They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver or gold are not able to deliver them in the day of wrath of the the LORD. They cannot satisfy hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was their stumbling block. - Ezekiel 7:19Idols cannot save you, they can neither satisfy nor fulfill you - they take the place of the living God and so cause you to stumble instead of walk with him, which we were designed to do (Ephesians 4:1; Galatians 5:25).
When you hear the word idol, what do you think of? Some think of some small or large statue to which a worshipper bows down and expects protection in return. I used to live in the suburbs of Chicago and once a 40-foot statue of the Virgin Mary was delivered to a parking lot adjacent to the local Catholic church (it was on a North American tour...no kidding). Hundreds of Catholics lined up to burn incense, give flowers, and sing songs of worship in the direction of the statue. If you think of an idol more abstractly (ie. the #1 thing, person, value, activity in your life that occupies the place of the living God), your mind may make an immediate bee-line to the big 3: Money, Power, Sex. The thinking then goes: As long as I'm not addicted to any of these, I'm good." Maybe, maybe not...
In his book The Gospel in Life: Grace changes everything, Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York identifies twenty categories of idolatry.
Keller identifies many good things we make into ultimate things and, thus, "unclean" things" in God's eyes. You are likely worshipping an idol if you honestly say "yes" to any of the following:
LIFE ONLY HAS MEANING/I ONLY HAVE WORTH IF...
1. "I have power and influence over others." (Power Idolatry)
2. "I am loved and respected by _____" (Approval idolatry)
3. I have this kind of pleasure experience or a particular quality of life" (Comfort idolatry)
4. "I am able to get master over my life in the area of _____" (Control idolatry)
5. "People need me." (Helping idolatry)
6. "Someone is there to protect me and keep me safe" (Dependence idolatry)
7. "I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone" (Independence idolatry).
8. "I am highly productive and get a lot done." (Work idolatry)
9. " I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work." (Achievement idolatry).
10. "I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions." (Materialism idolatry).
11. I am adhering to my religion's moral codes and accomplished in its activities." (Religion idolatry)
12. "This one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me." (Person Idolatry)
13. I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality" (Irreligion idolatry)
14. "My race, nation or culture is the best." (Racial/Cultural/National idolatry)
15. "A particular social or professional group lets me in" (Inner Ring idolatry)
16. "My children and/or my parents are happy with me (Family idolatry)
17. "Mr. or Ms. 'Right' is in love with me" (Relationship idolatry)
18. I am hurting; in a problem; on the do I feel worth of love or able to deal with guilt" (Suffering idolatry)
19. "My political or social cause is ascending in notoriety and influence" (Ideology idolatry)
20. "I have a particular kind of look or body image" (Image idolatry).
|A portable Virgin Mary|
There are two instances in which humans will typically admit to any of these things: 1. Honesty or 2. Extremity. I'd recommend the former, owning up to idolatry, as opposed to waiting for God to work such difficult circumstances in your life such that you are compelled to discover (through pain and heartache!) the idol that you rely on to give your life meaning or yourself worth.
If you do own up to it, here are some strategies to expel its influence over you:
(1) Confess it to the Lord and trust that He will forgive you (1 John 1:9). Your idolatry certainly has affected you and caused hurt toward others, but your sin is primarily toward the living God (cf. Psalm 51:4).
(2) Ask God to replace your idol with Himself (as puritan Thomas Chalmers once said, there is "an expulsive power of a new affection" that helps keep the idol from returning);
(3) Take a temporary break from any contact with it - just as the above passage from Ezekiel suggests it might be to you "an unclean thing" for a few days (cf. Ezekiel 7:19);
(4) Seek accountability from a brother and sister in Christ whom you've given permission to ask you about it.