“What’s at the Heart of Idolatry?”
Written by Jenn Arman | October 24, 2013
Girls, do you ever find yourself placing certain things above God on your list of priorities? I do. I often find myself spending more time thinking about things that appeal to me and stuff that entertains me. In fact, some days that’s all I think about: me, me, me.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines idolatry as “the practice of worshiping statues or pictures of a god or gods,” but this isn’t broad enough to cover the Christian concept of idolatry, which means that we put self above everything else, including God.
In the Old Testament, we find the most famous example of idolatry: the Israelites and the golden calf. You can find the whole story in Exodus chapter 32. Moses had gone up on the mountain to receive The Law from God. It was taking a long time for Moses to come back and the Israelites became fearful that their leader had died. They asked Moses’ brother Aaron to make them “gods, who will go before” them (Ex. 32:1, NIV). They took all of their gold jewelry and gave it to Aaron to make their new “god.”
Even as far back as Exodus, idolatry is still all about worship of self. The Israelites gave into the fear they felt, and to feel better, they ordered a human-made god. An idol is anything that replaces the one true God. In the Old Testament, the most common form of idolatry is the worship of images thought to embody the spirits of pagan gods.
These days we don’t worship statues, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that we don’t have idols.
Today, our idolatry takes many different forms, but all of them have worship of self at the core. Let’s take a look at some modern forms of idolatry.
- Materialism – We worship our stuff. It’s important to many people to have the newest clothes or the coolest gadgets. Often this leads to debt, and some people fall victim to spending addiction. Stuff feeds our desire to acquire as many things as we can, taking our focus off God.
- Ego – We worship our own egos. This usually looks like obsession with education or career. We think that the more successful we are in our career or the more education we have, the better. Career and educational status feed our ego and take our focus off God. This can also manifest as obsession with social media.
- Mankind – This can take many forms, from idolizing celebrities (or boys!) to idolizing the scientific achievements of humanity. This worship of mankind gives us the illusion that we’re the lords of our world and that we have no need for God.
- Indulgence – This sort of worship generally takes the form of overeating, drug abuse, alcoholism and even the opposite, which is completely abstaining from certain things like food. It can also show up as obsession with exercise.
For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life—comes not from the Father, but from the world. —1 John 2:16, NIV
Girls, that’s the heart of idolatry, things that the self lusts after. It’s giving in to things that feed our desires instead of letting God align our desires with His.
In the case of the golden calf, the Israelites gave into self-lust for security. Instead of trusting in God for their security, they decided to trust their security to a non-living statue that their eyes could see.
I struggle the most in the areas of lusting after security and materialism. I often make an idol out of spending or acquiring things. It comes from a desire to control my circumstances. The problem with idolatry, however, is that it isn’t in our control. No matter how much I want to think that spending money allows me some amount of control over my life, when it becomes an idol (and sometimes it does), it’s no longer under my control. It’s controlling me.
The only way I know of to defeat idolatry is through regular self-checks and prayer. Stop and ask the Lord to check your heart and show you anything in your life that has taken His place. Then repent and put God back in His rightful place.
Girls, do you have anything in your life that could be an idol?
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. —Psalm 139:23-24
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