This originally started as a proposed one-article response to a reader request, but as it began to unfold the Lord has seen fit to extend it into now the third piece in this article series. Thus far we have discussed why God hates idolatry and the 8 most popular idols in America. Today let’s discuss the final step in the process: how to break free from and destroy the idols in your life. We can discuss the why and the what all day long, but without a how it is meaningless.
While is is not necessary, if you have not read the first two articles in this series, I personally recommend you read them first. It helps to paint the entire picture on the canvas of your mind and heart.
Part 1: Why Does God Hate Idolatry?
The Science of Idolatry
Idolatry doesn’t happen with the snap of a finger. We slowly relinquish our lives to its power. The more we use, view, or participate in the idol in question, the higher and higher status it takes in our lives.
An idol (outside of an actual false religious deity) is elevated in our lives by the reprogramming of our brain. This is an amazing partnership of science and theology. The brain science of addiction helps to explain the theology of idolatry.
The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.” The addiction to something elevates its position to something higher than God. You become enslaved by and bound to the object, substance, or feeling out of personal submission to it.
You may not do it intentionally, but what is attempting to divide the throne of God in your life? What are you addicted to that is becoming, or has already become an idol in your life?
Whenever you receive pleasure from something, whether it be an object, a habit, a substance, or a relationship your brain releases a chemical called dopamine. “The hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli.”
The more pleasure you get from something, the greater the chemical response in the brain, and therefore the greater the addiction becomes. This addiction becomes something you are unable to live without.
The addiction becomes an idol that attempts to subvert the authority and position of God in your life. You look to this idol/addiction for fulfillment rather than Christ, when He is the only one that can bring true fulfillment.
The process of idolatry happens through a progression. First we give it attention. Then it starts to take a little bit of our affection, which becomes an obsession. Finally, we move in to a place of addiction, and eventually fall completely off the cliff into idolatry.
There Is Hope
The beauty of the Gospel is that there is hope. Regardless of what you and I have done, God has made way for freedom and redemption through the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Idolatry is a work of the flesh and is in stark contradiction to the Spirit, which is alive within you if you consider yourself a Jesus follower (Gal. 5:17). The great news about the atonement of Jesus is this,
…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more… – Romans 5:20
As you encounter the ever-abounding grace of God, Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians become ever more clear.
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. – 1 Corinthians 10:14
God’s grace abounds when sin abounds in us, but His love calls us to obedience. If you and I truly love Him, and are changed by the work of the cross, we will also desire to be obedient. We will kill the idols, and not allow anything in our lives to subvert the throne of God.
As a Jesus follower who is being ever changed into His likeness, you have to stop and allow the Holy Spirit to do an honest assessment of your life and your heart just as David did.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. – Psalm 139:23-24
The intense and sometimes painful probing of the Holy Spirit within your heart may reveal some idols that have raised themselves up. Here is how to break free from them and destroy them.
The 5 Steps To Break Free From & Destroy Your Idols
Alcoholics Anonymous was originally established as a Christian organization, and utilizes a powerful 12-step model for their recovery program. They make the first two steps in addiction recovery (or in this case idolatry recovery) the most important, and I am using them as a model in this instance.
- We admitted we are powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Step 1: Admit It Is An Idol
The first step in breaking free from and destroying your idols is admitting that it has progressed up the ladder of your life and is now an idol. You have to admit any idolatrous thing in your life has made your relationship with it unmanageable; whether that is an object, a relationship, or a substance of idolatry.
Until you come face to face with the temple you have erected, and admit to yourself that it has become an idol in your life, you cannot, and will not, move into a place of walking in freedom from it. You have to be honest with yourself and God that you have allowed it to subvert the throne of God in your life.
Not only do you have to call a spade a spade, or in this case an idol an idol, you have to reestablish God on the throne of your life.
Step 2: (Re)Establish God On The Throne
For some this step will entail re-establishing God to the throne of your life, and for others it will be simply establishing Him on the throne for the first time. I have discussed it in the previous articles, but God will not share his throne. He must be established on the throne of your life.
This is not “getting saved” again (that is a whole other article for another time). This is reestablishing God to the rightful place. It is the coming home of the prodigal son. It is the amending the wrong for attempting to subvert Him from full authority and rightful ruler of your life.
It is admitting to yourself and to God that the idol has in fact become an idol. It is repentance for allowing it to do so. Make a verbal and contrite declaration of the situation. The mouth is the spigot of the heart. If you are contrite in your heart, the mouth will declare it.
Reestablish God to the throne via verbal declaration, and then through action. The next three steps will provide the follow through.
Step 3: Confession And Community
You have admitted your idolatry to yourself and to God. Now it is time to admit it to a fellow brother or sister in Christ. I believe we have lost the art of confession to one another in the body. In James we read,
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. – James 5:16
The body is designed to strengthen and support one another. The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. It was never meant to be a solitary journey. We are made and designed for community. Within the confines of the intimacy of community comes healing, freedom, and restoration.
Listen to these next words very closely: you are not meant to, and you cannot defeat sin in isolation. The enemy will try to convince you that you can, but it is a lie designed to destroy you. Which leads us to the next step.
Step 4: Find Accountability
After confession comes accountability. Find a trusted confidant, coach, elder, or friend in which you can confide. Don’t allow it to be a passing comment, rather approach the person in confidence and confess your situation to them. Their support will help you grow.
Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. – Proverbs 27:17
Accountability is one of the best forms of insurance for growth and goal achievement. On the flipside, accountability is scary. It makes you vulnerable. You have to be open an honest with another person about your struggle.
A true accountability partner, mentor, or coach can help you make some hard decisions.
Step 5: Make Hard Choices
If you look back to the stories of idolatry mentioned in the first part of this series, there were some hard choices that had to be made. When Moses came off the mountain and found them worshiping a golden calf he smashed it and burned it into a fine powder…and then made them drink the water he poured it over.
This wasn’t some idol made from gold that just magically appeared out of thin air. It was made from their personal gold from rings, earrings, and jewelry. Moses made a hard decision. These people were loosing a good chunk of money.
They were instructed by the Lord to destroy and burn the idols when they went into new lands. God didn’t even want them tempted by the gold or silver. That was a hard decision. That money could have set them up pretty good for generations. God wanted them to remember He was their source and not the objects.
The three Hebrew children had to make the hard decision to face death for not bowing to the idol. You too, may have to make some hard decisions.
- Has Facebook become an idol? Do you need to close your account?
- Has your smartphone become an idol? Do you need to get rid of it and go to a simple flip phone?
- Is there a relationship you have idolized that needs to be cut for the sake of the Holiness of God in your life?
- Have you idolized the idea of wealth and status? Do you need to downsize?
I don’t know what the hard decision will be for you and your situation. Only you can decide what that will be, but any good action plan will involve some hard decisions. Everyone else may not understand your decision, but they don’t have to.
If you are intent on honoring the holiness of God in your life, it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. I’m sure it didn’t make sense to outsiders to see the Israelites burn idols so they wouldn’t be tempted by the precious metals.
As I said before, Idolatry is a poisonous sin. It is at the core beneath all of the layers of any sin. At the point we sin, we love that sin more than God, and it has become an idol. RC Sproul put it this way:
Talk about a spiritual gut check!
As you and I continue the process of being changed into His likeness, let us cast aside every idol, and every sin that so easily entangles (Heb. 12:1). Let us destroy the idols and break free from them, so nothing subverts the throne of God in our lives.