We have surface idols—money, our children, a spouse, our stuff.
But we use these surface idols only to serve our deep idols—power, approval, comfort, control.
When we’re driven to want anything (even good things) more than we want God, to want other things to give us what only God can give—it’s idolatry.
Timothy Keller addresses idolatry from a modern perspective in Counterfeit Gods. Such idolatry may look ugly on the outside, or it may not.
For example, the idols within our religious communities often appear spiritual, but elevating doctrinal truth can turn into a false god. Even spiritual gifts can be turned into idols.
Keller says spot your idols by looking here:
- Your imagination
What do you think about when nothing else is demanding your attention?
- How you spend your money
- Your real, daily functional salvation
How do you respond when prayers are answered differently than you’d hoped?
- Your most uncontrollable emotions
When you “pull your emotions up by the roots,” as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.
Here’s his take on self-forgiveness:
When people say, “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,” they mean that they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to them than God’s. Idols function like gods in our lives, and so if we make career or parental approval our god and we fail it, then the idol curses us in our hearts for the rest of our lives. We can’t shake the sense of failure.
And on Romans 1:
In Romans 1:21-25 Saint Paul shows that idolatry is not only one sin among many, but what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart. …Idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong.
Keller’s book is easy to read, but take it slow to digest. Don’t easily skim over idolatry as a problem other people have. We all struggle with attaching too much value on the wrong things. Instead, let our goal be a desire to “want to love Christ so much more that we are not enslaved by our attachments.”
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Listen to Tim Keller explain why he wrote this book.