The other day I was reading the Gospel Story Bible with my 5 year old son Connar. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great resource. The writers keep the same Christ-centered theme of the Jesus Storybook Bible, but simply include more bible passages. While it does have fewer pictures and slightly more advanced language, it serves as a fantastic supplement or next step up from the Jesus Storyb00k Bible (though even adults like myself find both resources rich and not age restrictive). What it does have at the end of each story are some review questions. And some are not merely “observation” questions-the kind you can answer by simply observing, listening, or looking at the illustration. After discussing the different worship of the Kings of Israel and Judah, the writer asks the question, “How do you know if you are worshiping God or an idol?”
Wow. Great question.
That wasn’t so easy for my 5 year old to answer. Honestly, that’s a hard question for an adult, or simply a mature Christian to answer too. The simple reflex response is always something such as, “I love God more than football, fishing, or fornication.” I mean, who admits or even thinks that he or she loves a sport, hobby, activity (neutral or sinful) more than God. By default we say, God, family, fishing, football. You could fill in the blanks for your life (I simply use football and fishing as a metaphor for hobby/activity/passion).
In Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Trip and Tim Lane describe idolatry as:
“….a desire that rules my heart. My own idolatry is what causes me to be angry. You stand in the way of what I crave, so I lash out against you in anger. This battle over who or what will rule the heart goes on in all of us all the time. What controls the heart will control the behavior. There is no situation or relationship where this battle is not taking place because we all tend to ‘exchange worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of the created thing.’ (Romans 1:25)”
So how do we know if something has become an idol in our hearts?
One simple way is to look at your actions. If you choose to sacrifice your time, energy, hope, commitment to an activity, person, feeling, vision, hope without considering how Jesus views and prioritizes such things in your life, you’re looking at an idol. For instance, if Jesus says _____ about sex, lust, pornography, and you or I choose a different route, then we have worshiped an idol. Or if Jesus doesn’t say ______ about football or fishing, but in order to do partake in those I have to ignore what he says elsewhere about my Christian life, then I have worshiped an idol. We often choose idols over Jesus all the while thinking, “I don’t love fishing or football more than God! That’s crazy talk!” Nope its just our heart talking through our actions, revealing what we ultimately worship.
Connar and I walked through several scenarios together last night. Daddy loves fishing. But if all the thinks about is fishing, that is his idol. If I’m willing to sacrifice regular church worship to take Connar to every baseball tournament under the sun, so that I can get him a college scholarship, then that is the idol I worship. If all you do is play basketball, think about basketball, have a terrible attitude when your team loses, can’t shake hands, fight back when people foul you, then you can know basketball is your idol. Just for the record, I wasn’t that specific and detailed in the scenario.
Of course with Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods, he correctly points out that there are idols beneath the idols. For instance, basketball or fishing could be a means to the ends of success, significance, meaning, approval, etc….But first things first.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you love things more than God. He knows it. Jesus died for it. Admit it, confess it, and go back to the one who is greater than fishing, football, or whatever it is for you. You’ll be able to prioritize and re-place your hobbies and passions (fishing and football are two of my passions) to where they are supposed to be. In the end, since idols always leave us empty, and Jesus claims to do the opposite (John 4), you’ll be glad you did. And continue to do so daily.