How To Identify And Remove Idols

August 10, 2015  |  John Kronwald

Jesus’ invitation to follow him is radical. We see many “good” people (like the rich young ruler in Mark 10) count the cost and ultimately turn away disheartened. Even those of us who do choose to follow him know that it’s not easy to love him with all of our heart, soul, and mind like we’re called to (Matt. 22). Can you relate?

Why is it so hard to follow Jesus? I mean, really follow him. If you’re like me it’s easy to talk about trusting him with our lives, but functionally our hearts are often more interested in pursuing our own agendas and finding satisfaction and safety in our own ways. We try to control our own lives, putting our own desires at the center, instead of trusting God. This is called idolatry –loving something else more than we love God.

Idolatry begins to take shape in our hearts when we take good and natural things and elevate them into ultimate things. We begin to worship and serve God-substitutes in place of God himself (Rom. 1). We look to these idols for meaning and purpose, significance and worth.

“An idol is anything in our lives that occupies the place that should be occupied by God alone. Anything that…is central in my life, anything that seems to me…essential. An idol is anything by which I live and on which I depend, anything that…holds such a controlling position in my life that…it moves and rouses and attracts so much of my time and attention, my energy and money.” –D.M. Lloyd-Jones

Idolatry is the reason we ever do anything wrong. Why do we struggle with anger, lust, lying, or impatience? Why do we fail to love God and others more than we love ourselves? It’s always because there is something besides Jesus that we think is better –something our hearts desire more than him- and our hearts become enslaved to those things.

Unfortunately, these things won’t ever truly satisfy –and, even worse, they will ultimately lead to death. Will we risk our eternal future on the fleeting promises of broken idols? I sure hope not. Let’s get serious about following Jesus.

How do we begin to identify the idols in our life? How do we figure out if something or someone besides Jesus has taken the primary position in our hearts for trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight? Here are a few helpful diagnostic questions we can ask ourselves:

  • What is my greatest fear? What do I worry about most?
  • What would crush my heart in despair if I failed or lost it?
  • What do I turn to for comfort when things are difficult in my life?
  • What do I find myself thinking or daydreaming about most easily? What preoccupies my mind when I have down time?
  • What prayer, if it didn’t get answered, would cause me to seriously consider turning away from God?
  • What makes me feel the most self-worth? What am I proudest of?
  • What would make me really happy?

All sorts of different things can become idols in our lives (physical objects, money, career, family, pleasures, roles, status, identity, etc). All of these smaller idols find their roots in the much more foundational idols of comfort, control, approval, and power. How do you see these manifested in your own life?

These are the things we ultimately have to have, and will do anything we can to get more of. These idols are real, they are destructive, and they will always keep us from following Jesus. We need to repent of these idols. Repentance is recognizing these idols won’t satisfy or last, and then turning to the one thing that does…

Jesus is better, look to him. See, the closer we get to Jesus, the less these idols will be able to grip our hearts. It’s true. When we experience the satisfying beauty and goodness of God, all of the other God-substitutes we seek after begin to look pale in comparison.

Only in Christ do we find our greatest joy and deepest pleasure. Only in Christ are we able to find rest from the exhaustion of trying to control our own circumstances. Only in Christ do we find our greatest worth and lasting approval as adopted children of the King. When Jesus calls us to follow him, it’s not a call towards enslaving duty, but a call to experience our greatest good.

Will you join me in committing to a life of all-out, reckless pursuit of the Lord? Let’s turn away from the idols that grip our hearts and chase after the genuine thing. Let’s get serious about following Jesus. For his glory, and our greatest good.