Everyone has to live for something and if that something isn’t the one true God, it will be a false God–an idol.
An idol is anything more important to you than God. Therefore, you can turn even very good things into idols. You can turn a good thing like family, success, acceptance, money, your plans, etc. into a god thing–into something you worship and place at the center of your life.
This is what sin is. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything (even a good thing) more than God.
Do you know the idols you’re prone to worship? At our church we talk about 4 root idols that we tend to attach our lives to.
CONTROL. You know you have a control idol if your greatest nightmare is uncertainty.
APPROVAL. You know you have an approval idol if your greatest nightmare is rejection.
COMFORT. You know you have a comfort idol if your greatest nightmare is stress/demands.
POWER. You know you have a power idol if your greatest nightmare is humiliation.
Here’s what you need to know about your idol: That idol that you love, it doesn’t love you back. False gods don’t love you. Idols don’t keep their promises. Anything you worship and build your life on other than God will suck the life out of you and destroy you.
A relationship with Jesus starts when you identify and turn from your idols. Notice what Jesus was always doing with people during his ministry–he was constantly identifying and challenging people’s idols, calling them to turn from their false objects of worship in order to follow and worship him.
I’m convinced that the reason there is so much shallow Christianity in our culture is because many people never displace the idolatry in their lives with Jesus, but instead simply bring in Jesus as an “add on” to their life, keeping their idolatry firmly in the center.
Americans think freedom is found in casting off all restraint and being masters of our own lives. What we are blind to is the reality that everybody has a master. We all worship something and whatever we worship is our master. Idols make bad masters. They enslave. Until you identify the idols in your life you will feel enslaved, tired, and unhappy and you won’t know why. You will feel this way until you discover the only master who can set you free: Jesus. Jesus is the one master who will love you even when you fail him. Your idols don’t do that. Jesus is the one master who loved you when you were at your worst and who reigns over your life with perfect wisdom, power, and goodness. He’s the one master you can trust. Only he can give you freedom.
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21
The best short treatment (10-20 pages) on idolatry is chapter 12 of Darrin Patrick’s book, Church Planter.