Tim Keller Defines Idolatry

Timothy Keller writes the following in his book The Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, Study Guide (Zondervan, 2010), page 40:

Why do we lie, or fail to love, or break our promises, or live selfishly? Of course, the general answer is “Because we are weak and sinful,” but the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to be happy, something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires. The key to change (and even to self-understanding) is therefore to identify the idols of the heart.”

After explaining the idolatry theme more closely from Romans 1:18–25Galatians 4:8–9, and 1 John 5:21, Keller lists particular categories for personal reflection. The idol categories include the following:

“Life only has meaning or I only have worth if…

  • I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
  • I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
  • I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort idolatry)
  • I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control idolatry)
  • people are dependent on me and need me.” (Helping Idolatry)
  • someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.” (Dependence idolatry)
  • I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.” (Independence idolatry)
  • I am highly productive and getting a lot done.” (Work idolatry)
  • I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work.” (Achievement idolatry)
  • I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.” (Materialism idolatry)
  • I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.” (Religion idolatry)
  • this one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me.” (Individual person idolatry)
  • I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality.” (Irreligion idolatry)
  • my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.” (Racial/cultural idolatry)
  • a particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.” (Inner ring idolatry)
  • my children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.” (Family idolatry)
  • Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry)
  • I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt.” (Suffering idolatry)
  • my political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power.” (Ideology idolatry)
  • I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry)

Then he looks more closely at the first four categories:

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

For more information check out his workbook and DVD.

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  • Reply Mchele DePrato July 9, 2012 at 11:39 am

    WOW! To God be the glory! This is much of what God has convicted me and established, burning in my core! But sadly not too many people want to hear it. Many want His Glory yet do not want His fire. This is foolishness! Without His fire that will reveal the idolatry in our lives, there will be no freedom or true Christian. His victory is reserved for those willing to pays its price- Just like David with Ornan. He knew ha had to pay full price. Time to get on His Threshing Floor if we want to be saved and purged for real! Thank you for this wonderful chart and word. Where can I find the extended version of This!!!!

  • Reply luke February 20, 2013 at 11:31 am

    stumbled upon your blog today. Good stuff bro! thanks a ton.

  • Reply Why it feels creepy to talk about Jesus… May 22, 2013 at 4:05 am

    […] idols. (Idols of the heart are those false gods we live for, the hidden reason we do what we do.) Most people tend toward an idol of Power, Approval, Comfort, or Control.  I don’t mind not being in control and I don’t thirst much for power. I don’t […]

  • Reply Ruth Nagel November 1, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this I needed to understand this area in my life.

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