Idol Identification

On Wednesday nights at my church we discuss the New City Catechism, tackling one question and answer each week. I’d like to say I’ve been diligently memorizing as we go along but sadly I can make no such confession. As it is, though, we have engaged in some interesting and rather intense theological discussions.

This past week we looked at Question 17, “What is idolatry?” The catechism answers, “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.” As we discussed idolatry and its various manifestations, we reached the conclusion that identifying idols is sometimes a tricky business, particularly in regard to our own. It’s much easier, is it not, to call out our friend’s false gods?

I’ve been thinking about idol identification in the days since and I’ve decided that one way my idols are exposed is where and how I feel my “hope and happiness, significance and security” threatened and how I respond to that threat. Along those lines, I found this post by Tony Reinke to be quite helpful. He excerpts a book by Tim Keller in which Keller delineates categories of idolatry that complete the phrase “Life only has meaning  / I only have worth if…” Reinke then looks more closely at four specific categories: power, approval, comfort, and control:

If you seek POWER (success, winning, influence)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Humiliation
  • People around you often feel: Used
  • Your problem emotion: Anger

If you seek APPROVAL (affirmation, love, relationships)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Rejection
  • People around you often feel: Smothered
  • Your problem emotion: Cowardice

If you seek COMFORT (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Stress, demands
  • People around you often feel: Neglected
  • Your problem emotion: Boredom

If you seek CONTROL (self-discipline, certainty, standards)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Uncertainty
  • People around you often feel: Condemned
  • Your problem emotion: Worry

Ouch. Examining my greatest nightmare and my problem emotion certainly helps me see where my security and significance are threatened!

Idol identification isn’t easy. Truly our hearts are so blinded by our prideful self delusion that is difficult to see the ugly truth about ourselves. However, Keller’s list helps me as I seek to submit myself to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit as He exposes me and draws me to repentance. 

Read Tony’s post in full here.



Author: Lisa Spence

Wife, mother, Bible teacher, bibliophile, occasional blogger

One thought on “Idol Identification”

  1. Identifying our idols. So hard sometimes! That list is really good for helping to put the finger on some of them. I’m going to check out the rest of the article.

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