How Do You Know Something Is An Idol? - Ep. 1

How Do You Know Something Is An Idol?

I grew up going to church. As in every week, multiple times/week. Idolatry was something we talked about often, and my understanding of them was rooted in the Exodus story. And if I’m being honest, every time I heard it, I thought, “Whew…good thing I don’t struggle with idolatry!” Let’s read it together. Maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Moses had gone up on Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from God. We’re told it took him 40 days and 40 nights to journey to the top and receive them. If you’re one of the Israelites, that’s gotta feel like a long time. You escaped slavery, and you’re waiting on some direction…and now you begin to wonder if Moses is ever coming back down the mountain.

So here’s what the people did. 

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. (Exodus 32:1-6)

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never once been tempted to bow down to a golden calf. Nor have I ever had enough jewelry to melt into the image of anything. So the idea of this being the height of idolatry to me, as a kid, seemed pretty ridiculous. No way would I ever struggle with idolatry.

Then I started playing baseball.

And I wanted this black Easton bat. Nobody else had it. It was perfect…just the right size for me, just the right color, just the right weight. I was bound to be the best hitter in the league if I could just get my hands on it. So I saved up my money and I got it. 

I even brought it into my room and propped it up in the corner (side note...who does that with a bat?) For two weeks, I did this. Every evening and every morning, I’d just look at it and be proud. Then one day I woke up and realized…it doesn’t really bring me the joy I hoped it would. I didn’t hit the homeruns I thought I would, didn’t become the hitting champ…and this was just. A bat.

Come to find out, maybe my heart is more inclined towards idolatry than I thought.

Let’s go back to the Exodus story. Why did the people crave something to bow down to? Because they were waiting on God, but He hadn’t shown up for them quickly enough, or in the way they thought he would.  

And as soon as we put idolatry in that category, suddenly it grips all of our hearts. Where is it in your life that you’re longing for meaning, acceptance, and significance?

We don't make idols out of terrible things. We make idols out of good things. Of our desires and dreams. Of our bodies. Of our jobs. Of our grades. Of our houses.

How do you know something is an idol? Ask yourself the question: what would I do, how would I feel, if it were taken away?

The Bible says, “The poor, deluded fool . . . trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask: ‘Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?’” (Isaiah 44:20 NLT).

In the fitness industry, we make idols out of our bodies, out of our PRs, out of our endurance and our abilities. We think and dream and daydream and ponder on it all day long. We go to bed thinking about it. 

And these dreams lie to us constantly. They tell us that if we hit that PR, we’ll finally be able to belong. We’ll finally be strong, fit, and noticed. That we’ll be successful, accomplished, and have our name written on the board to be seen by everyone. 

What's the lie that your idol calls you to believe? That this thing will make you full, happy, fulfilled? Because it actually does...for a moment. It makes you feel like you're on top of the world...for a second.

  • You're the top performer at your gym...until that other person comes along. 
  • You are the healthiest person you know, and your find your joy and satisfaction and purpose and identity in that...and it gives you all of that...until you have a freak accident.
  • You’re successful in your job…until someone with more talent one-ups you.

Idols sneak into our lives, and set up a home.

This season we’ll be talking through 3 steps in how we deal with idols:

  1. Identify 
  2. Confess 
  3. Replace 

Today, we identified what our idols are. We’ll keep working through this process as we do battle together.


Pastor Ben Reed
Ben Reed is a Pastor at Mission Community Church just outside of Phoenix, AZ. He and his wife have three kids. He is the author of the book, Starting Small, and blogs at Ben is also a runner, a Cross-fitter, and an avid coffee drinker.

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