How to Recognize and Get Rid of the Idols in Your Life

Wes  —  May 20, 2015
  • Sumo

Just because you don’t bow down and worship a golden statue does not mean you don’t have idols in your life. In fact, I believe nearly every person in the world struggles with idolatry. Here is a quick way to determine the things in your life which are, or could easily become, your idols. And just as important, how to get rid of the idols in your life.

idols in your life

Make a list of important things.

Try this little exercise: Make a list of all the things that are important in your life. All the things about which you might say, “I don’t know how I could live without this.” Number the list in order of priority (one being most important). Obviously, people reading this blog will probably have “God” on their list. You can make “God” all encompassing (His word, His church, His Son, His Spirit, worshiping Him, etc.).

Other things on your list might be spouse, children, job, hobbies, etc. You might even have things on your list like, “Getting married someday” or, “having children.” In other words, some things on your list might be things you are pursuing rather than things you already have. Anything you see as being extremely important in your life needs to be on your list.

I’ll wait while you make the list…take your time…I’m waiting.

What is the definition of idolatry?

We usually define “idolatry” as making anything in your life more important than God. So in other words, we think as long as God is number one on our list, then we don’t have idols. However, I would like to suggest to you that is an insufficient definition. Furthermore, everything on your list (with the exception of God) might already be an idol in your life, regardless of where they ranked in priority.

When it comes to defining idolatry we usually think of Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We think “before” means, “ahead of in importance.” But that’s NOT what that word means.

“Before me” means, “in my presence” or literally, “in front of my face.” So God isn’t saying, “Don’t have anything in your life that’s more important than me.” He is saying, “Don’t have any gods BESIDES me.” God doesn’t want to be your TOP God, He wants to be your ONLY God. To bring anything else into the presence of God – into the place where God dwells in our hearts – is to make that thing an idol, a false god.

The best definition I’ve ever heard for idolatry is “making a good thing an ultimate thing.” Created things are ALL good things (Genesis 1:12), but when we treat a created thing as ultimate – something that makes life worth living – then it’s an idol.

No created thing should be ultimate in our life. Only the Creator is ultimate. When we “worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator” then we are being idolatrous (Romans 1:25).

What about statues?

Many people say, “Yeah, but I thought idolatry is when you bow down to a statue! I don’t do that.”

The real problem with idolatry – even in ancient times – was in the heart. God said the elders of Israel had “taken their idols into their hearts” (Ezekiel 14:3). And the apostle Paul wrote that covetousness “is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Idolatry is not just about statues; it’s a matter of the heart.

When the ancients worshiped the goddess of love, it was because they made relationships an ultimate thing in their heart. When they worshiped the god of war, it was because they made victory on the battlefield an ultimate thing in their heart. When they worshiped the god of the harvest, it was because they made a bumper crop an ultimate thing in their heart.

They thought that a good harvest, or victory, or love, or beauty, or whatever would satisfy their deepest longings or save them from their deepest fears. They thought if they had that, then they would have “the good life.” In other words, they looked to the creation for what only the Creator could provide. And we do the same thing today…without ever bowing to a statue.

Search your heart. Do you have idols lurking there? To what are you looking for salvation or satisfaction? To what are you saying, “You are my life”?

How do you get rid of the idols?

If you have made a good thing an ultimate thing in your life, how do you change that? How do you rid idols from your heart?

The answer isn’t always to remove the object of our idolatry from our life, to stop loving it, or even to love it less. After all, our family can become the object of our idolatry, but the answer isn’t to love them less. The answer is to love God MORE!

We must allow ourselves to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19) so our love for Him shoves everything else aside, out of His presence, out of the “God” place in our hearts. We must allow God’s magnificence, beauty, and glory to fill our hearts and minds.

This is why prayer, Bible study, praise, and even fasting are so very important! These acts help us see the glory and majesty of God and diminish our dependence on created things.

We must become like Habakuk who essentially said, “If I have no food, but I have God, then I will rejoice” (see Habakuk 3:17-19). Or like Jeremiah, “Even when my city and my people are in ruins, the Lord is my portion and I will hope in Him” (see Lamentations 3:22-24). And like the apostle Paul, “Everything else is rubbish except for knowing the Lord” (see Philippians 3:8).

The only people who’s hearts are truly free from idols are those who can honestly say, “The Lord is all I need! He is my joy, my hope, my pursuit, my life, my all.”

Enjoy things more.

When we let God be our God. When we are completely SATISFIED in Him and when we completely embrace the SALVATION He offers, we won’t go looking for those things anywhere else. We’ll have no need for false gods.

We won’t look to money, or our hobbies, or our spouse, or our children, or any other created thing to satisfy us or save us. Because of that, we won’t expect them to be perfect or eternal. We will love them, cherish them, and enjoy them for who and what they are.

You’ll never enjoy anyone or anything in creation when you expect it to be perfect or eternal. But when you are fully satisfied in God, you can cherish – and be thankful for – all the good things God has created for us to enjoy (see 1 Timothy 6:17).

Try it and you’ll see!

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams