Idolatry is a most poisonous sin. The habits and creations slowly climb their way up the ladder of your life seeking and absorbing attention. Sometimes we willingly participate in their ascent to the throne of idol in our lives, while others creep slow enough that we never realize their ascended position until it’s too late.
Last week I discussed the reasons why God hates idolatry. This week I want to expand on that, and take a look at some of the most common idols today. The majority of this article will discuss the idols that are present in our lives outside of the realm of false religious deities, but I will touch on those as well.
Idols & Icons
Every created object, every habit, and every idea can serve one of two purposes, but it cannot serve both. They can be idols or icons. My doctoral mentor pointed out this distinction at our first advance and it has stuck with me ever since.
Idols point to themselves, and remove the glory from God. Icons on the other hand, point past themselves to something greater. An icon uses its popularity to point others to God. This goes for both “sacred” and “secular” things. Icons are signifiers pointing to the signified.
The problem comes when we allow the secular objects to become idols that take away glory from God.
The Root Of All Sins
Frank Viola once commented that, when you peel back the layers of any sin, idolatry is at the heart of it. Think about that for a minute. When you get to the heart of any sin, it is idolatry. We have loved that sin more than we have loved God.
Of course the idol in question may just be something that gives you a feel good response, or it may be an all-consuming habit. If you de-layer the onion, you can see that the substance, object, feeling, or person in which one is addicted to is in reality loved more than God.
The Most Common Idols In America
America has many idols that have been molded and shaped by the fires of its culture. Some idols are tangible, while others are mindsets or invasions into the soul of a man. These idols have invaded even the most sacred of places and minds. I do not count myself innocent by any means.
In no specific order, here are some of the most common idols in America today.
The Idol Of False Deities
While the majority of the population in the United States identifies as Christian in some sense (Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, or other Christian), there are other religions present in miniscule percentages within the borders of the US. Step past our shores though, and in many countries you will find the complete opposite of these statistics.
Under the teaching of the Bible, God alone, El Elyon, The Lord Most High, is the one true God. Not all paths, or religions, lead to God as some would believe.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. – John 14:6
The only path to heaven is through Jesus Christ. The God of heaven provides open relationship with mankind through belief and fellowship in Jesus Christ. Any mixing of ideologies, religions, or theologies with this teaching is called syncretism, and this is a dangerous and slippery slope.
The beauty of the Internet and world travel is the connectedness it brings to humanity. The problem is the infiltration of false teaching that attempts to blend these religious teachings together.
The Idol Of Self
With the abundance of attention available through likes, loves, and followers, many have elevated themselves like Lucifer did. Their addiction to attention has focused their eyes upon themselves, rather than upon the Lord. There is no place for the self-life in the throne room of God.
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. – Luke 9:23-24
The call of Christ remains the same as it did 2000 years ago. Deny the self, and focus on God and focus on others. Paul gives us the ol’ one, two, punch with his words in his letter to the Philippians.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4
How’s that for a kick to the pants? The only reason to love yourself, is to see the love God has for you, so you can lavish it on others. But you do not focus on yourself. You act as an icon to point past yourself to Christ. You point people to Him, through the love he has shown you. In reality, as Christ followers, we are called to live in obscurity.
The Idol Of Technology
Technology is a beautiful thing. It continues to progress at exponential speeds, and there are many amazing (and scary) innovations that lay ahead. Trust me, my doctoral dissertation is focusing on emerging technologies.
Technology is one of those arenas that can quickly move from icon to idol. There is no doubt that technology can and does produce immeasurable good; but it how often do you see someone “have to have” the latest smart phone, most high-end mac book, or the biggest and greatest LED tv?
How many times do you check to make sure your phone is with you when you go somewhere, even to the other room? Our smart phones could be considered the new idols of Ephesus. I would venture to bet many would be more upset if their phone were stolen, than their wallet.
Now we are even looking to technology to save us. There are teams of people working to find ways to upload your brain and consciousness to a computer. Ray Kurzweil sees this happening by 2045. We want to immortalize ourselves through the use of technology. We are idolizing technology to save the self.
The Idol Of Social Media
Ding. Ding. You look down at the lit up screen to see red badge after red badge across your screen: six new notifications on Facebook; eight new notifications on Instagram, twelve new notifications on Twitter.
Social media has overtaken the lives of most of the population. How many times do you check your streams over and over for another new notification? Trust me, I am just as guilty on this one. I go through periods of deleting social media from my phone because I know it gets to be addictive.
A quick Google search reveals that people, on average, spend nearly two hours a day on social media. For some this number is even higher.
The pleasure you get from positive notifications in your social media feed create the same dopamine response in your brain as any other addiction. The problem comes when the affection for faux connection turns to idolatry.
Social media is more isolating than connecting. It segregates us to our separate quarters, destroying flesh and blood community, under the false pretense that we are still connected.
