We all like to talk about God being all that we need, but the sad reality is that while we are good at talking about God being all we need, many of us are living as though God is not all we need.
Yes, God is enough. But if we’re really going to be happy, we also need this relationship.
Yes, God is enough. But if we’re really going to be content, we also need to live in this particular neighborhood.
Yes, God is enough. But if we’re really going to show kindness to those around us, they need to show us respect back.
Yes, God is enough. But when hurt and disappointment enter my life, we really need to be able to distract from it by indulging in junk food, TV, shopping, or maybe even a substance.
Yes, God is enough.
I think one of the biggest blind spots many of us possess in life is idolatry. After all, we don’t often see people worshiping blocks of wood or statues of gold, so we find it easy to brush off idolatry as something from Biblical times that’s not really an issue anymore.
The result? At worst, we can be guilty of dismissing idolatry as a modern-day issue altogether. At best, we may find ourselves resorting to the Sunday-school teaching of associating idols with things such as video games, TV, and money. And while to a certain extent that can be true, the truth is that the most dangerous idols we worship are not physical objects.
Brad Bigney helps us identify idolatry in our hearts by pointing out three characteristics of idols:
Using these guidelines, it becomes clear that idolatry is a bigger issue than we originally thought and can have far more reach than we’d like to admit. Ultimately, we can now see that any area of sin in our lives is a result of idolatry.
The truth is that I would not sin if I didn’t think I needed the result in some way. In contrast, when I am satisfied with God, then I have no reason to sin in my effort to obtain a thing, a person, or a feeling, because I have all that I need in Him. Therefore, any sin that we commit reveals an idol in our hearts that must be torn down and replaced with a right image of God.
You may have noticed in the list above that the idols are not defined in and of themselves as particular objects, but instead are defined by our priority of them and how we interact with them. In fact, most of the idols in our lives are good things that we’ve simply taken too far in how we obtain them, what we think of them, and how we interact with them.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the good things in our lives that can often slip into a wrong place in our hearts and result in idolatry that leads us to sin.
“If I don’t have my kids…”
“If I lose my boyfriend…”
Can friendships become idols? Absolutely. So we must ask ourselves, am I willing to sin to keep this friendship? Am I willing to sin if I might lose this relationship? Has this person become my refuge, my safe place to hide when life is overwhelming? If so, then yes, this friend, this family member , this mentor, may have slipped into an elevated place in your heart and become an idol that you believe you need in your life in order to be “okay.”
“If I lose this job…”
Is God able to take care of us if we lose our jobs? “Yes, yes,” we say impatiently. But then we become desperate to keep our employment, even to the point of lying, stealing, or manipulating in order to ensure we keep it. Or maybe we lose it – and instead of trusting God to provide, we act out in sinful ways by over-indulging in junk food, binge watching TV, drinking, becoming depressed, and isolating. Or maybe we jump at the next job that comes our way, even though it requires us to compromise our relationship with God by working every Sunday. Is employment good? Yes. Is it something you need to be okay in life? No.
“Can you believe that she said to me?”
“How dare he…”
Did you know that being treated fairly can be an idol in our lives? How do we respond when we’re mistreated? If we get angry, if we push back and retaliate, we are choosing a sinful response to being sinned against, which shows us that we have an idol problem. When we are not treated the way we feel we deserve to be treated, we feel justified in our sinful response, which reveals that our relationship with God is not enough for us to be faithful and obedient to Him; we must also be treated with respect by the people around us.
a pain-free life
“I deserve relief…”
“You don’t know what I’ve been through…”
Drugs. Alcohol. Cigarettes. Addictions. These are obvious idols. Duh. Are they, though? Let’s dig a little deeper. Why do we think we need these things? Because of another idol. You see, for each outward expression of idolatry, there’s an inner one. And it’s the inner ones that are the real deal, cause the most damage, and must be removed.
In my years of working with women struggling with addiction, I’ve learned something very important: the addiction is not the problem. It’s merely a symptom of the problem, and it’s their own feeble attempt at curing the problem. Hurt and suffering within causes us to reach for something outside of us to make us feel better, and we can quickly become caught in a cycle of destruction and addiction because we didn’t know how to let God heal us.
To read more of my philosophy of substance abuse and addiction, click here.
“I can’t help it…”
Some people believe that they need medication to be okay. Is medication good? In the right context, yes. But is it a savior? No. I was once counseling someone who struggled with a significant anger problem and I tried to explain that regardless of her circumstances, God called her to be obedient, and further, that He promised her the grace and power necessary to act obedient. In response, she told me that she wouldn’t get angry if she was on medication. She bought into the lie that she could not obey God without her medication. Her medication was her idol. Can medication help us with our struggles? Yes. But medication is a tool, not a cure.
To learn more of my philosophy of mental health and medication, click here.
“God, if you’ll just….”
Sadly, some of us can even be guilty of making God into our own personal idol, saying things like, “God, I’ll obey you, so long as I have this, or if you do that…” Why do so many of us wrestle with only crying out to God when we’re in trouble? Because we want something from God. Once we get it, we go back to the way we were. Or if we don’t get what we want, we take off in anger and bitterness. We sin because of what we did or didn’t get. Ultimately, we begin treating God as our own personal idol, using Him to get what we want.
The nature of idolatry is manipulation.
Ultimately, each of us has one single idol: ourselves.
And we use other people and things for our pleasure and comfort, even God.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
In a word: passionate.