10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry

What Is Idolatry?

Like so many things in Scripture, we can trace much of theology all the way back to the book of Genesis. Self-idolatry or self-worship is no exception. The serpent enticed Eve with words of self-exaltation: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” (Genesis 3:5). Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind. He subtly emboldens us to take authority that belongs to God into our own hands. We often define this as rebellion, but it is far more than just rebellion, it is self-idolatry.

“Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind.”

In essence, anything that comes between us and the one true God is idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7-22). Or, we could narrow it down even further and say that anything we love more than the Lord is an idol. God demands that we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices for His glory (Romans 12:1-2). Anything that hinders that self-sacrifice becomes idolatrous.

The Idolatry of Godless Wisdom

Leaning on our own wisdom is another form of self-idolatry (Romans 1:20-25). Paul speaks of those who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). They literally suppress the truth with their own sense of self-righteousness. This kind of self-idolatry leads to worthless thinking and God eventually gives this type of person over to complete foolishness and depravity (Romans 1:21-30).

An Idolatrous Conundrum!

Psalm 115 is probably the most poetically profound condemnation of idolatry found in Scripture. In an epic biblical smackdown, the psalmist describes idols as useless and those who make them and trust them as being just as ridiculous (Psalm 115:4-8). In other words, idolators become eerily like their idols. They make the idols and become like their own creation. They trust in idols and become like the demonic idols they trust. This begs the question: Are self-idolators really worshipping themselves? Or, have they just worshipped another idol for so long they have become like the ungodly object of their affection?

Either way, it would be wise for us all to recognize the signs of self-idolatry and remove any hint of it that might be found in our hearts.

10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry

  1. You search you heart before you search the Bible (Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 18:30).
  2. Your feelings matter more to you than your faithfulness (Proverbs 28:26, Luke 12:42).
  3. You are overly obsessed with outward beauty and vanity (Jeremiah 4:30, Proverbs 31:30, Galatians 5:19-30, 1 Peter 3:3-4, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Deuteronomy 22:5, Leviticus 19:28, Isaiah 3:16-26, Exodus 20:26).
  4. You routinely reject Apostolic pastoral authority (Hebrews 13:7, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12).
  5. You crave flattery but recoil at conviction (Proverbs 27:6).
  6. You lack compassion for those less fortunate than you (Colossians 3:12).
  7. You maintain a double standard; you consider some things acceptable for you but not for others (Proverbs 20:10, Romans 2:11).
  8. You use and manipulate people while simulataniously wanting their admiration (Luke 11:42).
  9. Your prayers are primarily focused on your own wants and needs; you rarely pray selflessly for others (Philippians 2:3-4).
  10. You view church as being all about your blessing; your opinions, wants, and needs are always the main focus (Philippians 2:3-4).

Idolatry Inside the Church

I know some of you are thinking that idolatry is an outside problem. No. The worst versions of idolatry are inside problems: Inside the “saints” and inside the Church. If you study the Old and the New Testaments you find that the most grievous forms of idolatry came from within the camps of God’s own people. It’s time to stop viewing idolatry as a problem far removed from the Church or something that was just an Old Testament problem. Idolatry is alive and well today. Thankfully, God is still on the throne and He still draws near to those who seek Him and Him alone (James 4:8).

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Whataboutism (Why It’s Wrong)

Whataboutism is an old word gaining fresh attention largely because of the obnoxious world of politics. Don’t worry, this isn’t a political post. Whataboutism is basically a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.

Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”

Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question. My kids use whataboutism all the time. Recently, while scolding my daughter because her room was a disaster she responded by asking, “What about Bubs?” At that point, she was smirking at the profundity of her own argument. She continued with what she considered to be the knockout punch, “You haven’t told him to clean his room, and it’s messier than mine.” And presto, she felt vindicated. In her mind, she had accomplished two things: 1) unveiled hypocrisy by pointing out a lack of consistency and 2) justified her own wrong behavior by focusing on her brother’s wrong behavior. In doing so, she was trying to evade the question and shift the blame.

Every kid I’ve ever known skillfully employs the whataboutism technique. I certainly did (I can hear my mother shouting “Amen”). It’s a childish artful dodge. And yet, whataboutism has become the rhetorical loophole of choice for adults who don’t want to discuss the merits of biblical morality. Whataboutism is the favorite self-justification of the average backslider. They shout, “What about all the Christian hypocrites?” And my response to them is the same response I gave my nine-year-old daughter, “Someone else’s wrongdoing doesn’t make your wrongdoing ok.”

