Category Archives: Idolatry

Biblical Counseling with a Whiteboard: Idolatry and Repentance

A few weeks ago I posted a picture of a biblical counseling chart I developed from a Paul David Tripp article titled, Wisdom in Counseling.  Here is an updated version of that chart with Scripture references and a bit more detail.  It depicts the descent of idolatry and the way out through repentance.  May it be used!



When a Good Desire Becomes a Demand


This is a chart I developed based on a Paul David Tripp article titled, Wisdom in Counseling.  It shows the descent of a good desire into idolatry and the way out through repentance.


To Worship Idols is to Worship Yourself

“The human heart is a factory of idols”  These famous words, written by John Calvin, capture the true condition of our nature as humans: like a economy line, our hearts are cranking out new things, people, and experiences to worship in the place of God.  On any given day our hearts will start and stop production on a long list of idols that include things like approval, comfort, getting a husband or wife, physical pleasure, the next techno gadget, wealth, security, control, freedom and power.

There’s nothing incorrect about what Calvin said, but there’s another level to it that we must be aware of.  So, let me ask, what do all of the above idols have in common?  They are all things, people, or experiences that you want to fulfill your desires.  You will know these things have become idols when you are willing to sin to get them or sin if you do not get them, but what they all have in common is you.  You make sacrifices of time, energy and money to things like comfort and security in order to please yourself.  Therefore, in reality, it is not as much that we are putting things like comfort and security on the the throne of our hearts (where only God belongs), but rather, we are putting ourselves on that throne instead.  When we worship idols we are, essentially, worshiping ourselves.  When you get down to the bare bones of each decision we make, there are really only two options: worshiping God or worshiping self.

This is why Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).  Notice he did not say, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny his idols.”  It’s not that this statement would have been wrong, but Jesus knows the reason why we worship things other than God is because we want what we want.  We are at the root of all the idols we serve.  So, the heart of the matter is that we must humbly step down from the throne of our hearts to and return its seat to the only One to whom it rightly belongs.


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What Are Your Functional Saviors?

In light of yesterday’s post, Learning to Be Suspicious of Yourself… Not God, I thought I’d provide these fill-in-the-blank statements (taken from The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington) with the hope that God will use them to help you identify the things you look to as “saviors” in the place of Christ.  It may that you have received Jesus as your Savior for the forgiveness of sin, but that does not mean you always carry him and his saving-ness over into your day-to-day life. Things like security, respect, pleasure, comfort, possessions, and significance are what we frequently look to as refuges when life gets hard.  These things don’t have the capacity to save us from the influence and effects of sin in our lives; they will fail us.  By God’s grace we need to identify these “functional saviors”, de-throne them from our hearts, and replace them with Christ.  The Savior of our past and future is also the Savior of our present.


-I am preoccupied with __________.

-If only _________, then I would be happy.

-I get my sense of significance from ____________.

-I would protect and preserve __________ at any cost.

-I fear losing _________.

-The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure is _________.

-When I lose ______ I get angry, resentful, frustrated, anxious, or depressed.

-For me, life depends on ____________.

-The thing I value more than anything in the world is _________.

-When I daydream, my mind goes to ___________.

-The best thing I can think of is __________.

-The thing that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning is ________.

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Fear: Another Way to Detect Your Idols

As I’ve said before, one of my goals in writing this blog is to help Christians evaluate their hearts so that they can identify the things, people, and experiences they often love and serve in the place of God.  In short, I want to help you see the idols of your heart.  But my desire does not stop there.  The only way that identifying your idols will do you any good is if you tear them off of the throne of your heart and replace them with Christ, the rightful King, so you can give him the honor he deserves.  Before we get there, however, we’ve got to start with idol detecting.

I’ve said in the past that we can know what our idols are when we discover what we desire and enjoy more than God in any given moment.  If we desire something more than God, then we will sin to get it or sin if we don’t get it.  This is what James reveals in chapter four of his letter when he writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you (v. 1 a)?  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (v. 2 b).”

But desire is only one side of the coin when it comes to identifying idols.  At times it may be difficult for you to pinpoint exactly what you desire more than God.  Perhaps you do not see yourself as someone who chases after pleasure and seeks to indulge every impulsive desire in your heart.  Therefore, asking yourself the question of ultimate desire isn’t as helpful for you as it is with others.  So, is there some other question to ask yourself that will help you see the things you put in place of God?  I think the other side of the coin is to ask yourself what you fear most.  It’s kind of a roundabout way of discovering the things that you often treat as most important.  If what a woman fears most is rejection from a certain group of people, then she probably sees approval, acceptance, and recognition as most important.  If what a man fears most is being stuck in a job that only pays $40k a year for the rest of his life, then he probably sees comfort and convenience as most important.  The question of fear is really just another way of asking what we want, and what we want gives us a good idea of the things we often serve in the place of God.

