There are two types of idolatry that you need to be on the lookout for in your life.
The first one is familiar. It happens when you replace the real God with a fake one. An idol can be anything. It can even be a good thing. Idols don’t have to be little wooden statues or little baggies of illicit drugs. An idol can just as easily be your idea of a happy marriage or even your church.
If you pay careful enough attention, you can easily spot idolatry when it comes into your life. If you have wrapped your identity up in your job, there’s a good chance that it has become an idol. If your whole world would come crashing down if you walked outside and found that someone had just keyed your new car, you’re probably in love with it more than you are Jesus. If you routinely neglect meeting with your local church because you can, “worship God just as easily on the lake as you can in a building,” you’re most likely worshiping the lake instead of the One who created it.
But there is another kind of idolatry. While there is no such thing as diet idolatry, as if God tolerates some form of idolatry more than others, this one is a bit bolder. If you have this type of idolatry, you can get along just fine without a nice car, plenty of money in your retirement account and a Sunday morning on the lake.
You don’t need some object to be the false god if you have fallen prey to this form of idolatry.
No, in this version of idolatry, you are the false god.
Sure, you don’t craft wooden statues of yourself and demand your friends and family to burn incense to it twice a week. That would be too obvious.
Instead, you constantly crave the approval of others. You feel empty when you go an entire day without a compliment. If you really start feeling the hunger for the verbal approval of others, you manipulate conversations to that end. You tell friends how ugly you think you look just so you can hear them tell you how beautiful they think you are. You use words to assassinate others in order to make yourself look better by comparison.
Both forms of idolatry tell you the same lie in different ways.
The first idolatry says that Jesus has shortchanged you. It says that you need and even deserve more than what he has given you. The very first sin was rooted in this.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (ESV)
Did you catch Satan’s tactic there? Not only does he question God’s word, he questions God’s goodness. “God is holding out on you,” he tells Eve. “Your life will really be complete with this fruit.” Replace fruit with car, drug, marriage or whatever else and you have today’s modern idolatry. Some things never change.
Satan’s sales pitch didn’t stop there.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5 (ESV)
Satan cast doubt on God’s words to trick Eve into worshiping another god. And he cast doubt on God’s goodness into tricking Eve into believing that she could be that other god.
In the end, both gods let you down. You can never have enough money, sex, drugs or long walks on the beach with your perfect Christian family to finally satisfy you. Nor can you ever have enough compliments, admiration or obedience from others to complete you.
Your stuff makes a terrible god.
And so do you.
True satisfaction is never found in what you possess. It is found in an ever growing hunger for more of Christ. If you lose everything, and all you have is Christ, all you have is more than enough.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6 (ESV)
Perfect contentment will never come your way in the form of other people’s approval. You will never be beautiful, smart, funny or strong enough to fix the emptiness that will inevitably consume you when you play god. The temporary affirmation of man is no match for the eternal acceptance of the One True God.
But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:4 (ESV)
Our hearts are drawn to idolatry. We look to things to do what only God can. We seek the praise that only God deserves. Whether your idol of choice is in the driveway, on the shelf or in the mirror, grace is all you really need.
And there’s only one God who can give it to you.