Do You Know Your Identity Idols?


What are your identity idols? In other words, what do you find your identity in besides Christ?

That question is a broad one, but it is one we can answer with a little information. In order to help you answer it, and provide a follow up to my last post on Identity, let me offer five categories of Identity Idols from Mark Driscoll’s latest book: Who Do You Think You Are? 

Identity Idols

(1) ITEMS – Car, clothes, technologies, home, jewelry, furniture, etc.

If our idol is our items:

  1. Our possessions define our identity.
  2. We are driven to obtain certain items to gain status and prestige with our peers.
  3. Our possessions are not valued by their usefulness, but in how they increase or decrease our status and prestige among our peers.

Our identity and our drive to gain status and prestige are why we fought our parents in school to buy us Polo and Air Jordan’s instead of Wal-Mart brand clothing and shoes. We wanted to fit in. Have our friends think of us in a certain way and Wal-Mart shirts were not going to cut it.

If we are honest with ourselves this drive to fit in has not subsided. It has just gotten a bit more expensive since we have traded our Air Jordan’s for Mercedes’ or BMW’s. Seeking status is why most Americans are in perpetual debt and are constantly overpaying.

So you may ask yourself:

  • Why am I in debt?
    • Is it because I am a bad steward of my money?
    • Is it because I am seeking status and prestige?

Answering those questions honestly may be your ticket to financial and spiritual freedom.

(2) DUTIES – The things we do – Job, hobby, sport, parental and grandparent duties, marriage duties.

If our idol is our duties:

  1. We will always be searching for something to excel in.
  2. When we find the thing we can excel in, we will become overcommitted and extremely competitive.
  3. Winning puts us on top of the world, but losing crashes our world, which can result in depression and others not wanting to be around us.
  4. Winning consumes us so we don’t care about others.
  5. Pride will creep up and we will only boast in ourselves.

Those who find their identity in their duties often lose their compassion for others because being better than the next person is all that matters. It is all about winning.

Not only does compassion decrease, if our idol is our duties, but selfishness increases. Activities then tend to be focused on us as well as conversations as we fish for the praise of others.

(3) OTHERSBroadly in our identification with a collective tribe. Narrowly in our individual relationships.

Our tribe is the greater community we closely identify with, which can be our family, city, school, class, sports team, nationality, race, gender, ethnicity, culture, income level, hobby, political party, theological affinity, or even sexual orientation to name a few.

Don’t get me wrong community is good, but community can easily be turned into an idol.

When we make our tribe into an idol we:

  1. Demonize other tribes.
  2. Are devastated when our tribe loses or fails.
  3. Push for our tribe to win/succeed at any cost.

Tribal idolatry often results in hostility between tribes. Think high school football rivalries or the demonization of another political party.

Not only does tribal idolatry result in hostility, but it also results in a desire to win at any cost. Breaking God’s Law, hurting or using others doesn’t matter. It is all about winning. No price is too high to pay.

Alternatively, when we find our identity in individual relationships, we make personal relationships unhealthy because we turn them into an idol and a place where we find our identity.

When we find our identity in others we typically:

  1. Give into peer pressure
  2. People please
  3. Have a codependency problem
  4. Fear man
  5. Change appearance and/or behavior depending on the group we are around.

Idolatry of individual relationships is why peer pressure is so powerful. Acceptance and subsequent identification is why a person may perform acts that are out of character. As well as it is why they may act a certain way around their church friends but another around their neighborhood or school friends. The desire to fit in by pleasing others is powerful and can only truly be combated with the cross.

Identity with relationships can manifest itself in one of two ways: Independence or Dependence. 

Some signs you find your identity in being independent are:

  • You want nothing to do with others.
  • You avoid close relationships so you won’t be hurt.

Some signs you find your identity in dependent relationships are:

  • You can’t be alone.
  • You have unrealistic expectations of relationships.
  • You are demanding, smothering, and needy.
  • You are easily inflated by praise or deflated by criticism.
  • One word either makes or breaks your day, giving others god-like control over you.

(4) LONGINGS – It is a hope that tomorrow will bring something better.

We all have longings. Our longings are what get us up in the morning, cause us to pray to God, and keep us hoping for Christ’s return. These are good longings to have.

Even so, our longings can become an idol when they become the source of our identity. When our longings become our identity, our life becomes excessively governed by our feelings and future, rather than our present, and God’s past, present, and future work on our behalf.

Living for the future can cause our identity to be based in getting physical healing, getting married, having children, fulfilling our vocational ministry goals, achieving financial security, or reaching the next season of life, just to name a few.

An unhealthy idolized view of the future can cause our life to shift in a moments notice leaving us:

  1. Feeling powerful and hopeful when we are healthy, receive good news, or receive an achievement.
  2. Feeling powerless and hopeless when we are sick, receive bad news, or fail to achieve a goal.

In addition, when we live for the future, our identity is always out there and governed by what will happen next. When we set our identity in who we will be in the future, we sin because we are not trusting in who we are in Christ right now. As well as we are setting ourselves up to be swayed by our feelings and future.

Often longing idolatry is most evident when people are diagnosed with a terminal disease. If their world comes crashing down and they become depressed, that may be a sign their future was their idol. However, those who stand strong in the face of death prove they do not find their identity in who they could become in the future, but in something else. Hopefully, that something is Christ and who He has made them right now.

(5) SUFFERING – Emotionally, financially, mentally, physically, relationally, spiritually.

We will suffer in this world in many ways. When we suffer, our hurt and pain can become our identity if we are not careful. My mom constantly dealt with her suffering becoming her identity, as do a number of guys at my church.

While my mom fought Scleroderma, several men in my church are fighting back pain. Their constant pain is a real struggle for them physically and mentally. As they quietly suffer, the one thing they tell me over and over is that they refuse to allow their pain to take over their life. In other words, they refuse to allow their pain to become their identity, which in a real sense it could.

Since suffering often presents itself front and center, we must fight especially hard against this identity idol when presented with the temptation.

In Christ

Instead of finding our identity in our idols we should find it in Christ. He is the One who has made us a new creation, gives us hope, joy, satisfaction, and eternal life. We should not, then, find our identity in our sins, occupation, addictions, hobbies, items, duties, others, longings, or sufferings.

Christ defines who we are by what He has done for us, not what we do, or fail to do for Christ. In Him we are a new creation and a child of God. Being God’s child is one identity that will not let us down. Instead it will change us so that we are able to accomplish our purpose in this life – to glorify God.

So then, as Christians we can say we live from our identity in Christ, not for our identity.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Which category or categories do you fall into?
  2. Does understanding what could be your identity idol help you fight for your identity in Christ?
  3. Are there any other categories you might add?


Post adapted from: Who do you think you are? Ch. 1


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