what is an idol

What is Idolatry and Why Christians Fall into this Secret Sin of the Heart

I have been exploring what it means to conform to this world and what exactly that intails.  Idolatry is one area that we Christians are guilty of holding onto this world.  So, what is idolatry and if we are not bowing down to golden statues, what does this have to do with our relationship with God?

Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at our lives and the attachments we have.  Time to open our hearts and humble ourselves to set our hearts right with God.

What is Idolatry?

By definition, idolatry has two meanings.

  1. The worship of a physical object as a god.
  2. Immoderate attachement or devotion to something

As Christians, we would raise an eyebrow to any fellow Christian who worshipped a physical object as a god.  This is the idolatry we see throughout the Old Testament, a wicked trap the Children of Israel fell into over and over.

You shall have no other gods before Me.

 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. 

For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.  (Exodus 20:3-6)

Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ (Deuteronomy 27:15)

You shall burn the carved images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it; for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 7:25)

“Immoderate attachment or devotion to something” is what I want to focus on.  These are the idols we struggle with today.

What is Idolatry in Christianity?

“Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, and mind” is the greatest commandment.  Not only is it stated by God in the Old Testament, but Jesus reiterates it in the New.  This has not changed.  We owe all of our allegience and devotion to God, our creator.

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)

Idolatry is anything we love more than God and it is different for each of us.  It can also be challenging to identify.

The rich young man comes to God and asks what he need to do to be saved.  Jesus asks him what he has learned.  He quotes several of the laws laid out by God.  He admits that he has kept these commandments.  Jesus, knowing his heart and the idolatry found there, tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor.  

The rich young man went away sad, because he could not depart with his wealth.

Now, let me be clear.  I do not feel as if there is anything wrong with acquiring wealth.  The man’s sin was that he put it before God.  This is where money becomes an idol.

And while we are discussing wealth as an idol, what about those who have none but remain bitter and angry toward those who have.  That jealousy is nothing short of coveting and also a form of idolatry.

For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5)

what is idolatry?

Idol Worship Today

For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  (1 Peter 4:3)

Besides physical idols and money, what else is considered idol worship today?  

Be sure to check out the first post in this series! Do Not be Conformed to this World: 5 Strongholds We Need to let go of

People as Idols

People can easily come between us and God.  I remember struggling in my early twenties as a young single woman wanting a boyfriend.  I longed for the love and companion of a young man.

I also struggled to stay on the straight and narrow when I was in a serious relationship.  

In both of these instances, my heart was not content with God alone and therefore I fell into the sin of idolatry.  Harsh, isn’t it?  Looking back, I regret it. 

People who have passed can also become idols before the Lord.  Again, I can relate to this.  When we lost Rebekah, I wanted her close to me.  I wanted to be sure that everyone knew that my little girt had lived.  She couldn’t be forgotten.

It is not uncommon for periods of grief to separate us from God rather than draw us to him.  We often focus so much on the pain, fear, anger, and guilt that we cannot come to the only one who can heal us.  

In these seasons, we lift up our loved one into the place of God, only wanting them back, never allowing God’s peace and love to penetrate.

One more way in which people can become an idol is when we fear what they think of us. In these instances we often let that fear influence our decisions and once again, God’s instructions take a back seat.

Be sure to check out my new freebies page full of encouraging Bible studies, wallpaper, coloring pages, and other great resources to help you focus on Christ.

Unforgiveness as an Idol

Unforgiveness is another idol we often serve rather than God.  We can easily justify this one.  You know, that person was wrong for the way they treated you or acted toward you.  Even if this is true, your reaction is your responsibility.

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”  (1 Peter 4:8)

Jesus knew we battle with unforgiveness and what a trap it is.  That is why he addresses it so plainly.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 

If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 

that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.  (Matthew 5:38-48)

Often times we harbor unforgiveness against those we love and respect.  If Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, how much more should we forgive those close to us?

I’d like to take a moment and talk about rejection for a second. Rejection is a terrible feeling and leaves us doubting who we are in Christ and our very self-worth. We often allow the cruel words and actions of others to come between us and God. Pray with Confidence has an awesome post about rejection to help you get past it and focus on Christ.

