Subtle Sins

Growing up, I thought I was pretty much the perfect kid. Even in high school, I was always the good kid—I even got voted “Parent’s Dream Child” my senior year of high school. (Yes, I know that’s not a “Most Likely To” award, but hey, it’s a small town and you gotta take what you can get.)

I thought I was a good Christian because I didn’t do things like drink, smoke, have sex, or swear. Those were things that bad people did, and I was not one of those people! I was a good kid!

Meanwhile, in my heart, I was harboring jealousy, anger, judgment, hatred, covetousness, and arrogance. And sure, I loved shopping at Forever 21 as much as the next teenage girl, and I felt a rush when someone liked my Facebook post, but surely those things didn’t count! Most of those things aren’t listed in the Ten Commandments, and I definitely wasn’t coveting someone’s ox or donkey.

I lived like that for years—thinking I was a good Christian because I seemed like it outwardly, knowing in my mind that everyone sins but convincing myself that I somehow was the exception to that rule.

Idols and Sins in Your Life

More often than not, the idols and sins in our lives are subtle. They’ll sneak up on you. Usually, they’re a misuse of something good, so it’s easy to convince ourselves that it’s not a sin because it’s not an inherently bad thing, right?

It’s very difficult to have the self-awareness to find idols in your life. And because we’re not building golden calves like the Israelites, they’re usually harder to identify. They’re hidden, and we have to work to figure them out.

One explanation that really helped me uncover sins in my life is to just think of an idol as anything I depend on more than God. These are often good things that God has given me, but that I have misplaced on my list of priorities.

For example, I love drinking a cup (or two…) of coffee in the morning. I look forward to the ritual of it, whether I’m at work or at home. But I don’t realize my dependence on it until I don’t have it anymore. By 10 a.m., I have a raging headache, and I feel like I still haven’t woken up yet. I depend on my coffee to get me through the day more than I depend on God.

Now, is drinking coffee a sin? Absolutely not. But can I make coffee into a subtle idol that, over time, I grow to lean on more than God? 100%.

What Can These Idols Be? 

Idols can be anything, and what’s an idol for you might not be an idol for your neighbor. Here are a few examples of common idols. You might not identify with any of these things, but I invite you to ask God to reveal the idols in your life.

  • Maybe your idol is your job, where you gladly fulfill your vocation but also wrap your complete identity up in what you do rather than whose you are.

  • Maybe your idol is social media, where you concern yourself with how others see you rather than how God sees you.

  • Maybe your idol is your fitness, where you worry about how you look more than how you’re loving your neighbor.

  • Maybe your idol is your relationships, where you love your spouse more than God.

  • Maybe your idol is your child, where you prioritize your children over your relationship with God.

  • Maybe your idol is your material possessions, where you fill your room with things instead of filling your mind with Scripture.

  • Maybe your idol is your lack of something, where you are so concerned with what you don’t have—a child, a spouse, a house, a career—that you forsake other blessings in your life.

There are so many things pulling us from God—the devil doesn’t have to work very hard to distract us from God in our always-connected culture. There’s always something to covet, something to judge, something to prioritize over our relationship with God.

In this life, none of us will ever be perfect. We will wrestle with our idols until we enter into eternity with Jesus. But Christ died on the cross for you, to free you from having to endlessly wrestle with your sins and misgivings.  Rely on His strength to help you recognize these idols and push through them, coming back to the one and only true God. 

To see how you might have idols without even knowing it, purchase The Unholy Trinity: Martin Luther Against Me, Myself, and I below. 

Understand idols

Picture of Hannah Hansen
Written by

Hannah Hansen

Hannah is a freelance writer and brand designer. She currently lives in Oceanside, California, where her husband serves as a pastor. When she’s not running along the coast, you’ll likely find her cooking new vegan recipes or browsing her local thrift store.

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