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10 Clues That Something Has Become an Idol

SUP on compfight by Newcastle Outrigger Canoe ClubIs This an Idol?

Recently a friend and I were discussing how we can tell when something in our lives has become an idol.

It’s not easy.  For example, last week I went Stand-Up Paddling for the first time, and loved it.

But since then I have wanted to —

  • check out YouTube videos on Stand-Up Paddling,
  • find out how much used Stand-Up Paddle Boards cost,
  • research the best places to do Stand-Up Paddling in Abu Dhabi,
  • tell other people about how much fun it was.

So has Stand-Up Paddling become an idol?

I am not bowing down before Stand-Up Paddling, or burning incense to Stand-Up Paddling.

But idolatry is a matter of the heart.

So how can I tell if Stand-up Paddling has become an idol?

The Crucial Question

The question is: what am I seeking as my highest, all-satisfying good?

That’s the crucial question, because whatever I trust to satisfy me the most is what I worship as my God.

I see that in Psalm 16:2 —

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

So whatever I seek my good in is my Lord.  And to seek my good in something means seeking my joy and satisfaction in it.

So if I am seeking my joy in anything more than Christ, then it has become my God; it is an idol.

Not that I can’t feel joy in anything besides Christ.  After all, Paul says that “God provides us with every good thing to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).

But the reason God provides the half-ounce joys of sun and ocean and stand-up paddling is to point me to the thousand-ton joy he gives me in Christ, so I will trust him alone as my all-satisfying treasure.

But when I seek my satisfaction in these half-ounce joys, or when my pleasure in these joys does not point my heart to Christ as my greatest joy, then they have become idols.

So how can we tell when this is happening?

10 Clues

Something is an idol when —

  1. It causes me to disobey God.
  2. It gives me greater joy than Christ.
  3. It gives me the most excitement about the future.
  4. It is what I daydream about the most.
  5. It is what I most enjoy talking about.
  6. I is what I fear losing the most.
  7. It is what I most enjoy reading about.
  8. It is what I most love spending money on.
  9. It is what I look to for heart-rejuvenation.
  10. It is what I most enjoy spending time on.

So has Stand-Up Paddling become an idol?  To my shame, at times, this past week, it has.

But Paul calls me to “flee idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).  And John says “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

So what can I do?

I am turning to Jesus for help.

I do not have the power to change my own heart.  But “what is impossible with people is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

So I am turning to Jesus and asking him for help.

I am praying “create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10)

I am confessing my idolatry as sin.

It is sobering to admit that at times this past week I have turned from God and bowed down to an idol.

But there is good news.  Because of Jesus’ death for sin, when we confess our sins God will forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9).

So, with no excuses or rationalizations, I am confessing my idolatry as sin.

And as I do that I am assured of complete forgiveness, and that I am clothed with Jesus’ perfect righteousness, by faith alone.

I am praying over relevant Scriptures.

Jesus promised that as we meditate on his word we will be set free the power of sin (John 8:31-32).

So I am pondering Scriptures like these –

  • Psalm 40:1-3, which promises that as I wait on the Lord he will meet me.
  • Psalm 4:6-7, which promises that my greatest joy is found in God alone.
  • Romans 6:6, which teaches that my sin of idolatry has been put to death with Christ.
  • Jeremiah 2:12-13, which teaches that God alone is living water; everything else will leave me thirsty.
  • Colossians 3:5-6, which warns that God’s wrath will punish idolatry.
  • Matthew 5:8, which promises that the pure in heart will see God.

As I do this, I can feel my heart changing.  I am once again tasting the superior pleasures of Christ, and desire him more than anything.

I will still go Stand-Up Paddling.  In fact, I went again yesterday, and enjoyed its half-ounce joys.

But by God’s grace, I let those half-ounce joys point me to the thousand-ton joy of Christ.

My idol had been chopped down.


So how about you?  Do you have idols that need to be chopped down?

God promises that as we pray and meditate on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will so satisfy us in Christ that our idols are destroyed.

Picture a massive chainsaw.  As we pray, the power of the Spirit is like gasoline firing up the engine of faith and causing the chain of the Word to tear into the wood of the idol.

So keep praying, and meditating on God’s word.  Your idols will soon be falling.


Questions? Comments?

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(Picture from by Newcastle Outrigger Canoe Club.)