The discovery of an idol in our hearts reveals a gaping spiritual wound that we cannot expect to heal on its own.  Fortunately, you can be confident that there is a balm for that wound found only in Christ and the promises that God gives us in him.  More on that in the future.

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The Rangers, The World Series, and a Proper Perspective

Let me begin this post by saying that I am psyched that the Texas Rangers are going to the World Series for the second year in a row and I hope they win the whole shebang this time! I plan on watching or listening to the games with my family and cheering for Josh Hamilton and the boys in blue, but at the same time I plan on walking into this championship with a sober realization that my heart can very easily move from worshiping the risen Christ to worshiping a game or a player. If I’m not careful I will get swept up in the all the hype and excitement, and before I know it my happiness will depend on whether a guy I’ll never meet gets a base hit.

This knowledge about myself is leading me currently to create a proper perspective of things before I tune in this week. Here are a few things I’m reminding myself so that I don’ t put baseball on the throne of my heart:

1) The men playing this series can do things with their bodies that the vast majority of the world’s population can’t, but God gave them their bodies and their abilities.

2) Nelson Cruz is breaking some crazy batting records this post season, but Jesus rose from death never to die again (no contest!).

3) Baseball may me the greatest game that is played, but it is still just a game. These men are pushing themselves past their limits and making sacrifices, ultimately, to win a game. Jesus gave up his very life and sacrificed himself to save his enemies from eternal condemnation.

4) Most likely, before I die, I will live long enough to see 40 or 50 more World Series, which will all be won anew each year. The MLB champions are extremely temporary, but Jesus and his followers will live in victory forever.

5) In a month’s time, those who were obsessed with the World Series will have found something else to try and satisfy them. Baseball doesn’t have the capacity to hold our hearts, but God made us so that our hearts would only have rest and true delight in him.


If you’ve read this far, then perhaps you see me as the killjoy you weren’t looking for on a Tuesday morning.  But I’m not saying that you shouldn’t watch the World Series and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy it, but if we’re going to honor the One who is most worthy of honor and have our hearts filled with his delight, then the World Series must be put in its proper place.

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Idolatry: God’s Prescription

Our four year-old has been sick this week, so my wife  is taking him to the doctor this morning.  We’re taking him to the doctor because our doctor graduated from medical school and has decades of experience in pediatrics, so we’re banking on him knowing more about practicing medicine than we do.  Our hope is that he will accurately diagnose the problem so that he can accurately prescribe a remedy.  In order to do this, the doctor’s diagnosis has to go just as deep as the problem.  If my son has the flu and the doctor diagnoses the problem as food poisoning then his prescription will be inaccurate because his diagnosis didn’t go deep enough.  Yesterday we explored the reality that our idols go deeper into our hearts than we realize; they have multiple levels:

1) An object or person (money, a spouse, good grades, etc.) that leads to…

2) A deeper desire (comfort, respect, pleasure, etc.) that leads to…

3) You becoming your own god.

The diagnosis of our idols must reach to this bottom level of our hearts or else the prescription won’t really solve the problem.  If we diagnose our idolatry, for example, as simply loving money too much, then the prescription becomes giving money away or letting your spouse handle the finances instead of you.  But in this instance, the heart has not been addressed and as a result the problem remains.  The diagnosis did not go deep enough, so the neither did the prescription.

But now that we have an accurate diagnosis of our idolatry as seen above, we can get an accurate prescription.  The problem, as with our sick child, is that we’re not experts…  in this case, when it comes to our hearts.  We don’t know what our hearts need, but God does, so he, like a doctor, must prescribe the remedy.  This is where the doctor metaphor starts breaking apart because unlike the doctor, God is the remedy! In Jesus Christ, God has provided us with everything necessary to put our idols to death.  Putting your idols to death involves believing and acting on a number of Gospel realities:

1) Jesus is your God.  You are not your own god, so you must submit to His authority (Jn. 14:7; Phil. 2:9-11, Lk. 9:23)

2) Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has freed you from your slavery to idols so that you will live a life pursuing the glorious riches God has for you in him (Romans 6:20-23).

3) Your idols will not satisfy you, but because of God’s love for you in Christ you have pleasures forevermore, ever spiritual blessing, and every good thing (Jer. 2:13; Ps. 16:11; Eph. 1:3; Rom. 8:32).

4) In Christ you have all the necessary resources to put your idols to death and instead, choose life in him: his truth, his power, his church, and his love (1 Cor. 10:13; Jn. 8:32; 2 Cor. 12:9; Heb. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:14-15).

There is certainly more to believe than what I’ve listed above (which is why we have a whole book of God’s truth), but hopefully this will at least get us started in killing our idols and fleeing to Christ.

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