to newbies.
She has also become hostile to everyone else who she sees as competition.
In other words, Aimee has placed greater importance on getting a job promotion than on God and what He says.
Here are some Bible verses about doing good that Aimee is ignoring:
For we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.2 Corinthians 8:21
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.Colossians 3:12 -14
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”Galatians 6:10
As we can see, Aimee’s job has become her idol.
Can you think of anything that causes you to stray from Biblical principles and virtues?
2. False idols take time away from God
Realistically, we can’t spend the entire day, every day, worshipping God or reading the Bible.
Even God doesn’t expect that.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.Exodus 20:9
Of course, this verse speaks about God’s Sabbath, but we can also take from it that there is a time for everything. A time to work (and do other secular things) and a time to worship.
That being said, God doesn’t want us to forget Him:
Does a young woman forget her jewelry,
a bride her wedding ornaments?
Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.
In addition, God promises that He will be there if only we would seek Him:
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:12 -13
So, although we may not spend 24 hours worshipping God, God still wants us to remember Him by seeking Him each day.
A problem arises, however, when something in your life causes you — maybe slowly — to cut down on that limited time you spend with God.
Now, this can happen from time to time.
Sometimes we wake up late and have to leave home in a hurry or sometimes we fall asleep and forget to pray.
Sometimes, it’s not that we spend less time with God but that we have to change our routine for whatever reason.
Maybe devotion no longer works for you in the morning. Maybe you have to talk to God in the car on your way to work. I know some women are mothers and their kids’ schedules dictate theirs.
If you fall into any of those last few categories, don’t worry! It doesn’t mean that whatever caused you to miss out on quiet time a few times or changed your routine has become an idol.
Let’s not forget that it’s our extreme devotion that causes something to become an idol.
For example, since starting college, Hannah has a pretty tight schedule.
After class, she works an evening shift from 6 to 9 and then talks to her boyfriend Colt from 9 30 till way past midnight.
Before college and her shift, they’d talk earlier and she’d spend time with God before bed. But now that they’re long distance she feels bad cutting the call off earlier. So, she ends the call at least by 12 30 and then, half asleep, she mumbles The Our Father before crashing.
In the morning, she wakes up a few minutes before her class at 8 am and has very little time to pray.
I don’t want to be too quick to call Colt Hannah’s idol (this is a made up story by the way), but she has consciously and continuously decided to be more loyal to Colt-time than to God-time.
This shows that she is extremely devoted to Colt and her relationship — even more than God.
Can you think of anything that you have consciously and repeatedly allowed to cut down on your time with God?
3. False idols negatively affect your physical and/or mental health
This one is related to the first, but it has to do with a specific Biblical principle — caring for ourselves.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.1 Corinthians 3:16 -17
The final sign you are extremely devoted to something is that you consciously continue to interact with it even though it is negatively affecting your physical and/or mental health.
In other words you have put something above even your own health.
See a problem here?
Bible verses about caring for our bodies
The Bible tells us that our bodies are not are own and that we are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.1 Corinthians 6:19 -20
The Bible also tells us that we should not worry about anything or wear ourselves out trying to get rich.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:7
Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness.Proverbs 23:4
These verses tell us that we ought to care for our bodies and minds, in whatever way we can.
However, protecting our physical and particularly our mental health, sometimes seems to be easier said than done.
Our mental health may take a toll from time to time — maybe after the death of a loved one or after a disappointment. Similarly, we may fall sick for reasons that seem to be out of our control, like heredity illnesses.
So when I talk about this sign, I don’t mean those things that happen from time to time and are out of our control.
What I’m talking about is those things we choose to do although we are fully aware that they affects us negatively.
For some, this may be a toxic relationship, a bad habit, pornography, social media or a job.
If you can’t let go of something even though it’s very clearly hurting you, that’s a good indicator that you are too devoted to it.
For example, Casey has decided to buy herself a car.
She doesn’t make much from her job, so she’s decided to work overtime everyday and come in to work on the weekends. She’s working hard and she’s proud of herself.
Casey also realizes that she can save even more by cutting on her meals. She skips breakfast and has a milkshake and fries for lunch and pizza for dinner, every day.
Later she learns about starting her own online business and decides to ‘burn the midnight oil’ after her shift. She stay up until the wee hours of the morning working on her business.
After 6 months Casey has saved enough for her dream car — but she’s also not feeling so well.
Casey has made her dream car her idol.
Can you think of anything you do even if it affects your mental or physical health in a negative way?
Getting rid of your false idols
You have one, or maybe a couple of idols in your life.
Yeah, me too.
But now what?
First off, I want to say that just like something isn’t an idol simply because it exists, it also isn’t an idol because you put it before God once or twice.
We are all imperfect sinners and we can expect to fall short from time to time.
However, that doesn’t mean you should just be complacent about it. You shouldn’t be simply ‘okay’ that some things tend to come before God in your life even if it’s not often. Instead, here are three (3) things you should do:
Ask God to forgive you for any times you put Him in second place. It doesn’t matter if you have to repent about it everyday.
Everytime you fall short, God has promised to forgive us of our sins.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
2. Be mindful
So you realize that when you’re interested in someone or when you get a new job, you tend to make that your priority over ALL else.
Next time you get into that situation please be mindful! Look out for moments where God (and His Word, principles and commands) are becoming second place.
Notice when your quiet time with God is getting shorter and shorter.
Pay attention when you don’t feel so good.
Let your past experiences serve as a warning to you to be more mindful and careful about the things you make a priority in the future.
3. Take action
Finally, if you feel like you have the tendency to put something or someone before God you should be more than mindful of it.
You need to take deliberate action to stop.
This may involve prayer, understanding why you tend to make some things a priority, and purposefully making plans to put God first in everything.
Decide whether it’s something you need to cut out completely or something that you need to approach a little differently.
For instance, a smoking habit negatively affects your physical and/or mental health and should be cut out completely. On the other hand, if talking to your boyfriend at night takes time away from God, you need to schedule your time differently in a way that you can do both — and give God the priority.
An idol isn’t a colorful god-like object that we bow and worship every day. Rather, an idol can be anything that we become more attached, committed, or loyal to than everything else in our lives, including God.
In this post, you’ll gain a better understanding of what an idol really is and learn to identify the false idols in your life so you can start getting rid of them.