Category: Overcoming Sin and Temptation


16 Responses

  1. Nigel says:

    Great post, Steve, but I wonder about Rom 6:6 as a verse for a present idol, since it refers to our old self. Would Rom 8:13 not be more appropriate? Is there not a responsibility on US to smash the idol by the power of the Spirit, putting to death the misdeeds of the body (mortifying the flesh) that we might live?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Great question, Nigel.

      I totally agree that Romans 8:13 calls us to put to death our present idols. I believe the most biblical way to do that is by praying over Scriptures until I once again see and feel Christ as my all-satisfying treasure.

      The reason Romans 6:6 was encouraging to me was because my idolatry was a manifestation of my old self whose power has been conquered by the cross.

      What this means is that I can be confident that Christ has purchased everything necessary for this idolatry to be put to death now.

      I hope that explains what was going on in my heart – and thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      In Christ,


  2. This is a great post, thank you Steve!

    Idolatry can creep in to our lives so easily. It just sneaks in, and builds quietly. Then all of a sudden, you notice your focus has been shifted astray.

    It is great that you remind us of this, and show us a real life example. Thank you again for putting this out there for us to read!

  3. Mark Smith says:

    Idols offer a quick easy satisfaction which is really a trap that never really satisfies. I find myself continually drawn to them. I ask myself if ____ was taken away would I be justified in being sad? Thanks for the great reminders!

  4. This was a great post, my auntie shared it with me. I realize that sometimes it is hard to see , what is becoming an idol. As I was reading, I looked at the time I spend on social media,instead of my daily morning devotion.

    So I confess, social media has become an idol, and repent of it taking away my focus from the real joy that stays constant. I pray that I become more devotional driven, than liking different things I see on the social media.

    I also recognize the relationship with my parents and siblings, though its love, I believe that 6 clue” I is what I fear losing the most” , I also find is an idol. I understand this place is not our permanent home, and no one lives for ever. So I confess and repent of putting so much fear on my parents getting old and I am not married or have had my first child, in them not being able to enjoy.

    But:Psalm 4:6-7, which promises that my greatest joy is found in God alone –

    Thank you for writing this post and thanks to my aunt for sharing.

    GOD Blessings upon you and continue to keep spreading the Good News.

    In Jesus Name

  5. Mandela E. says:

    Steve great post, I have followed your blog for some time now. I also struggle with finding the line between passion and idolatry, I believe bicycling is an idol for me (that’s how I found your blog, Google search of mountain biking Christian blog). I plan on taking the prescribed steps above because willpower has not been able to fix it for me. Thanks for your posts… Keep up the good work.

  6. Frances says:

    Thank you Steve!
    I always enjoy your posts! Blessings!

  7. Mary says:

    Thank you for continuing your wonderful posts! Convicted by this one on idols…

  8. Denise says:

    Good reminders. Thanks Steve.

  9. Kim says:

    Hey this make me think a little. I can’t change me but I can tell God my sins and ask Him to change me. thank you

  10. Jo says:

    So if something you care deeply about something, and you realize it has became an idol, and you give it to God and you start putting him first do you have to completely cut that thing out of your life, or do you just make sure that it doesn’t come before God anymore?

    • Brock says:


      That is a great question, and it is the exact question I have been wrestling with myself. I think that God gives us things on earth to be joyful in (1 Timothy 6:17) because he delights in our joy. However, we often turn those gifts from God into idols.

      I have been struggling with pursuing pleasure in games lately (which has become an idol) so I felt like God wanted me to completely cut that game out of my life until He has become my prime focus. However, once my full joy is in God, and he has become my all in all again, then (Lord willing) I am planning on playing the game again. I will have to remember to make the game a “half-ounce joys” (like Mr. Steve said) and not let the game become a “thousand-ton joy”, which only God should be. It probably depends on the idol or circumstance as well.

      God bless,

      • Mike says:

        That’s the hard part for me, as well. It’s easy to think that just because you’re not openly worshiping these things that you spend time on, that they aren’t idols, but they really are.

        What I’ve been praying about recently is if these things need to be cut out completely. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I’m thinking it’s almost not okay to partake in any sort of hobby.

        It doesn’t matter to me though, because in Christ, I’ll have everything I need.

  11. Chantel says:

    Thought about you while reading this.

  12. Chantel says:

    great work!

  13. Anonymous says:


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