Last week, I wrote two posts (1, 2) with questions to ask when you read the Bible. Today, I want us to think about how to identify the false gods we worship and seek Christ as a greater affection as it relates to Bible reading.

In any particular situation, we sin because we do not truly believe the gospel. There is some part of us that is still not fully redeemed and we therefore put our hope in things other than God. We have, in the words of the First Commandment, other gods before us. The Bible calls these other gods “idols.” Therefore, when we are asking questions to aid our meditation and prayer, we need to understand how to find the “sin beneath the sin.”

Think about this example. If I am told to not be harsh with my children (Eph. 6:4) the problem is not simply that I might yell at my kids from time to time. Yelling is a symptom of the harshness that lives in my heart. But what is the cause, the root issue? Where is the anger coming from? There is an idol (i.e. false god, a greater affection than Christ) that I am looking to for salvation. It may be that I think I deserve the right to a quiet night (comfort idol). It may be that I feel that their misbehavior makes me look or feel inadequate (reputation or approval idol). It may the that I feel they shame the family when they act a certain way (family idol). The external behavior of our sin is never the main problem. It’s always the heart. I don’t just get angry for anger’s sake. I get angry because I am worshiping a false god. 

When reading any passage, you must find out what the passage exposes in your attitude, behavior, and emotions, and then uncover what idol lies beneath it. Thinking about it this way might help (thank you, Tim Keller):

  • Power idol.“I only have worth/meaning when I am in control of ______.”
  • Approval idol. “I only have worth/meaning when ______ approves of me.”
  • Comfort idol. “I only have worth/meaning when things works out to my liking.”
  • Family idol. “I only have worth/meaning when my family is functioning well or if they are happy with me.”
  • Dependence idol. “I only have worth/meaning when ______ keeps me safe.”
  • Achievement idol. “I only have worth/meaning if I can achieve ______.”
  • Helping idol. “I only have worth/meaning if others need me to help them.”
  • Political idol. “I only have worth/meaning if my ideals/candidates/issues makes progress.”
  • Reputation idol. “I only have worth/meaning if I succeed at ______.”
  • Theological idol. “I only have worth/meaning if others embrace my beliefs/convictions.”
  • Money idol. “I only have meaning if I have a certain amount of money in the bank.”
  • _____ idol. The human heart is an idol factory, said John Calvin. Fill in the blank.

Ultimately, we have idols because they are more attractive to us than Jesus. When we fail to be compliant with Scripture, it’s not that we experience a cognitive dilemma. The problem is not that we fail to remember what God told us to do. It’s that we love something more than Jesus in the moment. Here are several questions we can ask after we have identified idols to move toward repentance and faith and love for Jesus:

  • What is more attractive to me about ______ than Jesus?
  • What things (i.e. triggers) propel me toward looking to _______ instead of Jesus?
  • How does Jesus meet my need in a way ______ cannot?
  • Why should Jesus be a superior satisfaction?
  • What specifics in the passage—or in other passages—bring me to worship Jesus for who he is and what he’s done?
  • What specifics in the passage give me the grace I need to fight this idol and walk in obedience?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? Be sure to check back in a couple days for one last post on questions to ask when reading the Bible. 

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