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Worship God, not gods

By Don Umphrey

(scriptural citations from the NIV)

I first heard about idol worshippers as a youngster in Sunday school and wondered how anyone could be silly enough to do such a thing. 

Later in a freshman-level Bible class in college, our professor discussed idolatry, and the way he described it had us rolling in the aisles with laughter.  

It boiled down to a contest between the prophet of God, Elijah, and the 450 prophets of the idol, Baal, as to whose deity would send down fire for a burnt offering.  At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said.  “Surely he is a god!  Perhaps he is deep in thought or busy or traveling.  Maybe he is sleeping or must be awakened.’”(The New International Readers Version has Elijah saying, “Or maybe he has gone to the toilet.”) (1 Kings 18:27).

Idol Worshippers Self-Destruct

The passage continues: “So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:28-29).

Sitting in class that day, I would never have guessed that I was already an idolater, having  turned to alcohol in high school to take away my insecurities about popularity and acceptance. Certainly, I wouldn’t have guessed that my alcohol consumption would take me close to the fate of the Baal prophets who died that day. 

Violates First Commandment

The root problem of idolatry is that it violates the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” Exodus 20:2-3.

Jesus paraphrased the First Commandment in this way: “ Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30).

Jesus also observed, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” (Matthew 6:24).  Accordingly, as my alcoholism advanced, I claimed to be an atheist. 

Idol Defined

Author Timothy Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God can give.”1

Keller admonished his readers in this way: “Look at your most uncontrollable emotions… especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong… When you pull up your emotions by the roots, as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.”2

People who are addicted to drugs, alcohol or anything else are guilty of idol worship. “… an addict will place their substance in a position of reverence above all the other important things in his or her life; an addict will devote money, time, and energy to serving their idol; and an addict will give up all else to worship (take part in) their substance.”3   

The Temptation Is a Lie  

As a part of Satan’s lies, the temptation to turn to an idol will always be presented to a person as seemingly attractive or advantageous. At the same time, its longer-term negative ramifications will not be evident.  For example, I initially perceived alcohol to be the solution to all my social problems but ended up with nothing but problems. 

Related to idol-worship, the prophet Isaiah wrote:  “He bows down to it and worships.  He prays to it and says, Save me! You are my god!” (Isaiah 44:17b).

Isaiah also wrote about denial that is associated with idolatry. “…He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’” (Isaiah 44:20).  In denial, I never made a connection between my increasing anxiety and neurotic fears associated with increasing consumption of alcohol.

Guides to Idol Identification

Christina Fox wrote the following questions to help identify idols:

1. What do you spend your time on? The things we value and cherish most are what we dedicate our time to.

2. What do you spend your money on? What we invest our money in is often an indicator of what we love most.

3. What are your strongest emotions? (Such as fear or anger) We often respond with strong emotions when our idols are threatened or we can’t access our idols. 

4. What controls you? Our idols often define and rule our days.

5. What do you fear losing? What we think we can’t live without is often an idol.

6. What do you trust in to make your life better? Idols often become our refuge, what we turn to for help and hope. 

7. What are your “if-only’s?” Fill in the blank: “If only _____ happened, then my life would be better.” 

8. What sin or sins do you constantly battle? Whatever we worship, whatever we love more than God, we will sin to obtain it. 

9. What areas of your life seem out of control? Often the places we attempt to control reveal idols.

10. What barriers do you face in your life, keeping you from what you want? God often puts up barriers to keep us from our idols, to bring us back to himself.

11. What do you expect out of life, from yourself, others, and God? Our “should’s” and “ought-to’s” often reveal idols in our heart. 

12. What do you feel self-pity about? We often feel sorry for ourselves when we can’t get what we want, revealing idols in our heart.4

The Solution

Here’s what works for millions of people: They replace their idol or idols with God Almighty by taking Steps One, Two and Three of the 12 steps to recovery.  

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over (our addiction)—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Then they work Steps Four through Twelve to clean up the messes they have made, continuing to stay clean and sober and helping others the way God has helped them. 


My book Deliver Us II: Discovering Your Idols on the Path to the Promised Land provides a lot more information on idolatry. You may find this title by clicking on “Search by Category" or "All Product Listings" at the top of this page. 

© 2023 by Don Umphrey


1.Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters, Dutton, New York, 2009, xvii.

2.Keller, op. cit. 64.

3. Addiction Therapy, Christian Rehab, Drug Recovery. December 1, 2020.

4. Christina

New International Version” and “NIV” are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Used by permission.