Anne Reed
AFA Journal staff writer

April 2017 – Idols. What are they? How do we know if we have them? And how do we get rid of them?

Can we really be honest with ourselves and admit that certain things and people have become more important in our lives than our relationship with God? Jeremiah 17:9 describes our hearts as deceitfully wicked.

Even if we can identify specific people or things that have taken ownership of our affections, can we drill down even farther to discover why we have allowed this transfer of loyalty to take place?

Gospel treason
“A biblical understanding of idolatry changed my life dramatically” certified biblical counselor and pastor Brad Bigney told AFA Journal. His marriage was nearly destroyed before he realized secret idols were ruling his life and causing the majority of his problems. His own painful journey of discovery eventually led him to write Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols.

“When the gospel loses center stage, your spiritual immune system shuts down, leaving you susceptible to a myriad of spiritual illnesses,” Bigney explained. “And idolatry is a big deal because it infiltrates and takes over the heart – the nerve center – determining the way we sin, when we sin, with whom we sin.”

“Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God,” John Piper, author of Desiring God explained. “No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness.”

James 1:14 says that we are each tempted when carried away and enticed by our own lust. We begin to take for granted the power and awe of the gospel that once compelled us, and we slowly drift away from Christ. We begin to erect substitutes, desperately seeking to satisfy ourselves – to fulfill our desires.

A central biblical issue
It has never been a surprise to God that we would be prone to wander off. Idolatry is perhaps the most persistent theme in Scripture, right up there with the grace, glory, and sovereignty of God. The subject even secured the number one and two spots among the Ten Commandments: “You must not have any other god but me;” followed by “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea” (Exodus 20:3-4).

Particularly telling is the way that the Apostle John ended 1 John – a fatherly epistle chock-full of loving instruction on how to maintain intimate fellowship with Christ. He closes the letter with a warning: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (John 5:21).

Did John get confused and change the subject suddenly while penning his final word? Or did he realize that our hearts would drift away from a vibrant relationship with Christ and into the grip of something or someone else – a substitute?

Finding private idols
To find our heart’s true motivation, Hebrews 4 points us to Jesus: “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart…(v. 12). Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16).

The model prayer for this painful venture of idol discovery is found in Psalm 139:23-24: “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.”

Often idols begin with desire for good and even godly things. When those desires turn into lust, or never-enough demands, they begin to rule our lives. And we begin to place performance requirements on ourselves and others as we daily set out to have our “needs” met.

Crushing the idols
“Nothing is harder than coming face to face with your idols and then putting them to death,” explained Bigney. “You raise the knife to kill them and they roll, they squirm, they flinch. They’re hard to pin down, and they seem to have a thousand lives. You think they’re dead, but then they remake themselves and show up again. You have to have God’s help if you’re going to spot them, pin them down, and kill them as fast as they reappear.”

Most of us have a handful of idols. And once we learn that we have a propensity toward lustful desires and demands in certain areas, we must remain vigilant in alertness, prayer, and repentance. In effect, our relationship with Christ is strengthened by an increased awareness of our need for His help. His grace is sufficient.

Hebrews 12:1 teaches us that a life of freedom is found in “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Bigney suggests prayer journaling, and memorization of key applicable Scriptures related to our personal battles – the sin beneath the sin. More importantly, he suggests that we humbly and gratefully acknowledge and remind ourselves of the gospel: what the death, resurrection of Christ, and relationship with Him mean personally and intimately. The idols of our hearts will then be recognized for what they are – useless.  undefined 

undefinedGospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols is available online and at bookstores. A free downloadable study guide and resources are available at



Adapted from resources at, the following self-examination tools are offered to help Christians identify the people, posessions, and passions that take the place of Christ.

Honest questions to ask:
▶ What do I want, desire, seek, aim for, pursue, hope for? What makes me happy and satisfied?
▶ What do I pray for?
▶ What are my life goals?
▶ What do I feel like doing? Do I want what I want, or do I submit to Christ’s lordship over my life?
▶ Where do I look for security, meaning, happiness, fulfillment, joy, or comfort?
▶ In whom or what do I put my greatest trust?
▶ What do I fear or worry about losing?
▶ What do I love? What do I hate?
▶ What is success? What is failure?
▶ What image do I have of who I am, who I ought to be, or want to be?
▶ How would I sum up my life as worthwhile?
▶ What do I see as my rights?
▶ When I am pressured or tense, where do I turn? What do I think about?

Potential idols of the heart:
▶ Respect/admiration/affirmation
▶ Self-sufficiency/independence
▶ Material things: car, house, etc.
▶ Appealing physical appearance
▶ Athletic strengths and achievements
▶ Hobbies: sports, reading, etc.
▶ A cause to champion: pro-life movement, political party, etc.
▶ Fair treatment
▶ Success/position/power
▶ Worldly pleasures: drugs, alcohol, food, sex, etc.
▶ Control
▶ Goals/achievements
▶ Well-behaved child or children
▶ Idealistic marriage

In relation to the above desires:
▶ Am I willing to sin to get it?
▶ Am I willing to sin if I think I’m going to lose it?
▶ Do I turn to it as a refuge and comfort instead of going to God?