What Makes Something an Idol?

Ask a non-Christian what an idol is, and the answer will probably be positive. They may say an idol is someone they respect or admire. They may describe an idol as a relative, athlete, or celebrity.

But ask a Christian what an idol is, and the answer will probably be negative. They may say an idol is a pagan god. They may describe an idol as materialism, greed, or pride. The word is so common we forget what it means, especially Christians. Should we have idols in our life? And what makes something an idol? Here are three keys:

1. It Glorifies Yourself Instead of God.

An easy way to test whether something in your life is an idol is to ask yourself, “Does this make me look good, or does it make God look good?” Ultimately, all people worship one of two beings: God, or themselves. All other false gods, religions, and idols are tools people use for their own purposes.

A person may own a mansion, but if they use it to honor God instead of themselves, it’s not an idol—it’s a tool! People may also use things that appear godly like a ministry position or spiritual gift and use it to honor themselves. In that case, they’ve turned the tools God provided into idols! Like the Israelites who brought the Ark into battle, they used what God originally gave to honor Him, and they used it to honor themselves instead. The difference between a godly tool and an ungodly idol is the one whom it serves.

2. It Consumes Your Thoughts

Go on your Facebook page. Read through all your posts and comments from the past year. Now scroll through all your photos. Notice any trends? Any person or thing that consumes your thoughts, words, time, energy, or money other than God is an idol.

Some people may say that as long as they don’t want something *more than God, then the love of earthly possessions is okay. Not true. God does not want to be the most loved thing in your life. He wants to be the only loved thing in your life.

Sound harsh? It should. It sounded harsh to those whom Jesus said, “you must hate your Father and Mother and follow me.” It sounded harsh to the rich young ruler who was told that He could not follow Christ unless he sold everything He owned.

It may seem like God wants us to love things less. But in fact it's just the opposite. He wants us to love things more! But the only way to truly love and enjoy anything is by loving and enjoying God first. And the only way to do that is through finding all our satisfaction in Him. When this happens, everything we do becomes worship to God.

3. You Use It To Gain What Can Only Be Gained from God

Every idol in our life is a failed attempt to find in created things what we can only find in the Creator. It’s no wonder that every ethnicity has its own false gods and idols. God designed people for a relationship with Him. Idols represent the substitutes of God we make for ourselves.

But no stone statue, boyfriend, or bright red truck is a good enough idol. They all fail. There is only one Idol worthy of worship. This Idol was not made by man, but by God’s Spirit. It does not stand still, but walks. It does not fall silent, but speaks. God prohibited us from worshipping idols because He Himself would provide the Idol. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He is the tangible, touchable, seeable, manifestation of Yahweh. It may be odd to call Jesus an Idol. But Christ came to Earth to reveal God to man.

God did not form Jesus, but took on form as Jesus. He is the Idol we can walk with and talk with. He is the Idol we can know. This Idol did not demand a sacrifice, it became the sacrifice. Idols are anything we use to replace the Idol that lived and died for us, and wants to know us.


God is not content to share His temple with anyone or anything. Those who put their trust in Christ are now His temple. What other idols are cramming His Holy space, and how can they be redeemed from self-honoring idols to God-honoring tools?

God cannot use a temple occupied by other idols. He cannot use hands already full with worldly treasures. There is not a single breath that God does not demand for His own praise. There is not a single burned calorie that God does not desire for Himself. Every bead of sweat, fleeting thought, and discarded penny, God claims as His own. It may seem ridiculous to give every minor detail of life to God. But the more we know Him, the more silly it seems not to.

Resting in Him,

Pastor Stephen


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