Finding the Idols of Our Hearts – January 13, 2023

Last week, we reminded ourselves that our hearts are an idol factory—our hearts long for things more than God. As a result, every one of us is an idolater. Perhaps you pushed back in your mind as you read last week’s letter. You don’t have idols. You are not a pagan. However, we often don’t see our idols as idols. They camouflage themselves as harmless things. Perhaps they even may appear helpful and spiritual. To dethrone our heart idols, we must first unmask them.

We must define what we mean when we say heart idols. David Powlison states, “‘ Idolatry’ is the characteristic and summary Old Testament word for our drift from God. … Interestingly (and unsurprisingly) the New Testament merges the concept of idolatry and the concept of inordinate, life-ruling desires. Idolatry becomes a problem of the heart, a metaphor for human lust, craving yearning, and greedy demand.”[i] Ken Sande states, “In biblical terms, an idol is something other than God that we set our hearts on (Luke 12:29, I Cor. 10:6), that motivates us (I Cor. 4:5), that masters or rules us (Ps. 119:133), or that we serve (Matt. 6:24).”[ii] Paul Tripp continues, “An idol of the heart is anything that rules me other than God.”[iii] We can clearly see that a heart idol can be just about anything. A heart idol is anything we love and serve more than God.

So how do I find my heart idols? How do I determine what has taken the place of God in my life? Often these are things that everyone around us can identify but we cannot see it. As a result, we must do two things: Acknowledge that we have heart idols and identify an idol’s progression.

Don’t believe the first lie about heart idols: heart idols don’t exist. Heart idols do, indeed, exist. You have an idol. Every one of us has an idol that we battle. In fact, every one of us has multiple heart idols. Unless we acknowledge them, we cannot overcome them. Consider the words of God through the prophet Ezekiel, “Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” (Ezekiel 14:4-6). Paul exhorts us, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Christian, you have a heart idol. And, you must unmask and dethrone that idol. The reality of heart idols helps explain the motivating “why” behind our seeming eagerness to engage in continuing sin.

Once we admit we have a problem, we can begin fixing it. A helpful step in overcoming idolatry is recognizing its progression in our lives. The most beneficial way to unmask idols is through our worship. Today’s Christians have secluded the idea of worship to an event on Sunday. This deceit from Satan leads us to ignore the worship in our hearts every moment of every day. You see, everyone worships something or someone. God made us to worship. As a result, we spend our days sacrificing our time, energy, and emotion to something. That something is what we worship because worship motivates human activity.

We can further identify what we worship through what we treasure. Christ reminds us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In short, we worship what we value. We worship what we want. How do you know what you value? Answer the question: “What are you unwilling to lose?” David Powlison asks the insightful questions, “Has something or someone besides Jesus Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight? It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question. Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?”[iv]

Perhaps you still wonder, what do I worship and what do I value? What you worship, you value; what you value, you serve. Stated another way, “You do what you do because you want what you want. And you want what you want because you love what you love.”[v] When we understand that our actions unmask our idols, we can identify them and dethrone them. For many, their heart idols are good things that have taken God’s place and become evil. It just might be that your heart idol is your reputation, your job, your home, your hobby (like your RV, fishing, or working on vehicles), peace and quiet, or even your family. All of these are good things. But all make terrible gods. Dear friend, what is your heart idol? What do you value more than God? What has taken precedence in your life over the Kingdom of God and His church? The two verses before the quote from Christ we looked at challenge us to refrain from worshipping this world. Instead, we must value eternity. Someday you will stand before God and give an account for your idols. However, you can find joy and purpose if you fight them here.

[i] David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter 1995)

[ii] Ken Sande, Resolving Everyday Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015).

[iii] Paul David Tripp, Instruments in The Redeemers Hands (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002).

[iv] David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart”

[v] This unpublished quote comes from my good friend Dr. Kraig Keck, Professor of Christian Counseling at Faith Baptist Bible College.