As I’ve said before, many Christians embraced gay marriage because they saw Christians committing adultery, divorcing, and fornicating. They said and still say regularly, “You’re against gay marriage, but what about that TV preacher who cheated on his wife?” Well, what about it? Two things can be true at once: 1) homosexuality is a sin and 2) Christians can be sinful hypocrites. But finger pointing doesn’t make my sin or your sin somehow magically acceptable.

There’s an interesting case of whataboutism in the Bible involving David and his oldest brother Eliab (1 Samuel 17:22-29). David had just arrived at the battlefield with food for his brothers only to find the entire army of Israel hiding from Goliath. David started asking around about the situation. He rightfully felt indignation that a pagan giant was being allowed to defy the armies of the living God. But when Eliab overheard David’s questions he grew angry. Probably because he was feeling a surge of guilty humiliation. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. And then he dropped the hammer, “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be watching?” And there it is, whataboutism on full display. Eliab didn’t stop there, “I know your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” he sputtered at his little brother.

Eliab resorted to a defensive posture when faced with his naked cowardice by insinuating that David was equally imperfect. He projected his own reprehensible character flaws onto his brother. Thankfully, David didn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing. Whataboutism always carries a whiff of resentment with a dash of accusation. If there isn’t any actual hypocrisy for a whataboutist to exploit they’ll simply make something up.

The argumentative whataboutism spirit of Eliab is alive and well today. Christians must resist the pressure to succumb to this toxic brand of self-justification. Jesus addressed the natural human desire to justify our bad behavior with someone else’s bad behavior. He said:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).”

The message is clear, just because your enemy was hateful first doesn’t mean you get to be hateful too or excuse hatefulness in others. Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite either. He talked it and lived it. Speaking of Calvary, the Apostle Peter wrote:

“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… (1 Peter 2:23-24).”

Although unjustly judged, Jesus left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly. The work of the cross gives us the opportunity to live unto righteousness. Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means we don’t get to play the whataboutism game. We don’t get to say, “They did it first!” In other words, we aren’t reactionary. We stand stationary on the Rock that is Christ Jesus.

Oh, and the next time someone starts pointing out all the imperfect Christians to excuse their sin; just point them towards Jesus.

“For He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”

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9 Signs of a Prideful Heart

God resists the proud (James 4:6), which is bad news for a church if it is full of pride. Spiritually dry and deadlocked churches are usually filled with pride. They’re spiritually stuck because God is literally resisting their efforts. What they’re doing might seem good on the surface but their motivations are displeasing to God.

Scripture is very clear about proper motivations; God doesn’t just care what we do, He cares how and why we do it. For example, God doesn’t just want us to give, He wants us to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Jesus warned against displaying our righteousness just to be seen and admired by others, there’s no reward for that kind of conceited righteousness (Matthew 6:1). Paul even warned that preaching the Gospel must be done for the right reasons (1 Thessalonians 2:4). In a staggering display of immaturity, the disciples asked Jesus to decide who was the greatest in the kingdom; Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach them that without childlike humility they would never see the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-35).

In a generation obsessed with talent competitions and spotlights, it’s no surprise that the thirst for attention has crept into the Church. It’s evidenced in pulpits and in pews. It’s on full display if you know the signs. There are certain “tells” or “giveaways” so to speak. There really is no way to overemphasize the importance of guarding our churches against being infected with prideful leaders. Even more importantly, we should carefully monitor our own motivations and quickly adjust when and where needed. Below are nine sure signs of a prideful heart. I use this list to check my own motives and the motives of those seeking position or platform in my local church. Many of these principles are universal and can be translated into any paradigm or organization.  

  1. They want to SING but they don’t want to SERVE.

  2. They want to PREACH but they don’t want to PRAISE.

  3. They want to LEAD but they don’t like LEADERSHIP.

  4. They want to TAKE but they don’t want to GIVE.

  5. They want RESPECT but they don’t show RESPECT.

  6. They want the SPOTLIGHT but they resent SACRIFICE.

  7. They like PUBLIC EMOTIONS but they dislike PRIVATE DEVOTIONS.

  8. They are SELFISH rather than SELFLESS.

  9. They produce FOLLOWERS rather than DISCIPLES of Jesus.

Now read this list again, but this time replace “they” with “I” and be brutally honest with yourself.

Related articles: Overcoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragment (And How To Handle It), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1), 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, 5 Ministry Pitfalls, The Case For Yearly Preaching Plans, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, Clothed In Humility, Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?, You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…, Consistency (16 Keys To Great Leadership), Living Selflessly In A Selfie World

Right, Righteous, and Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference)

I’m ashamed to say that I was exposed in a moment of self-righteousness the other day. It was a moment of critical, mean-spiritedness over a situation that I knew little to nothing about. Ouch. It hurts to type those words. And then, as is often God’s way, I happened across two articles (here and here) that sent conviction running down my spine like an icy cold water challenge.

