Root Idols

This past Sunday, we spent some time thinking about Idolatry. Idolatry is elevating a good thing to the status of ultimate in our lives. Some say it is making a good thing a god thing in our lives. If you’ve heard me talk about idolatry, you have most likely heard me reference Tim Keller in saying that idols are things we love, trust, and obey. (see Counterfeit Gods, pg. xxi)

An Idol is something that we love because we trust that it is going to give our life significance, value, and worth. Therefore, we obey our idol(s).

You may say, “How do we obey our idols?” Let’s say you have made your work/career into an idol. You love your work because you trust that it will fill your life with significance. Therefore, you must obey it as ultimate and meet all the demands of your work: email, phone calls, over-time, and never resting on weekends. Another way to say “obey” is to think of it in terms of sacrifice. We will make sacrifices for our gods (idols) in worship to them. So, again, if you worship your job/career you will sacrifice family relationships giving all your best time and energy to advancing. You will sacrifice your integrity to close the deal and move up the ladder.

Now, career is certainly not the only potential idol. We can make idols out of family, relationships, material possessions, sex, health, politics, being needed, recognition, hobbies…the list could go on and on.

Yet, something else that I have found helpful from Tim Keller is what he calls root or foundational idols. He primarily identifies four: comfort, approval, control, and power. While there are many surface idols, I do think it is helpful to look at these root idols. When we can identify them in our lives we can see how these root idols bud and bear the bitter fruit of a variety of sins. Here is a quick look at the root/foundational idols. (The following breakdown of these root idols comes primarily from Keller’s Understanding Your Heart handout. I have slightly tweaked some words and added some supplemental sentences.)

  • Comfort (privacy, lack of stress, and freedom)
    • The price you are willing to pay: Reduced Productivity
    • Greatest fear: Stress and Demands
    • People around you often feel: Neglected/Hurt
      • Your ultimate quest for comfort causes you to neglect relationships and responsibilities. Your primary focus is you!
    • Your problem emotion: Boredom
  • Approval (affirmation, love, relationship)
    • The price you are willing to pay: Less Independence
    • Greatest Fear: Rejection
    • People around you often feel: Smothered
      • Others feel smothered because you want more from them than what they can give.
    • Your problem emotion: Cowardice
      • You can’t speak the truth in love to others because you fear rejection.
  • Control (self-discipline, certainty, standards)
    • The price you are willing to pay: Loneliness and Spontaneity
    • Greatest Fear: Uncertainty
    • People around you often feel: Condemned
      • If they would only get their act together or have been better prepared that wouldn’t have happened to them.
    • Your problem emotion: Worry
      • Stuck in a vicious cycle of: worry – seeking greater control – fail – leading to more worry – seeking greater control…
  • Power (success, winning, influence)
    • The price you are willing to pay: Burdened and Responsibility
      • You will take on whatever will gain you more power and influence, thus piling up burdens and responsibility.
    • Greatest Fear: Humiliation
      • You cannot lose…you must win and be the best at everything!
    • People around you often feel: Used
    • Your problem emotion: Anger

The purpose of this is not to evaluate someone else’s heart, but your own. Of course there comes a time as we walk together and help one another follow Jesus to speak the truth in love to one another. However, let us first give ample attention to our own hearts as we stand in Christ. Take some time and slowly yet prayerfully work through the above, asking the Lord to reveal the idols in your life. When the idols come to light, seek to walk, by God’s grace, in faith and repentance (see this post on repentance).

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” -Psalm 139:23-24

About Pastor Matt

Matt Baker is the Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship Church.
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