If we exalt money, status, or sex above the Word of God, we are living in idolatry. Every time we inwardly submit to the strongholds of fear, bitterness, and pride, we are bowing to the rulers of darkness. Each of these idols must be smashed, splintered, and obliterated from the landscape of our hearts. Francis Frangipane
An idol will always break your heart, No created thing can bear the freight of your deepest hopes, or the weight of your soul’s longings. Tim Keller
No other gods
And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6
As God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel were worshiping and sacrificing to a golden calf of their own making. Nothing much has changed today as people in our culture may not bow down to golden calves so much, but mankind is continually worshiping a god of their own making instead of the one true God. Idolatry is so very prevalent in our culture here in the USA and in all cultures around the globe. It takes on different forms and may look different on the exterior, but in reality anything, good or bad, can become an idol.
We think it strange that in India the Hindu religion literally has millions of gods, but upon a close and careful examination, there are millions of gods, right here in the USA, because an idol is anything that we make into an ultimate thing. It is anything created from which we try to draw life, satisfaction, hope, or fulfillment. We all worship. Even atheists worship. Everyone worships someone or something. Idolatry is simply the worship of the creature or a created thing, instead of the worship of the Creator.
And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. Romans 1: 23-25 NLT
Saved, born again, Christians might have a very difficult time recognizing the idols in their hearts. However, the only way to a completely victorious life of walking with Jesus Christ, and experiencing the fullness of His love, joy, and peace is to rid our hearts of any and all idols, in order to keep our hearts pure for our one true love, Jesus Christ. The problem we face is that our human hearts are idol factories, or we could say image factories. They are continually producing new images to which we sometimes attach ourselves, or on which we put too much value and in time, come to love, trust, and obey.
Idols come in all forms, shapes and sizes and can be anything. There are personal idols such as money, career, or achievement or relational idols that could be your spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, or anyone that you look to as a source of life and put before God in your life. There are even religious idols such as your dogma, your leader, your ministry, your gifts, or even your moral record can become an idol. There are theological idols, political idols, cultural idols, and philosophical idols. The human heart often has hidden deep motivational idols such as a great need for power, acceptance, comfort, or control.
This list goes on and on, because an idol can be anything that is more important to you than God. It can be anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God. An idol can be anything you seek to give you what only God can give. An idol is whatever you look at and say in your heart, “If I have that, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” An idol is anything you worship other than your Creator.
"When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an 'idol,' something you are actually worshiping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, 'What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?' It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger." - Tim Keller
When trying to discern or see the idols in your heart, you should ask yourself what is your worst nightmare, or what is it in your life that, if you lost it, would cause you to no longer want to live or cause you to feel as if you have no meaning or purpose in your life. Another good way of identifying idols in your heart is to see what is your default setting, or what do you turn to when you get down in life? When you get depressed, low, or have the blues, what do you find yourself doing? Some turn to sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol, entertainment, or maybe even food. What are you reaching for in order to give you life? To what are you looking as your source of life?
An idol is what you love, trust, and obey. For example, when I was a young man, I thought that success was the meaning of life. I equated making and accumulating money as being successful. When I learned the skill to do so, for the first seven years of my early career, I was totally driven to make money. That was my primary focus in life. I loved money and the making of money. I trusted that money would satisfy my deepest longings, make me feel valued and make my life meaningful. Thus, I became a slave or a servant to money, as my career was the top priority of my life. When there was a big business deal, it came first. No matter whose birthday it was or what important family event was happening, the business came first, and it came at a great cost to my family and to my walk with God.
My idol of money was a cruel god, and even though it promised me happiness, it could never deliver on its promise. There was nothing in money that could satisfy my heart; never enough to make me feel secure. Making money was a cruel taskmaster that didn’t care that I had to give my entire life in order to earn it. I didn’t know it at the time, but money had become my god.
When I became born again, Jesus Christ and His love and grace so permeated my heart that He literally destroyed the idols in my heart. My experience was so great! Once I saw my pride and the root problem as the love of money, I repented and called upon the name of Jesus. When Jesus came to me and saved me, His love and grace destroyed my idols. He established Himself as the center of my life in such a profound way that He became my only God. My heart had no room for any other lovers, as Jesus became my all in all.
My walk with Jesus was absolutely wonderful for a couple of years, then slowly but surely, over a period of time, unknowing to me, I gradually lost my first love with Jesus and allowed other idols to take residency in my heart. The idols I discovered had come in the most surprising form of religious idols. Religion is the last place I would have looked to find idols. But if you study ancient cultures and religions, they all were infested with idolatry.
What do I mean by religious idols? Well in my case, I was trusting in the dogma of my religious leader and my accuracy about what I believed, instead of trusting in only Jesus Christ and what He did for me on the cross of Calvary. A dogma can be a great thing, but when it becomes the ultimate thing, it becomes an idol. Our faith needs to be in Jesus and what He did and is still doing for us, instead of placing our faith in ourselves and our ability to choose and understand doctrinal truth correctly. Also, idolatry includes putting my trust in a person to help me find the will of God instead of placing my trust in Jesus alone to be my one and true mediator between God and me. Religion can be a good thing, but when you substitute religion for your relationship with Jesus, then religion can become an idol.
