Idolatry is a powerful chain in the lives of many believers. I am not talking about images of wood or stone. I am talking about the place in our lives where we run to receive what only God can give. I am talking about that place where we put our “functional trust”.
If the word “idol” sounds strange to you in this context, let me pose some questions to help us identify our “idols”. What is that thing, that when you have it in your life, you feel fulfilled? Or what is that thing, that when it is absent, you feel unsettled and discontent? Or what is that thing, that when you have Jesus + ______ , all is right in your world?
Pastor Eric Hoffman writes, “Idolatry begins when we put something else where only God belongs. When we say that God is not enough or His ways are not what I am going to follow, we are consciously putting our hope, trust, security, and identity into a created thing.” Later, Eric asks, “Where are you putting your functional trust?”
On an intellectual or theological level, we know the danger of idols. But on a practical or functional level, in our daily living, what or who are we trusting in? Where are we looking for proof of our value and worth? What are we driven to protect at all costs so that we can project a positive image?
This topic is an expansive one so I will only give it a broad overview in this post. But here are some categories of idols to get us thinking about our own situation.
The idol of power. Are you driven to and find your satisfaction in success, winning, gaining influence? Do you fear humiliation or lack of respect? Maybe power is an idol.
The idol of approval. Do you seek affirmation, love, relationships, at all costs? Is rejection your greatest fear? Maybe approval is an idol for you. This is very much a challenge for me.
A few weeks ago, I represented our neighborhood at a city council meeting to speak against further development at the end of our street. I thought my presentation went well, but the highlight was as I went back to my seat, I received an outpouring of gestures of support and thanks from our neighbors in attendance. Since we had not made much of a connection with some of them yet, I remember this clear thought in my head, “I think they like me.” Why was that approval so important to me? The approval idol in me needed their reassurance to be satisfied.
The idol of comfort. Is your highest goal your own comfort, privacy, freedom, lack of stress? Are your greatest fears wrapped around demands, stress, pain, or loss? Maybe comfort or its variations of pleasure, health, materialism, and recreation are idols in your life.
The idol of control. Are you driven by self-discipline, certainty, standards being kept? Is uncertainty and things beyond your control your greatest fear? Is security in your finances, your career, your family an idol in front of you?
These ideas have barely scratched the surface, but I hope they give you an idea of what I am referring to in the topic of idols. What created thing are we placing our functional trust in?
The answer to idolatry is to place our intellectual, our heartfelt, and our functional trust in Jesus Christ. Look at how the apostle John relates our abiding in Christ to freedom from idols. “And we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (I Jn 5:20-21).
What John is saying in these verses is this: “We are in the true God and in His Son. Our abiding, our identity, our purpose, our provision, our comfort, our security, our approval, and our power are all wrapped up in our connection to God and to His Son Jesus. We know that He is the true God, and we are in Him. Jesus + nothing is what we need. And this truth is part of the eternal life that we are already experiencing. Now, in light of these facts, guard yourselves from idols.”
In light of knowing and abiding in the One who is true, do not accept a counterfeit. Do not accept a cheap imitation. Do not accept a substitute for the real thing. That is what idols are; counterfeits, imitations, substitutes. Life in Christ offers freedom. Idols enslave. They never come through on what they promise. And our pursuit of them keeps us from being secure in the grace of God’s leadership in our lives.
Throw off the chain of the idols in your life. Ask God to reveal what things are enslaving you. What idols are you chasing after that keep you from being present, that keep you from being available to serve the people and situations God has placed in front of you? God has called you to a life of living free; and identifying and confessing the “lesser” things we depend on is the first step to freedom from our chains. Lift up your eyes to the only One who is worthy of our trust, the Lord Jesus Christ who leads our lives.