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Christian Life

“What’s at the Heart of Idolatry?”

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


More Stories Like This on Project Inspired:

Sunday School: “How Do I Start a Conversation About God?”
Bible Study: How Do YOU Recognize Jesus?
Sunday School: What Is the Gospel?

Image: iStockphoto | ThinkStock

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11 Comments

  1. im.His

    Posted by im.His on September 21, 2014 at 13:51

    I struggle with time as my idol. Saying things like “I don’t have to talk to God.” And, I’m very ashamed to say this, technology and social media is a huge struggle for me. Please pray that I learn that He is greater and must become greater and I become less. Thanks y’all!

  2. ams7298

    Posted by ams7298 on October 26, 2013 at 19:26

    There’s a certain detail about the golden calf story that is very eye opening. When the children of Israel built the golden calf, they didn’t worship the calf as Baal or some other pagan god; they were worshiping the calf as Yahweh, the One who delivered them from Egypt! Therefore, what this story illustrates to us is how in the church a lot of people create this fake image of who they think God is instead of who God really is, and worship it when it’s really an idol! Israel made a God that did not require anything from them, just as many Christians today have made a Jesus that doesn’t require them to do anything more than say a prayer and attend church.

    • im.His

      Posted by im.His on September 21, 2014 at 13:52

      So powerful! Thank you for this truth!

    • amberfishnets00

      Posted by amberfishnets00 on November 8, 2013 at 17:27

      @ams7298 Thank you fro your insight. That really struck a cord with me. Thank you for being bold enough to share what God has revealed to you (:

  3. olburrows

    Posted by olburrows on October 26, 2013 at 17:28

    Thank you, Jenn for letting us know how you struggle with this issue and how you deal with it. I need to work on this.

    Blessings to you! 😉

  4. Publicpassion

    Posted by Publicpassion on October 26, 2013 at 14:01

    I’m bad with ego. In fact, the two examples you gave. I’m obsessed with getting to New York and going on Broadway. Everything I do, I think of how it will get me there. Also, I consider my self worth on education. My parents taught me that one. Recently I found out I have a low class ranking. I felt worthless. I need to remember: god above broadway. And he made me special, so I am special. My iq doesn’t matter

    • Project Inspired

      Posted by KaylaHansa on October 26, 2013 at 16:53

      I’m sure we all struggle with this but remember:

      1 Peter 3:4
      But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

      Achievements in this world may be precious in the eye’s of people, but to God a humble, gentle heart is precious. Try to put your time, work, and energy into doing God’s will because if you put it into anything else, it will perish along with your body when you die. But the work you did for God will follow you into heaven. God bless!(:

  5. Project Inspired

    Posted by AnImperfectChristian on October 25, 2013 at 21:52

    Do you think it’s possible to make wanting to be physically beautiful and idol? I mean, I know you can try too hard with makeup and hair and stuff, but I actually don’t do either of those things and I still feel like wanting to be physically pretty is wrong and that I should stop wanting it. Does that make sense to anyone? I don’t know. I’m probably crazy, but thanks for letting me write this anyway.

    • Project Inspired

      Posted by KaylaHansa on October 26, 2013 at 16:45

      Beauty can be an idol even if you don’t use makeup or curl your hair or whatever. It’s about your heart. I don’t think it’s wrong to make yourself look nice, but it’s very easy to care about it more than you should. Try asking yourself questions like: “Do I care more about external beauty than internal?” “If I was offered beautiful, shiny hair or a humble heart, which would I chose?” “What do I spend more time and energy on?” “How much do I care about guys thinking I’m pretty?” “Do I want girls to be jealous of me?” “Do I try to make myself stand out and get noticed?” If you feel being pretty is overly important to you, then just sincerely ask and trust God to help you stop. He WILL change you, I know from personal experience. The Holy Spirit has the power to change you in ways you’ve never imagined. I used to be really obsessed with my physical appearance, and though I definitely still struggle with it, God has helped me come a long way and I know will continue to help me get better. Even though it may seem that caring about beauty is more fun and will make you happier, trust me, you’re far better off when you don’t!

  6. floralcuteness16

    Posted by floralcuteness16 on October 25, 2013 at 15:30

    Sometimes i wonder if i love my sister too much.. am i idolizing her? Can someone help me out?

    • Project Inspired

      Posted by KaylaHansa on October 25, 2013 at 18:26

      Loving other people is a great thing, and there is no such thing as loving someone too much. In fact, the Bible calls us to love others as much our own selves and put others’ needs before ours. However, if we put a certain person above God- that’s when there’s a problem. For example, let’s say your sister really wants you do something for her- something that’s sinful. You don’t want to do it, but you love her so much that you feel tempted to do it, just for her. That would be wrong because you put her before God.

      Luke 15:26
      If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

      The word “hate” used here can also mean “to put in second place” or “love less”.