I frequently tell my church: Feeling conviction is not a bad thing. Uncomfortable? Yes. Fun? No. Necessary? Absolutely. The real danger isn’t feeling conviction but choosing to ignore conviction. Ignoring conviction for too long is essentially “quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19)” which leads to a hard and calloused heart, far removed from God. In fact, the ability to feel conviction is the hallmark of a true believer (consider King David’s confrontation with the prophet after his terrible sin with Bathsheba).

Let me clarify a few things right at the onset: I absolutely believe that a person must be confident and sure of their Christian faith. God, in no uncertain terms, has called believers to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 1 Peter 2:9) and righteous (1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:7, Matthew 5:20, Philippians 1:11). Furthermore, righteousness is not just a state of mind; it is manifested in lifestyle and actions. For example, Paul commands us to “Flee youthful lusts (action): but follow (another action) righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22)”. We can and must “…rightly divide (an action that demands an action) the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”, and “judge [with] righteous judgment (John 7:24)”. In other words, godly people have a right to discern right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. To say otherwise is, well, unrighteous.

However, we all know immature Christians who use “judge not that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1)” as a mantra to justify every sinful and sin accommodating action. It’s fairly safe to say that Matthew 7:1 has become modern Christianity’s favorite verse. The implication is simple, don’t tell me what to do because only God can do that. This drives sincere Christians crazy and gives others (sometimes unintentionally) a false sense of biblical authorization for all kinds of unrighteous behavior. Furthermore, the “only God can judge me” crowd should really let that thought sink in because God will judge our every action, that alone should cause us to carefully consider our lifestyles.

So, was Jesus really condoning bad behavior, spiritual timidity, or telling us that no one has a right to call a spade a spade? If that is the case, Jesus contradicted the entire Old Testament, every other relevant event of the New Testament, and his own actions to boot. Remember the overturned tables in the temple where Jesus made a righteous judgment saying “…ye have made it a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13)”?

Obviously, Jesus was not advocating turning a blind eye to sin or telling us that we cannot make spiritual judgment calls about ourselves and others. The verses immediately following bring clarity to the whole discussion: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye (Mathew 7:2-3)?”

The basic meaning here is that we are to judge ourselves before we judge others. There is an unrighteous and unholy brand of judgment that we can quickly allow to fester in our spirit that is harmful, hypocritical, and ungodly. If we condemn others for things that we are doing ourselves we bring condemnation upon ourselves (Romans 2:1-3). If we judge hastily, callously, contemptuously, carelessly, wrongfully, or prematurely we are guilty of judging with an unrighteous judgment. Those who judge others in such a way will be judged by God in that same way (Luke 6:36-38).

Here’s a difficult question that God often drops into my heart like an atomic bomb during prayer, “Do you want to be right for the sake of being right or for the sake of being righteous before Me?” Here’s another cringe-inducing thought; you can be right and unrighteous at the same time. In many ways, that is the very definition of being self-righteous. I want to be right for the sake of helping others and pleasing God not just to win arguments or rack up spiritual points. Yes, as a believer I have the right to make judgment calls, but I want to do so righteously for the right reasons with the right attitude. Sadly, I often fail. Thankfully, I have wonderful godly people surrounding me who make righteous judgments about my unrighteous judgments and aren’t afraid to tell me so.

Some introspective questions:

  • Do I enjoy it when others are harshly judged?
  • Do I enjoy arguing more than truly helping?
  • Am I quick to judgment without having all the relevant facts?
  • Do I elevate my opinions above the Bible?
  • Do I judge myself as harshly as I judge others?
  • Am I doing the same things that I criticize others for doing?
  • Do I pray for the judgment or for the conversion of sinners?
  • Am I willing to admit when I am wrong?
  • Do I make judgments from a place of humility or superiority?
  • Do I realize that all righteousness comes from God?
  • Do I care for sinners or callously condemn sinners?
  • Am I manufacturing self-righteousness or exampling godly righteousness?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions or executing godly discernment?
  • Do I judge from a place of knowledge or from a heart of wisdom?
  • Am I unwilling to make righteous judgments for fear of confrontation?
  • Am I justifying sin with my silence?
  • Does my unwillingness to righteously judge harm my witness?
  • Will I accept righteous judgment as easily as I dispense righteous judgment?
  • Do I exemplify godly mercy in my interactions with people?
  • Have I replaced mercy and grace with acceptance of sin?
  • Do I righteously judge sin or unrighteously justify sin in my own life and in the lives of others?