By Sandy Quandt
Some people make idols, but they are worth nothing. People treasure them, but they are useless (Isaiah 44:9, New Century Version).
God made it perfectly clear how he feels about anything we place before him in our lives. When he gave Moses the first commandment on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20), God said nothing was to be placed before him. Nothing. Yet even while God was telling Moses, “You shall have no other gods before me,” the Israelites were busy in the camp crafting an idol made of gold. The following day, the Israelites offered sacrifices to their newly made golden calf. They exalted the idol as the god who brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 32).
We recall the story. We remember how angry it made God and Moses. We promise we would never do such a thing, but have we? Is there something in your life, other than God, that consumes your devotion and passion? Is there something in your life you look to for help, status, or success? Have you fashioned any golden calves?
How we spend our time and resources are good indicators of who, or what, we worship. An idol is described as any person or thing that dominates our life. It is anything we place before God. Anything we worship. An image. A statue. A person. Idols in today’s world may be less obvious to spot than a golden calf.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . .
you spend more time trying to improve your golf game than you spend trying to improve your spiritual life.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . you’re more concerned about your outward appearance than your inner person.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . you spend more time on the computer connecting with “Friends” than you spend in God’s Word connecting with your one true friend.
What Their Fingers Have Made
The land was full of idols when Isaiah prophesied. The people bowed down to objects they made with their own hands. They worshipped objects made of wood and other materials. In doing so, they did not consider the Creator of those materials as someone worthy to be praised.
When a craftsman cut down a tree to get wood to make his idol, he gave no thought to the one who created the tree in the first place. He fashioned a god out of wood and worshipped, warmed himself, and cooked his supper all from the same piece of wood. Never once did he stop to think, “Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” (Isaiah 44:9-20).
Silly, we might think. But are we guilty of doing the same thing? What about that new car? The new boat? The job promotion at the expense of time spent with family? What about the pride we display when showcasing our talent while neglecting to honor God through our talent? Have we allowed any habit, hobby, person, or preoccupation to be placed next to, or even above, God? Are we looking to something or someone other than God to give our lives meaning? Significance? Self-worth? Our worth is not found in the temporal things of this world. Our worth is found in the fact that we are children of the King.
Idols do not satisfy. Only God can satisfy. Idols create a desire within us to want a bigger, better model. God gives joy and peace to those who desire him. Idols disappoint and let us down. God never disappoints.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . you worship a person for his talent instead of worshipping the Creator who supplied the talent.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . you would grieve over the loss of a possession more than you would grieve over a lost soul.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . you spend more time admiring an object’s speed, classic look, or rugged power than you spend appreciating the fact that you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . you worship the work of your hands instead of the one who gives you the strength each day to complete the work.
Isaiah 40 tells us nothing compares to God. God is not like a lifeless, manmade idol that needs help standing up. God is the Holy One who sits on the throne above the circle of the earth and spreads out the heavens like a tent to sit under.
Idolatrous Acts of Worship
We can turn the rituals of our worship into idols when we allow them to become more important to us than God. God condemns idolatrous acts of worship and points out the folly of expecting idols to save us. Only God can save.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . in your worship, you focus on something other than God.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . you love the rituals of worship, but do not show the love of the Father to others.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . your worship is an attempt to manipulate God instead of an opportunity to glorify him.
You may be worshipping an idol if . . . you can quote numerous Bible chapters and verses, yet remain unchanged through the power of the Word.
Idol, or Not?
Could you be unaware of the idols in your life? Are there idols you’re unwilling to name, for fear you might need to change or give them up? As God points out, all idols are worthless. They are less than nothing. They cannot help us in fearful or difficult situations. Idols cannot give eternal salvation. They cannot forgive sins. Only God can.
When we are tempted to place anyone or anything on a pedestal and worship it, when we are tempted to spend our time on something that steals our time away from God, when our acts of worship teeter on being idolatrous, perhaps we need to go back and read Isaiah 40.
To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing . . . Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom (vv. 25-28).
The next time you’re tempted to make an idol out of something you own—or someone you know—ask yourself these questions. What occupies your time? What are you most afraid of losing? What is the source of your joy? Who, or what, would the people around you say you worship: God, or something else?
Sandy Quandt is a freelance writer in Seabrook, Texas.
Purging Our Idols
“Can or Should We Identify Idols?” from Biblical Counseling Coalition
“13 Questions to Diagnose Your Idolatries” from Desiring God
“How to Identify Your Idols” from The Gospel-Driven Church
For Further Reading
Penguins & Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places
by Madeleine L’Engle
(Random House, Inc., 1996)
Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone
by Elyse Fitzpatrick
(P & R Publishing, 2002)
No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern-Day Idols
by Kelly Minter
(David C. Cook, 2008)
Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry
by Mike Wilkerson
(Crossway Books & Bibles, 2011)