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idols: God-substitutes

January 3, 2010

As we started the M-Word series on money today (here’s a link to the sermon download) we discussed a megatheme of Scripture… and your life for that matter.  Idols.  A lot of people reacted positively to this afterwards so I wanted follow up here.

Simply put, idolatry is putting anything in the place of God.  An idol is a God-substitute.  Idolatry is looking to something created for something only the Creator can give.  Whatever the idols in our lives we look to them for…

  • happiness
  • security
  • self-worth
  • identity
  • provision spiritually, emotionally, and socially
  • we build our happiness on them
  • the thought of not having them is our functional hell

To give a personal example from my life, one of the main idols of my heart is the idol of ministry success.  Again, idols are not normal-sized desires for something bad; they’re oversized desires for something good.  Of course ministry success is good, but when it becomes ultimate here’s what happens in my life…

  • It shapes my identity rather than Christ.  I try and be seen as a successful pastor and good leader/preacher rather than as simply “Christ follower”.
  • If I were to lose my ability to preach or see the church tank, I would genuinely despair far beyond appropriate discouragement because I often base my self-worth on my success in ministry instead of basing my self worth on my sonship of God.
  • When the church is doing well, I’m happy and when I feel like it’s not it can consume me inconsolably.  My happiness is built on it.
  • Getting a little vulnerable here:  If someone asks me how big the church is, I’m often tempted to “stretch the truth” (read: lie) to make it sound like we’re bigger than we really are.  Notice this – I will disobey God by lying in order to pay homage to my idol.  This is especially where I can tell that ministry success has moved into idol-status – when I’m willing to sin for it.
  • It controls me through worry, fear, and lust (read: desire for more success).

Now, the key for every one of us is understanding that we have these idols – many of them – in our lives as well.  And remember, idols are almost never bad things.  They’re good things trying to be ultimate things in our lives.

How to diagnose your idols…

  • Examine your daydreams.  When you’re not thinking about anything, what does your mind drift to?  What do you fantasize about?
  • What, if it was removed from your life, would make life seem hardly worth living?
  • What do you worry about?
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer Williams permalink
    January 3, 2010 10:34 pm

    Great message today (picked up a copy at CORE and listened this afternoon). I appreciate your honesty and vunerability. We can always count on you to challenge us with the Word!

  2. Andrea permalink
    January 3, 2010 11:10 pm

    Looking forward to hearing the message online as we were out of town with family for the holidays.

    I’m not so bold as you are to share with the entire church body what idol steals my heart from Christ, but I should be, especially because accountability and transparency enables you to fight it with greater strength. Know that your family is praying with the Spirit who knows just what to pray.

    Still, it seems out of place for a pastor to confess sin before a congregation (simply because it doesn’t happen a lot), but it is an excellent example for how each of us should deal with our own sin. Thanks Josh.



  1. Idolatry: Money as Joy «

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