We can easily recognize the idol worshipper who lights incense to a small image on his mantle piece. Less obvious, but still easy to identify, is the idolatry of the greedy businessman who neglects God and neighbor with his relentless pursuit of mammon. It will not benefit us spiritually to be on the lookout for idolaters “out there.” We need to look in the mirror. My idolatry might well be invisible to me.
There is a species of idolatry that elevates a good thing to a god thing, and therefore, becomes a sinful thing. Treasures that we cherish, whether abstract or concrete, may grow into idols. Knowledge, ability and activity that become a part of our identity may become idols. Work, family, church, charitable work, theological ability – anything can become an idol. This is why Jesus made his shocking statements about hating family and bringing a sword, not peace, to the world (Matthew 10:34-39). Our Lord gave many other warnings to us about exclusive worship. Have you ever thought about Jesus command to be like a little child as a warning against idolatry? If anyone follows Christ, they must follow him with an undivided, simple devotion. He is God.
Hidden idols may not reveal themselves for what they are until they are violently wrenched from our hands. When we face a debilitating illness or injury; when our career is abruptly ended by a layoff; when a close relationship is shattered by separation; when a loved one is torn from us by sudden death – these are harsh tests of our loyalty to God. Is he good? Is he enough? Do we still submit to him and confess, “What E’er My God Ordains is Right”?
It is at these times, “when the earth gives way” that we must heed the stern command from our Sovereign, “Be still and know that I am God”(Psalm 46:2, 10). If we cannot do this in the face of loss, then we may learn that the object that we lost actually took the place of the One True God as a rival god.
These are harsh tests for idolatry, but they happen under God’s sovereign providence. Losses can be a gift from God in terms of diagnosing idols of our heart. Meditate upon the question, “What can truly devastate me when I am hidden with God in Christ?” (Colossians 3:3). Letting go of important things and even people is a great test of our identity IN CHRIST. The Apostle Paul knew what it was to suffer loss. In 2 Corinthians 1:9, he wrote , “...we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
God knows our pain and sees our tears. The Psalms, particularly, will give us words when we have none. The Gospel will ground us, giving us hope and perspective. However, if we cannot turn to God in trouble, did we really worship him as God in the first place?
Ask God to test your heart. Ask him to uproot and demolish any hidden idols in your life. It is only from God that we will have an undivided heart to worship him in all things.