SUNDAY FOLLOW-UP: Idol Detection

Sermon Audio

Sermon Series: Saved for God’s Glory

Text: Exodus 32:1-6

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them toAaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat an drink and rose up to play.

Sermon Notes

  1. Defining Idolatry
    1. Ex. 32 – idolatry was Israel’s besetting sin and primary offense against God
    2. Rm. 1:18-25 – idolatry is our besetting sin and primary offense against God
    3.  An idol is worshipping anything other than God.
    4. The gospel frees us from the penalty and power of idolatry, but not (yet) its presence. Therefore the fight against it continues.
  2. Detecting Idolatry
    1. An idol in your life can be anything you give inordinate attention to. Anything that gets more glory, more weight, or more importance than God in your life. An idol can be an object, a person, an activity, a career, your family, your spouse, your children. An idol can be an idea, a pleasure, an achievement. It can be a political cause, your own physical attractiveness, romance, human approval, power, comfort, financial security, control, and on a bad day its all of the above.
    2. Surface idols. e.g. a man idolizing work (workaholic) or a mom idolizing her kids (helicopter parent)
    3. Source idols. Usually: pleasure, approval, security, control, or power
    4. Eight diagnostic questions (you have to be uncomfortably honest in answering these):
      1. What thing or person, if you lost it or him/her, would mean you might lose the will to live?
      2. What’s your worst nightmare?
      3. What do you worry about most?
      4. What do you use to comfort yourself when things go bad or get difficult?
      5. What do you daydream about?
      6. What are you proudest over or what do you want to be known for?
      7. What would really make you happy in life?
      8. What is your hope for the future?


Coming to grips with the idols in your life, you’re going to realize you’re a bigger sinner than you thought you were. But also meditating on the gospel, you’re going to realize Jesus is a greater Savior than you thought He was! Remember, those who are forgiven much, love much (Lk. 7:47).

Additional Passages

Select Quotes

Richard Keys, No God But God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age:

As modern people we usually think of an idol as an animal or human figure made of stone or wood. We see it as an object for religious devotion or magical power for premodern people who might prostrate themselves on the ground before it. If we have updated the idea at all, we might use ‘idolatry’ to describe someone’s obsessional preoccupations with money or of an ‘idol’ like Elvis Presley. We have, in effect, distanced ourselves from the whole idea of idolatry by pushing it out to the extreme cultural and psychological margins of life.

This distance has produced two problems: First, we misunderstand the most comprehensive description of the shape of unbelief used by the writers of the Bible. If we as Christians today see idolatry only at life’s margins, we will be ill-equipped to use this powerful critical tool as the apostles and prophets did – to understand and challenge the surrounding world. The second problem is similar to the first but even more important. If we do not understand the nature of idolatry, we will not be able to recognize or guard against it in our own lives and communities.

John Calvin:

Man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.

Ken Sande:

An idol is not simply a statue of wood, stone, or metal; it is anything we love and pursue in place of God, and can also be referred to as a ‘false god’ or a ‘functional god’. In Biblical terms, an idol is something other than God that we set our hearts on (Luke 12:29; 1 Cor. 10:6), that motivates us (1 Cor. 4:5), that masters or rules us (Ps. 119:133), or that we serve (Matt. 6:24).

Tim Keller:

An idol [he says] is anything more fundamental than God to your happiness, your meaning in life, or your identity.

Tim Keller quoting David Foster Wallace:

Everybody worships [Wallace said]. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god… to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough… Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before [your loved ones] finally plant you. . . . Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

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