How do I Know if I am Committing Idolatry?

A friend recently asked me “How do I know if I am valuing something too highly?” Not many of us have ever spent significant time around physical idolatry, where offerings are made before an image of a god, nevertheless we know from both the Old Testament and the New Testament that idolatry can be an issue of the heart even when there is no physical idol present (see Ezekiel 14:3 and Ephesians 5:5). Based on this, how do I know if I myself am an idolater?

An online search for “what is idolatry?” will find many articles from godly men that state, in one form or another, that idolatry is when we place something above God. Now, this may be true, but I have found it not to be sufficient, as it still leaves open the question “how do I know if I am putting something above God?” This answer, left as quoted, is almost tailor-made for tormented introspection.

After a great deal of such tormented introspection, the best answer I have found is that I know that I am putting too much emphasis or trust in something when I am willing to disobey or ignore God in order to have or preserve that thing. This is, I think, not necessarily a comprehensive answer, but it helps to quantify the issue.

Some examples of how this line of thought leads are as follows:

  • Am I committing idolatry in my romantic relationship?
    • Are you breaking God’s law, or ignoring his wisdom by doing the following:
      • Sleeping together outside of marriage?
      • Pursuing someone that you know is not a believer?
      • Pursuing someone who you know is not willing to obey the word of God, even if they are called a believer?
        • Examples of this would be a man who is unwilling to provide, a man or a woman who is unwilling to submit to biblical gender roles, or a man or woman who is living in unrepentant sin.
      • Ignoring or defying the wisdom of your parents and thereby violating the 5th commandment (assuming such wisdom is consistent with the scriptures)?
      • Failing to gather with your church for this person?

Along this line of thought, some other examples include:

  • Seeking an abortion is a form of idolatry, on the basis that safety, a career, or some other benefit is valued more than obeying God’s command to not murder.
  • Refusing to comply with laws regulating firearms is a form of idolatry, on the basis that safety or power is valued over the biblical commands to honor the government.
  • Being absent from church for a child’s sports season is a form of idolatry on the basis that a child’s activity, or other benefits of the activity and associations are valued more than the biblical command to not forsake the assembly, and more than the worship, teaching, fellowship, and observance of the sacraments that are part of the church service.

Again, I do not think that this is a comprehensive answer to every situation where a passion or priority could be called idolatrous, but I do believe that it helps add an element of concrete practicality to the question of idolatry.

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