Disobedience as Idolatry

Choosing our own way is another form of idolatry.  The Bible is full of such stories, but I’d like to share these verses from 1 Samuel.  King Saul had been chosen by God to lead his people as their first king.  He was humble and obedient in the beginning, but somewhere along the way his heart began to change and he fell into disobedience.

God had instructed Saul to destroy the Amalekites.  He was very clear that he wanted all people and animals destroyed.  It was important to remove all heathen from the land.

Saul wins the battle as God is with him and yet doesn’t follow through.  He allows their king to live as well as keeps all of the livestock alive.  Probably a bit of pride and greed here.  God is angry at his disobedience and Samuel speaks harshly to him.

Saul tries to defend his disobedience, saying that the sheep were saved to sacrifice to the Lord.  Samuel replies,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,

As in obeying the voice of the Lord?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,

And to heed than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,

And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,

He also has rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

Too often, we work for the Lord, but do not follow his instructions the way we should.  We cover this sin up with “good works” and yet our disobedience remains.  

Is God impressing something on your heart and you are not listening?  Stubbornness and rebellion are idolatry.

Productivity as an Idol

I am a planner by nature. I am also very goal oriented. This can be good because I am productive, get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time, and focus on a task until it is complete.

This can also be bad because I become so focused on my task that other priorities slip. I find great satisfaction in a completed to-do list and will beat myself up when I am not able to complete it. Immediately, the word “failure” comes to mind and before you know it, I’m in a “mood”.

This brings us back to the well known story of Mary and Martha. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus absorbing his words and dwelling in the presence of God while Martha is busy preparing food and checking things off the to-do list she created to care for her very important guests. You can read more on Mary and Martha and my take of it (because Martha often gets a bad rap).

Just like Martha, who was doing something good by preparing food and accommodations for Jesus and his disciples, we can allow productivity in our world of ministry to become an idol. Doing good replaces the one we are doing good for.

Mary Gallagher writes an excellent post on productivity being an idol. Be sure to check out “Do You Worship at the Alter of Productivity?”. It spoke directly to my heart.

Now that We’ve Discussed What is Idolatry, how do We Remove it?

Of course, this post only covers a few things we hold up as idols before God, but now that we’ve answered the question “what is idolatry?” what do we do about it.


Yes, come to God, ask forgiveness, and remove the idolatry from your life. This might mean physically removing an item (such as a cell phone or social media) or it might mean distancing yourself from a person.

David is our best example of repentance and if you are struggling with the concept I encourage you to read “5 Steps to Repentance: David as our Example”.

I hope this post has opened your eyes and pricked your heart. As followers of Christ, we are no longer content to conform to this world, but often times we don’t realize how easily we slip into it. Idolatry is the same. It sneaks up on us and places itself as a blockade in the most precious relationship we have.

You might also like these other posts!

Spiritual Warfare in the Bible: My Family is Under Attack and so is Yours

Building on the Rock: 10 Lessons Jesus is Teaching Us

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6 thoughts on “What is Idolatry and Why Christians Fall into this Secret Sin of the Heart”

  1. May I have permission to use the photo at the top of this page for a book that I’m writing about Jesus and His Paschal Mystery? Please let me know. Thank you very much and God Bless,

  2. I thank GOD for the Power of HIS WORD. I thank GOD for using you mightily in HIS Kingdom. This is exactly what I needed to hear.
    May GOD richly bless you and uphold you.

  3. Wow Heather, such a fantastic message. Idols? Me? 🙂 I got “goose bumps” a couple times, especially when you were pointing out the idols of people (I could totally relate to your past- I was in the same place) and unforgiveness. I’m so thankful for the conviction of the Holy Spirit and this helpful post!

    1. Honestly, AnnMarie, isn’t it eye-opening? My first thought was also “Idols? Not me?!” but the more I prayed the more I was convicted. So glad this spoke to your heart.

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Hi, I am Heather! I am a mom of five, homeschooler, homesteader, and lover of all things chocolate. I am excited to share your faith and parenting journeys with you. Whether you are here looking to grow your faith, heal from loss, find homeschool resources, or hope to find inspiration in raising godly children, you are in the right place. So, grab your favorite hot beverage, curl up in your comfy chair, and stay awhile.

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