When Paul preached, entire communities were transformed because Paul would always discern the idols, expose the idols, and then destroy the idols. Today, so many preachers lead people in the sinner's prayer, with no repentance for idolatry, and it has created a religious culture in the USA where the Christians are not living much different from the world, if at all. We need to go back to the way it was in the early church and be bold about discerning idols, exposing idols, and destroying idols. Once we as a church do this, then true revival will come and our entire communities will be transformed.
…..for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God. Exodus 20:5
God is jealous over us; not the sinful jealousy of the world, but a good Godly jealousy. This word means not bearing any rivals, jealousy of lovers, ardent zeal, ardent love, ardor, anger, indignation, to buy, to purchase to acquire, to possess.
This means that God loves us so much that He wants us to be His Bride. He does not want to share us with other lovers. He wants to be our all in all, our one and only. God is looking for an exclusive commitment from us in a love relationship with Him. The only way a marriage will work is for each party to be faithful to the other. God frequently uses the metaphor of spiritual adultery when describing idolatry in the Bible, because this is what idolatry is; it is us cheating on God.
Our hearts will always crank out images that can turn into idols if we place too much value on the image. The key is to never attach ourselves to the image, because once attached, an attraction and an affection grows and develops. Then it is easy to begin placing our trust in the image and even serving or obeying it. At this point, we have full blown idolatry.
The children of Israel were saved in Egypt as they put the lamb’s blood over the doorposts of their houses on Passover night. Afterwards, the miraculous Cloud and Fire led them out of Egypt. God did a major miracle when He split the Red Sea, delivered them from Pharaoh's army as Israel walked through the sea on dry land and drowned the Egyptian army. The next thing Israel did was to shout and dance on the banks of the Red Sea as they rejoiced over the fact that God gave them a mighty deliverance. Just a short time later, Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the law from God and when Moses came down from the mountain, the children of Israel were worshiping, dancing around, and sacrificing to a golden calf. They were engaged in full-scale idolatry just a few days removed from one of the greatest miracles ever witnessed or experienced by humanity. This should be a wake-up call to Christians because even though we may have had great experiences with God in the past, our human hearts are always capable of generating an image that can turn into a golden calf of worship.
All idolatry begins with a wrong thought. A wrong thought—usually based on some lie that we have heard—will cause us to believe a wrong thing. More wrong thoughts create an ideology that becomes idolatry. These idols actually become strongholds of the enemy that establish themselves in our hearts and minds. The only way for a person to receive the liberating truth of the Gospel is to violently tear down the strongholds, or to destroy the idols. Without getting rid of the idolatry, the truth of the Gospel cannot take root in our hearts.
An idol can be anything, and it can be formed from any lie. Just a small little distortion of the truth can deceive someone into forming a false and deceptive ideology that can turn into idolatry. Take, for example, the subject of covetousness, which the Bible calls idolatry. This begins with the lie that having something more, or something better, or something bigger will make me happier. ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ is an American way of thinking. The modern day culture of the USA is so steeped in materialism, greed, and covetousness that we Christians can hardly recognize it in our community or even worse in our own hearts. This all begins with lies we are exposed to every day in our schools, businesses, political circles, and almost all forms of advertising. We treat something the Bible calls idolatry as a lesser offense, because of the culture in which we are living. We need the truth of God’s Word to shine His light upon the idols of our hearts in order to discern, expose, and destroy them. God’s Word calls covetousness idolatry. Therefore, instead of justifying our lifestyles to ourselves continually, we should be praying, "LORD, please show me if there is any covetousness in my heart and help me rid myself of such thinking."
The good news is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can and will destroy the idols of our hearts if we are willing. When a person sees or discerns their idolatry, then it becomes exposed. If they really want to be set free from the idol, all they need to do is to repent and call upon the name of Jesus Christ. This is when grace shows up and allows our hearts to melt at the sight of the Savior dying on a cross for our sins. Then the grace and love of God can permeate our heart in such a way that it will destroy the power of the idol and rid our heart of idolatry.
Remember that an idol begins with a lie being received into someone’s heart. The lie grows into an ideology, and if not dealt with, develops into full-blown idolatry. So the core or the root of the idol is always receiving a lie from the Devil into our being.
When man makes a golden calf, he is forming and shaping a god of his own understanding, or he is making a god into what he wants him to be instead of seeing God for who He really is and what He is really like. If we view God in a false way or believe Him to be different from what He really is, then we have made a golden calf. Wrong ideologies about God are dangerous because they will have us loving, trusting, and obeying something other than the one true God.
To get rid of the idol, we must replace it with the truth and this can only come from repentance. Repentance means to change the way we think, which will change the way we believe and behave. But repentance alone will not fix our problem. It takes repentance and the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Once we repent, if we will call upon the name of Jesus, His grace can be poured into our heart in such a powerful way that it will destroy the idols. This is what is so awesome about the grace of God that we can continually experience as we have encounters with Jesus Christ. Jesus came to save us from our sins and to set us free from the idolatry that enslaves us.