The “Idol-Detector” Test

I recently have been reading through J.D. Greear’s little book, “Gospel” and have been loving it. I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. The book outlines how the Gospel radically transforms us, from the inside-out. In his chapter, “God is Better”, Greear has what he calls an “idol-detector” test, which is a short list of questions that help us discern what our hearts truly love the most – what our hearts truly worship. He explains that the Gospel doesn’t merely give us a list of commands to obey, but calls for our heart’s deepest affections, longings, and desires. For us to worship God in this way, we must detect what things our hearts have replaced God with – what “idols” we worship. Hopefully these questions prompt you to think this over.

An idol is behind our loftiest dreams, our scariest nightmares, and our most unyielding emotions.

– Tim Keller


  • What one thing do you most hope is in your future?

    Career success? A certain salary? Owning your own home? Owning a second one at the beach? Getting married? Seeing your kids grow up to be successful? Having the respect of your teammates? Going pro? Being loved and respected by your colleagues? What is it that, without it, life would hardly seem worth living?

  • What is the one thing you most worry about losing?

    What one thing could you just absolutely not get along without? Your family? Your job? The love of your spouse? The respect of your kids?

  • If you could change one thing about yourself right now, what would it be?

    Would you lose thirty pounds? Would you change your looks? Your marital status? Your job? Your zip code? Would you have your kids come home? There is certainly nothing wrong with desiring to change our lives. But when we could’t imagine being happy unless something changes, we have an idol.

  • What thing have you sacrificed the most for?

    Sacrifice and worship almost always go hand in hand. What have you worked the hardest for? To get the scholarship? To obtain the perfect body? To land the job? To be the best in your field? To get to a certain income level? What you prize most is shown by what you pursue the hardest.

  • Who is there in your life that you feel like you can’t forgive, and why?

    An ex-husband ruined your reputation and stole the best years of your life? Your wife who cheated on you and publicly humiliated you? An irresponsible or unethical partner who ruined your business? A close friend who stole your boyfriend? A drunk driver who killed your child? When you cannot forgive someone, it is usually because they took something from you that you depended on for life, happiness, and security.

  • When do you feel the most significant?

    When do you hold your head up the highest? What is there that you hope people find out about you? Do you constantly mention your job, or the job you think you’re going to have when you graduate, or where you got your degree from? Are you always looking for ways to show off your house or car? Your identity is whatever makes you feel the mist significant. What makes you feel the most significant is what you put the most weight upon.

  • What triggers depression in you?

    That your kids never call? The fact that your marriage doesn’t look like it’s ever going to get better? Is it that you have reached a certain age and still aren’t married?  Is it when you don’t get the recognition you know you deserve? Is it how little you’ve accomplished? Depression is triggered when something we deemed essential for life and happiness is denied to us.

  • Where do you turn for comfort when things are not going well? 

    Maybe you bury yourself in your work to numb the fact that your wife ignores you and your kids are drifting away from you. Or perhaps you find escape in the arms of a lover. Some sensual pleasure, like pornography or comfort food? Perhaps alcohol or drugs?

Do these questions reveal certain patterns in your life? St. Augustine said that things like worry, fear, sadness, and deep depression are “smoke from the fires” rising from the altars of our idolatry. Follow the trail of that smoke and you’ll see where you have substituted something for God.

– J.D. Greear, “Gospel”  71-75


To be free from the enslaving powers of our idols we must have a superior view of God. Idolatry happens when we turn to something in creation, and treat it like it is the Creator. We ascribe god-like qualities to something or someone, and thus have god-like expectations from them, which will sadly always leave us wanting. The remedy for our sin-sick hearts is to see the fullness and goodness that God is, in Jesus Christ.

Idols are false gods. Jesus is a better God than relationships, money, power, approval, comfort or control. And if we doubt that, we need only to look to the cross, where Jesus poured out his life so we could be saved from our death. All other “gods” demand that you obey them, live for them, devote yourself to them, or suffer the consequences. If you make career success your god, you will sacrifice anything to get it, step on who you need to, and forsake your family. And if you begin to pull back from your career in any way, maybe to spend time with your family or for health reasons, you will feel like you are dying. Why? Because you are failing your god. The one thing you built your life on is crumbling. Only Jesus makes the promise to you that He will never leave you, and never forsake you, and only Jesus says that your relationship with Him depends on grace, not on works. No other “god” offers that kind of life, that kind of love, that kind of glory. Stare at that beauty of Jesus in the Gospel until you see it. 

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