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How to Diagnose Idolatry?

How do we Diagnose Idolatry?

Idolatry begins in our hearts. Our hearts are tricky to diagnose – we are often our own worst judges of what our hearts desire. But here are some warning signs:

  • Obsessive thoughts. What do we think about and worry about more than anything else? When our heads hit the pillow at night, what are the thoughts that keep us awake? Could these thoughts point to desires and ambitions that are crowding out God in your heart?
  • “If onlys...” can be key threads to pull on. Do you keep coming back to that One Thing that you wish could change – a better job, a nicer house, recognition by your spouse or employer, obedient children, retirement, an ideal marriage?

Regarding our “if only?” idols. Try replacing “if only” with “I covet.” For instance, I covet a better income. I covet obedient kids. I covet a loving, supportive spouse. I covet a better house for my family. That puts a different construction on some of our desires, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong – not every dream or desire is idolatry. As a matter of fact, we are encouraged to enjoy God’s good gifts, to work hard, to find satisfaction in the goodness of God’s good creation – but not ultimate satisfaction. We must keep created things in their place under our Creator God.

To love God with all our heart is to recognize that our many other legitimate loves are all gifts from the hand of our Good God. Of course it is good to love family, leisure time, good food, the beauty of nature, friendship and many more things, but how do these things measure up compared with God in our hearts? Do we thank God while we are enjoying these things? Does our participation in these other things that we desire and enjoy bring glory to God?

  • Pride. We can recognize this when we begin to be irritated that other people do not recognize our contributions, or even our potential contributions. We feel slighted. We are bothered because things we understand to be our entitlements are not being satisfied. The most common idol that I must fight is the idol that is ME.

Another note of caution here: Idolatry doesn’t always come to us in the clothing of worldly desire. Some of the worst forms of idolatry are legalism in its various forms.

You might see two professing Christians, one who seems to be happy-go-lucky and tuned into enjoying life and the other is spiritually earnest and highly disciplined – apparently consumed with pursuing obedience and holiness. Don’t assume that the easy-going person is in greater danger of falling into idolatry.

READ 1 Timothy 4:1-5 – And remember the Pharisees!

  • Anger and Conflict in our relationships – James 4:1-2. If there is conflict in our relationships, chances are you are fighting an idol of unfulfilled desire. We should see conflict as red warning light glowing on our dashboard. Check your desires, root out your unfulfilled cravings.
  • Bitterness – an Unforgiving Spirit. Hebrews 12:15, “See that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Bitterness doesn’t stay contained in our heart. It will spill over. It will defile many, just like all idols do. When we, as redeemed sinners, stand at the foot of the cross, what right do we have to be angry?
  • Complaining. When we complain, we are accusing God of failing to govern his universe up to our standards. Understand that we can be legitimately sad, confused and disappointed and not be guilty of idolatry, but we need to keep a watch on our attitude. We run the danger of accusing God of wrongdoing when we complain.
  • Persistent, Remaining Sin. Don’t be content to call it “my struggle with sanctification.” You need to call it idolatry, recognize what it will cost you and turn away from it. If your particular sin is the “lust of the eyes,” then stop it. Do what it takes to see how destructive this idol is. Get help. Confess this sin and KILL IT. Pornography and sexual idols are a terrible problem in the church. Remember, this is where Solomon first went wrong. Don’t call him a fool if you still succumb to sexual temptation.
  • Loss. We may not be aware that something is an idol until it is taken away from us. How do we respond to God when really bad things happen? We may face a difficult diagnosis at the Dr.’s office. We might lose our job. What if lose a loved one? 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 us when we are hidden with God in Christ?” Letting go of the 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.”

That’s a distressing list. Is there any of us who isn’t challenged by these things?

What are we doing when we fall into idolatry?

READ Jeremiah 2:11-13