Testing for idols in our hearts
When Jesus Christ becomes our Lord and Saviour, He sends His Holy Spirit to reside in our hearts to guide our conscience, motivations, and inclinations. Many things in this world fight for God’s position in our hearts and divide our devotion to Him. An infinite number of idols tempt us into worshipping other things, including popularity, power, control, approval, pleasure, and comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ESV And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
Galatians 4:6 ESV And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Idols are not limited to the things we can see, such as statues and temples of false gods. Intangible idols such as our reputations, our devotion to social media, or the disproportionate value we place on people’s opinions are just as treacherous. The Bible also lists things like arrogance, sexual immorality, lust, evil desires and greed as idols. These patterns can take up supreme position and rule our hearts without us even noticing.
1 Samuel 15:23 NIV For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry…
1 Corinthians 10:7-8 ESV Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
Colossians 3:5 NIV Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit will convict us if we are willing to ask Him to search our hearts. We certainly need God’s help to identify our idols because we have grown so conditioned to them over the years that we have become “blind” to them.
Psalm 26:2 NIV Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;
Isaiah 42:6-8 ESV “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
The idols that block us from a pure devotion to God
The Holy Spirit is the Ultimate Source of wisdom, truth, love, joy, and peace. When we turn to other things besides God’s Spirit for our answers and fulfillment, we make them our idols.
The things that become our idols are not inherently bad or harmful in themselves. It is the distorted meaning and value that we place on them that make them so. When our devotion is divided between God and the things of this world, we find it impossible to love God with all our hearts.
1 John 2:15 NIV Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.
1. Ideals and self will
We are surrounded by many ideas on how the world should be run and how we should live our lives. Based on the ideals we learn from the world, we dream up the perfect life for ourselves and our families and devote our energies and time to achieving these visions. We falsely believe “I will feel fulfilled once I fulfill this ideal”, only to find ourselves constantly striving and discontent. We believe this is the meaning of our lives, blind to the fact that we might have stepped outside of God’s perfect plans for us. We have simply made our own manmade ideals more important than God’s will.
Isaiah 31:10 ESV “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin;
Proverbs 14:12 ESV There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
God calls every one of us a sinner. As much as we hate to admit, that is our primary identity. We are all fallen human beings who need Jesus. Our ethnicities, our social class, our political parties, our religious sects, our marital status and so forth become meaningless before our one true God. When we idolise our earthly identity, we tend to judge other people’s and dishonor God who created them too.
Romans 3:22 ESV … For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Matthew 22:30 ESV For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
James 3:8-9 ESV but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
3. Emotions, memories
Many of us chase after feelings of romance, thrills, peace, or comfort without realising it. Some of us are still held hostage to regrets or shame from our past. Such fleshly inclinations lead to many destructive or addictive patterns that do not please God. When our emotional desires or memories dominate our thoughts, desires, and decisions, they have become idols that rule our lives.
Romans 8:8 ESV Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
4. People and relationships
Some people and relationships can “govern” us if we allow them to. We can be ruled by the opinions and preferences that our parents, spouse, friends, bosses, church leaders or society place on us. Some of us make our children our life’s focus. When we serve people over God, we may find that we eventually have no identity of our own.
God calls us to follow Him alone, rather than mere human beings. He is the One who had prepared a destiny for us that is not only uniquely our own, but much more rewarding by a hundred times.
Mark 10:29-30 ESV Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
There are places on earth that people hold in high esteem, some of which attract pilgrims and tourists from other countries who come to pay homage to them. Many of these are historical locations that are considered sacred and spiritual. These are idolatrous places that are destined to be destroyed and rededicated to God. God’s Word also says that idolatry defiles the land on which it is done. Perhaps we have paid homage to such places as visitors without realising it.
2 Kings 23:13-14 ESV The king also desecrated the pagan shrines east of Jerusalem… He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles. Then he desecrated these places by scattering human bones over them…
Ezekiel 36:16-18 ESV The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it.
When we turn to anything outside of God alone for truth, support and comfort, we build idols in our hearts. Some of us may religiously wear a cross with the false idea that it can protect us or use prayer objects with the false idea that our actions will be more religious. Alternatively, we turn to our mobile phones, soft toys, lucky charms and other possessions for stress relief and comfort. There are many things our hearts are very fond of and instinctively drawn to. If we are unwilling to cheerfully relinquish and destroy any object for whatever reason, we know that they have become our idols.
1 John 2:15-17 NLT Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
Deuteronomy 29:17-18 ESV And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations…
7. Worldly beliefs
God gave us His eternal truths in the Bible, but our family traditions, cultures, advertisements, social media, politics, and school systems will “teach” us other contrasting truths that harden our hearts towards God’s simple truths. Philosophy and various “ism’s”, such as consumerism, stoicism, humanism, Buddhism, and Marxism, fall into this category. Our ideologies can become more convincing and cemented in our hearts than God’s commandments.
Proverbs 28:14 ESV Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
Seven ways to test for idols in our hearts
Idols invariably set up blockages to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As a result, we don’t get to experience the full potential of His living waters flowing through us. Idols, however, are hard for us to spot in ourselves simply because we have become so accustomed to them.
John 4:13-14 ESV Jesus said … whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Hosea 4:6-7 NLT My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me… They have exchanged the glory of God for the shame of idols.
Here are seven questions we can ask ourselves to test for idols that divide our hearts.
1. What do I think about the first thing I wake up in the morning? Do I praise God or think about the things of this world? | Psalm 5:3,11 ESV O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.
2. What takes up a substantial amount of my energy, time and money, outside my necessary daily activities? Do these override the time I am meant to spend with God each day? | Colossians 3:2 ESV Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
3. What things do I have in my possession that I cannot relinquish? | Proverbs 4:23 ESV Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
4. Whose words and actions can change my moods? Have I subconsciously allowed people to manipulate and control me? | Matthew 11:29-30 ESV Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
5. What memories still stir up subconscious emotions in me that I need to seek God’s healing for? | Psalm 51:7,9,10 NLT Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
6. Do I believe that I need certain things in order to be happy? Is bringing God glory alone truly enough for me? | 1 Corinthians 6:20 ESV For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
7. What aspects of God’s Word do I find hard to accept and believe in wholeheartedly? What is the competing belief I have? Where did I learn it from? | Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Every one of us has legitimate needs that God placed in us that only He can fulfill. Our idols may offer us immediate hope and comfort, but all these are only temporary, counterfeit and enslaving. Instead of giving us true spiritual freedom and joy, idols insidiously pull our hearts away from God.
Galatians 4:8-9 ESV Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
In fact, God’s Word has a serious warning about idolatry. The Bible places our idols in the same category as lustful pleasures, witchcraft, quarreling, outbursts of anger, drunkenness, orgies, just to name a few. We may not violently attack people, indulge in wild debaucherous parties or practice magic, séances or fortune telling. But even if we live what appears to be good, clean lives in the eyes of other people, God sees the idols in our hearts and tells us we are no different.
Galatians 5:19-21 ESV Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
He gives us this stern warning because He doesn’t want us to fall away from Him and forfeit His blessings in the Kingdom of God. He is a good Father who is waiting to welcome us back into His arms, after we have wandered away from His embrace chasing after meaningless idols.
Let us therefore set aside an extended time to be quiet before our Heavenly Father and Creator, and invite Him to reveal the idols in our hearts, so that we can repent and ask Him to create a clean heart, one that is free of idolatry and filled only with the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 4:17 ESV From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Psalm 51:10 ESV Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
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