In western culture very few people are literally bowing down to statues and worshiping them as gods. But we are all idolaters nonetheless. How can this be?
God's first two commandments to Israel deal with idolatry ('You shall have no other gods before me,' and 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image' Exodus 20:3-5), and are the key to the other 8 commandments. God demands first place, will not share his glory with idols (Isaiah 42:8), and is jealous for the glory of his name (Ezekiel 39:25b). This is good and right, because God alone is worthy of the glory, and he has created all things for that purpose.
Jesus agreed, teaching us that the first and greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:36-38). All of us are constantly worshiping something or someone, for this is why we were made. When God is not in our first place of love and delight, we are idolaters. This is serious!
So, what are our idols?
Tim Keller said that an idol is "anything that I look at and say, 'If I have that, my life has value.'" A new car? The latest software upgrade? A degree from a university? A reputation for being the best mom in the church? What do you need for your life to have value? That's your god.
Mark Driscoll says it a little differently: When we take a good thing and make it a God thing (or an ultimate thing), that's a bad thing. This means putting good things in the place God alone is worthy to have. Family, food, sex, even ministry. When we elevate these good things and make them ultimate, they become our gods, and we become idolaters.
Dr. Tedd Tripp brings it even closer to home when he says, "