By LESLIE LUDY
I used to believe that all idols were golden statues in ornate temples and that as long as I wasn’t bowing to them, I didn’t have idolatry in my life. But as I’ve studied Scripture and grown deeper in my relationship with Christ, I’ve realized that an idol is not just a statute. Rather, an idol is anything or anyone that takes a higher position than Jesus Christ in my heart and life; anything that claims more of my devotion and affection than Him. Our God is a jealous God, and He wants our entire heart – not just part of it. (See Exodus 20:5.) He says, “I am the Lord, that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Ex. 42:8) and, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Lk 4:8).
Idolatry divides our heart from Christ. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other…” When we have idolatry in our life, we may say (or even believe) that Jesus Christ has our whole heart, but in reality we place our hopes and affections around pursuits outside of Him (i.e. health, money, romance, etc). Scripture is very clear – when we become slaves to our appetites, our financial goals, our romantic pursuits, our popularity, our comforts, or anything else, we cannot be the servants of Christ.
How often do we stand in a worship service and sing songs like, “You are my All in All” while our minds are consumed with thoughts of a relationship or a career opportunity? How often is our identity far more wrapped up in our popularity, achievements, or possessions than in the simple, glorious reality that we are daughters of the King? How often do we think, “If I could only (get married, make more money, lose weight, have more friends, do something exciting, etc) THEN I would be happy, and I would make Jesus my number one focus!” So we spend our prayer times asking God to give us the desires of our heart, all the while forgetting that He should always be the chief desire of our heart.
Idolatry can sneak into our lives in a variety of ways. When the gaze of our soul does not remain singularly fixed upon Jesus Christ, good desires (such as taking care of our bodies, waiting for a godly spouse, or cultivating friendships) can morph into unhealthy preoccupations before we even realize what has happened. A simple intention to eat right can turn into a fixation with health; a God-given longing for marriage can become an obsessive need to find a guy; and a healthy desire for friendship can become a fettish for approval and popularity. Often, the biggest threats to seeking Christ with an undivided heart are not obviously sinful things, but good and God-given desires that subtly start to claim too much of our focus and affection.
So can you know when something has become an idol in your life? Here are some of the most common warning signs:
1) You can’t imagine giving it up (i.e. “if I don’t eat health food, I’ll surely die an early death!” or “if I can’t listen to my favorite music everyday, I’ll be miserable and depressed!” or “if I don’t get married, life won’t be worth living!”)
2) You spend more time and energy on that area than you do on Jesus Christ. For instance, maybe you spend eight hours each week on movies or social media, but only ten minutes in prayer or in studying God’s Word. Or maybe you invest the majority of your time and energy into a relationship (or the pursuit of one) and have very little left over to spend time seeking Christ or sharing Him with others. As much as we don’t like to admit it, the areas that claim the majority of our spare time are usually the areas that have the biggest hold upon our hearts.
3) You find more delight and happiness in that area of your life than you do in your relationship with Christ. Remember, it’s not wrong if earthly things bring us comfort or happiness at a certain level, but Jesus must always remain our source of deepest satisfaction. A great way to determine whether you are truly finding your fulfillment in Christ is to ask yourself the question, “if this area of my life (relationship, pursuit, money, possession, etc) was suddenly stripped away from me, would Jesus be enough?”
Countless Christians through the ages (and today in persecuted countries around the world) have made astounding personal sacrifices, even giving up their very lives, in order to put Jesus first. If these men and women are willing to give up everything in order to serve only one Master – Jesus Christ – can we not do the same? If we are not cultivating an undivided heart toward Christ right now in areas such as food, money, and romance, how can we expect to keep our gaze fixed upon Him when greater trials and sufferings come?
Let us echo the prayer of the Psalmist who prayed,“Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Ps. 86:11). Truly, He is worthy of our whole heart!