The Apostle Paul says that at the core of all our sin is idolatry. He didn’t just mean bowing down to statues (though that counts). Idolatry is much bigger than that: It’s deciding something has such worth and weight that we think possessing it is the key to a happy life. So we prioritize it over knowing and obeying God.
Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship” (CSB).
Paul is asserting that worship should be an eminently reasonable, common-sense response to what God has done.
Yet at the core of everyone’s sin is a worship disorder. So, what is that for you? What in your life has ultimate worth? What is the key to a happy life? What do you feel you couldn’t be happy without?
If you really want to uncover the things in your life that steal your worship from God, then you need to do an Idolatry Detection Test.
1. Fill in this blank: The thing I’d be most worried about losing is ________________.
(Don’t write down “God.” That’s cheating.)
Is it your family? Money? Respect? Success? Be honest with yourself. Just because you write something down doesn’t mean it is an idol.
2. Fill in this blank: The thing I’d be most worried about never attaining is ________________.
For me, the thing I have been most worried about never attaining is some stature of success. But my wife, like many mothers, tends to answer this with “being a good mom.” It’s not that I don’t care about being a dad, or that she doesn’t care about success. But at the root, we have different idols competing for our hearts.
This is why my moods can sometimes rise and fall based on how well the church is doing, why preaching a bad sermon can be so devastating to me. For Veronica, if the church doesn’t do well, it doesn’t hit her as viscerally. Of course, she cares, but it’s not going to devastate her. But if one of our kids is not doing well in school, then that’s a different story.
So what is it for you?
3. Fill in this blank: “If I could change ________________ about myself right now, I would.”
Is this your career, your living situation, or your looks? Again, there is nothing wrong with these desires for change, but it is important to be aware.
4. Throughout your life, what have you been most willing to sacrifice for?
Worship and sacrifice always go hand in hand. You are willing to sacrifice to gain the favor of whatever you worship.
Again, I sacrifice for success and reputation. Why do I have a propensity to overwork? I want to be successful. Why? Because I want to walk across the street one day and overhear someone say, “There goes J.D. Greear …”
It’s dumb, I know. Don’t do this to me if you see me at the mall.
5. What has made you the most bitter in life?
What got taken away from you that you can’t get over? Maybe you got passed over for a promotion or your ex-spouse kept you from the family you deserved. You’ve never been recognized for the awesome person you are. Your husband doesn’t see it; your kids don’t appreciate it.
Bitterness almost always points to something that has great weight in our lives that we’ve missed out on.
6. What can’t you forgive?
The Christian counselor David Powlison says the inability to forgive is almost always connected to an idol you think someone robbed you of.
7. What are you willing to lie for?
Very few of us lie for kicks. Usually, when you lie, it’s because you are protecting an idol, like your reputation, prosperity, or comfort.
I’ve figured out over the years that even my propensity to bend the truth was connected to my need to succeed. I’m tempted to lie sometimes because I want you to think that I’m more successful than I actually am. I want to cover up my shortcomings and exaggerate my accomplishments because your opinion of me makes me feel significant.
What makes you want to bend the truth?
8. Where do you turn for comfort?
When things go wrong, where do you turn to tell yourself you’re okay? For me, probably unsurprisingly, it’s in my successes. I say to myself, “Well, I’ve built a great church, so I’m OK.” (By the way, you may think I’ve revealed too much. But I want to show you that it’s important to be candid about this if you want to grow.)
Your answer may be your family or your own talents. Or you may think that if you have a lot of money in the bank, everything’s going to be OK. For others, you turn to the comfort of food or drink or pornography or shopping. You think, “As long as my body feels good, I can be happy.”
9. Whose approval do you seek?
There is someone or some group you want to hear say, “Well done.” Is it your friends? Your husband or wife? Your dad? Your team?
Add ‘Em Up
As you look over your answers to this test, notice if you wrote down the same answer three or more times. If you did, then that thing is probably an idol for you.
There’s likely nothing wrong with any of the things you wrote down. But when those things have ultimate worth and weight in your life—in other words, when they displace God—they lead to misery.
The gospel should show you that the only One you can lean your soul on and find satisfaction in is God.
As Creator, he could just demand your worship; but he became your Redeemer to show you he deserved it, to show you that nothing is worthy of your worship except him.