The Definition of Idols

Free Bible Study Materials for Christian Discipleship
 August 2015

photo courtesy of Jan Tik

Dear fellow disciple-maker,

What is the definition of idols? An idol is an image or a statue fashioned to be an object of worship. God prohibits making any image or statue to represent him. In Bible times idols were often made out of wood or stone. Idols are forbidden because they are misleading, powerless and misplace our worship. God accepts the diversity of cultures, but not diversity of religions. In the days of Isaiah the prophet, idolatry was rampant and God revealed how misguided this practice was:

The carpenter cuts down a tree and fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He warms himself and says, 'Ah, I am warm; I see the fire.' From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, 'Save me; you are my god.' No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, 'Half of it I used for fuel; shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?' (from Isaiah 44:13-19).

Definition of Idols - Today

Is the definition of idols only statues? Idols do not need to be statues. An idol is anything we believe we need apart from God to ultimately make us happy, satisfied or fulfilled. Idols today are often revealed by what we fear, desire or trust. When people turn away from the true God, they experience a need or deficiency. To fill their emptiness, people turn their attention to the things they believe will meet the need. Whatever fills your need may seem innocent until it starts to rule your life. An idol is often a good thing that becomes the ultimate thing. It is something we believe we have to have.

Though not made of wood or stone, they become heart-idols when we place more importance on them than God. This means we fear, desire or trust them more than the one true God. Whenever we believe that something other than God has the power to give us what we lack, we begin to experience the loss of clear thinking. Here are some modern day heart-idols:


People fear rejection, attacks, losing a reputation, their boss firing them or getting angry at them, their children turning out badly, their spouse / friend betraying them, losing an inheritance, losing control, sickness, death, punishment or failure.


People desire to feel good (eat, drink, drugs, sex, technology), freedom from financial constraints, admiration, recognition, success, a nice house, material goods, that their children be responsible, that their spouse love them or that circumstances be different.


People trust drinking and gambling (to escape frustrations and boredom), sex and pornography (for pleasure and relief), food (for relief from boredom), inheritance, insurance, possessions (for future security), their job (for security, status, financial gain), their kids, job, marriage (for happiness), physical appearance (for image), their gifts and achievements (for status).

Jesus is our Treasure

The difference between trusting idols and trusting the true God is like the difference between drinking seawater and drinking fresh water. Two things happen when you drink seawater: you get even thirstier and you start to go crazy. Idolatry causes your view of reality to become warped. Something that seemed so wrong in the past is now acceptable. What is more, you are not satisfied. A false god is just that – false. It can only lie. It promises life, but instead brings death.

Jesus in the one true God. He is the ultimate source of your significance, security and success. Only Jesus can meet our deepest fears and desires. Trust Jesus to be your savior, your treasure, and your leader. He will never let you down or lead you astray.

Author:Paul Schlieker

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