The Idol Of Status
The idolization of status is the aspiration that once you reach this position at work, or have this many followers on social media, or you live in that neighborhood and drive that car, then you will have made it. When those status symbols are both the end goal, and the driving force behind your life they have become an idol.
We all desire to be known. We want to be loved and accepted. The idol of status causes us to seek being known from our position in this world, rather than seeking to be known by the Holy One, or even worse, rather than seeking to know the Holy One.
The honest truth is that some people should not be known. The platform and influence goes to their head, and they make themselves, and their status an idol in which everything else in their life bows to.
The purpose of status, platform, and influence are not for the attention to self, but for the advancement of the Kingdom. For the Jesus follower, your status should only make you an icon, rather than an idol. Status should point past yourself to something, nay, Someone greater.
As a writer, I regularly have to check myself. My website and platform have grown to a pretty decent influence over the last few years that it has been running. My prayer is that I always point to Him who is greater. I know I’m not that interesting, but I know a man who is. May we never let the focus be on ourselves, but always on Him.
The Idol Of Materialism/Consumerism
Modern America is infested with a spirit of consumerism, also known as materialism. This is the mindset and continual pursuit of material goods. It is the continual accumulation of worldly possessions. When is enough, enough?
For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. – Timothy 6:7
The Gospel calls us learn the art of contentment. We have to find our satisfaction in Christ, and Him alone. We have to be content to know Him as God, as friend, and as our source. We’ve got to know that even though the things of this world will pass, He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Paul reminds us in Timothy that godliness can lead to gain, but it is not the main goal. If you only serve God because of what you can get out of it you will be left wanting. We don’t serve God because of what he can give us. We serve God because of who He is, and what He has already done for us through His son Jesus Christ.
But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. – 1 Timothy 6:6
Throughout most of the New Testament we actually see the reverse of materialism. Instead of collecting and hording possessions, most of the NT exemplifies giving away possessions, or selling them for the benefit of others. (Matt. 19:21; Luke 10:33-35, 12:33; Acts 2:44-45; Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 6:18)
The Idol Of Money
While the idol of money can go hand in hand with materialism and consumerism, it does not mean it always will. Many times the end goal of the pursuit of money is the purchase of worldly goods. There are others who will seek out the accumulation of money, just for the sake of having a big number in the bank account. Family, friends, and relationships of all sorts are sacrificed on the altar of money.
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. – Ecclesiastes 5:10
To be ruled by the pursuit of money is referred to in the NT as the worship of Mammon (Matt. 6:24). Mammon is the spirit that over takes the pursuit of money, and finances that are not submitted to the Spirit of God.
One of the most misquoted scriptures is that from 1 Timothy 6.
But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. – 1 Timothy 6:9-10
Money is not evil, but it is the roots of all kinds of evil. Money cannot save us, but one of mammon’s grandest illusions is getting us to trust in money rather than God. This is the root of all kinds of evil.
Some common side effects of believing the illusion of trusting money more than God are:
- neglecting the poor,
- mistreating others,
- looking to money for salvation over God,
- falling into greed,
- pursuing worldly possessions that moth and rust destroy,
- and many other evil deeds.
Your contentment is in the Lord. He is your provision and your source.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. – Hebrews 13:5
The Idol Of Celebrities
America rides on the waves of Hollywood cinematic adventures and the actors who portray the various roles within them. These celebrities cover newsstands, headlines, and have social media followings out the ying-yang.
We idolize these celebrities by constantly seeking to mimic their dress, follow their every move, and drooling over their bodies. We mourn and publicize their deaths more than a brother or sister in Christ.
They have become the Aphrodities of the 21st centuries. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard men and women lustfully discuss these celebrities. Many times those words were coming from self-proclaiming Jesus followers.
While Jesus often had ministry, healings, and teachings in public, he regularly stood against the idea of being a celebrity. He often told people he healed in private not to tell others he did it.
At one point when the rich young ruler approached Jesus and called him “good teacher,” Jesus stopped him in his tracks. The man was trying to compliment Jesus and elevate him to celebrity status, but he would have none of it. Even though Jesus was the incarnation of God, he wanted all the glory to be on God.
In a celebrity driven culture, influential Jesus followers have to become icons rather than celebrity idols. The struggle comes when the fame and influence grow. The flesh will attempt to rise up and subvert the glory of God.
The celebrity idols of pop culture are regular human beings like you and I. Although a small remnant of believers is present in Hollywood, the truth is, many do not know Jesus Christ, or even reject him all together.
Rather than idolize these Hollywood celebrities, we should be praying for them, and praying that their influence points people to Christ. Let their influence be an icon that points to the King of an advancing kingdom.
There are a plethora of idols that plague the cultural landscape of America. These eight are simply a sampling of the most prolific ones that are present. God hates idolatry, and these eight are among them. These things can be icons or idols. They can point to themselves and remove the glory from God, or they can be icons that point past themselves to One who is greater.
What are some other idols you can think of in America?