Identifying Personal Idolatry

It is common for believers in Christ to view idolatry as something absent in America.  The problem is one of definition.  If idolatry is the physical worship of a piece of art, then idolatry would not be common place.  After all, it is a bit unusual to find a shrine or even a little statue in the average American home.  Those that would allow idolatry to be defined as anything that dominates one’s life continually would admit that some worship at the idols of money, sports, or prestige.  But again, whenever we limit our view of idolatry to only those things that dominate our life it is easy to say that we are not idolatrous.

We would like to encourage, however, a slightly different view of idolatry.  Idolatry is simply valuing someone or something more than pleasing and honoring Christ (Col 1:15-18, 1 Cor 10:31).  Believers are warned in Galatians 5 not to be idolaters and the OT quotations and allusions to the nation of Israel’s idolatry are in virtually every book of the NT.  When one sees idolatry in this light, then we would have to admit that idolatry is common place indeed – much more common in our own lives than we would care to admit.

When I spoke in sinful anger to my wife or one of my children, then I was willing to worship something (maybe it was my desire to be right, my desire to get my way, my desire for peace, etc) – I was idolatrous in that moment.  Looking at idolatry from this perspective inclines one to agree with the addage, “the human heart is a factory of idols.”  If that is true, that I am idolatrous, the question becomes how do I spot idolatry in life?

We believe that an exposition of James 4:1-2 give us two great questions to ask to identify both life dominating and momentary idolatry.

–          Am I willing to sin to get what I want?

The NASB reads, “you lust and do not have so you commit murder.”  The point is clear, there is something that I want bad enough that I would sin so I could have it?  Where is Jesus in the early part of v. 2?  Why isn’t Jesus more important?  In reality, when you choose to sin you choose to worship at the idol of what you wanted rather than at the ministry (death, burial, resurrection, and coming return) of Christ.

–          Am I willing to sin when I don’t get what I want?

This might be called the pouting syndrome.  The text reads, “You are envious and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel.”  Well, if I cannot get what I want then someone has to pay!  That is simply idolatry.

If you will apply this passage to your own life then you can learn to identify things you want more than pleasing Jesus, you can learn to forsake them for the cause of Christ, and then you will be in a position to help your counselees learn the value of this line of thinking to become more like Christ.  The next blog post will highlight the reality that when we are idolatrous, the facts just don’t matter.

Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.