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What are the Types of Idols We Make?

Idolatry is just as common today as it was in the ancient world. While we often do not make man-made statues, we do produce idols. John Calvin once said that the heart is an idol factory. He meant that we constantly produce idols because we are good at making just about anything into an idol.

What is an Idol?

An idol can be anything that comes before or occupies the place of God in our lives. It is anything other than God that we allow to dominate and control us. It is any activity that we do more for our own self-image and unmet emotional needs than for the pure pursuit of Christ’s Kingdom [1]. We can make idols out of just about anything: our children, our work, our success, our church involvement, our home maintenance, our family obligations, or anything else that we find more joy, peace, acceptance, or worth in other than God. We all have them, we just need to know how to find them, so we can uproot them.

Three Categories of Idols

In Subversive Kingdom, Ed Stetzer, pulling from one of Tim Keller’s sermons, says that our idols tend to orient themselves around three broad categories: Personal, Religious, and Cultural [2]. Here is how he defines each of these categories:

Personal Idols

These are those desires and temptations that individuals commonly pursue: greed, sex, power, various forms of personal indulgence and experience.

Religious Idols

These are those beliefs and practices we employ to quiet our fears and invite inner comfort without having to resort to dependent devotion toward God.

Cultural Idols

These are those idols that present themselves whenever we pursue our hopes and ambitions through the deceptive promises of our world’s ideologies and values.

Conclusion

While we are good at making idols, we have been given the power through Jesus Christ to root these idols out of our lives, and that we must do. As Christians, we are to have no other gods before the One true God (Ex. 20:2). Our God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5). He desires our singular devotion. So we must fight to shut down the idol making factory in our heart, keeping it closed for business.

The first way for us to rid idols from our lives is to understand the types of idols we make, those being personal, religious, and cultural. In addition, we must then pray that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, would shut our idol factory down. After which, we must preach the gospel to ourselves. Always reminding ourselves of what Jesus has done for us, that we are fully accepted in Him, and that we have more joy, peace, and worth in Him than in any man-made object.

Questions for Reflection

  • Do you know the common idols in your life?
  • Are you willing to ask God to reveal your idols?
  • What do you think about the three categories Stetzer uses? Are they helpful?
  • Do you see your heart as an idol making factory?

Resources

[1] Ed Stetzer, Subversive Kingdom, 144-145.
[2] Ibid.

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