We tend to think of idolatry as a sin of the past or something in eastern mysticism. Idol worship is contained to those who look to little wooden trinkets, a golden calf, or other images of gods for their needs.
We certainly don’t think we have modern day idols in western culture. But idolatry is surprisingly modern and very prevalent in our culture.
Part of the reason we don’t think about idol worship today is because our definition of idolatry is off. We think idolatry is confined to bowing down to a golden statue in an ancient temple or praying to a wooden trinket. Since we don’t do those things, we assume we don’t have idols.
But we do have modern day idols. Lots of them. They may look different than the idols of the past, but we still practice idolatry today. We are going to look at the 10 most common idolatry examples that are all around us.
Before we can do that we first need to get a better understanding of what an idol actually is. This will help us identify the worship of idols in our own lives.
What Is An Idol?
So, what is an idol?
Because we think of idolatry as an ancient way of worshiping gods we tend to miss the idols in our own life.
Idolatry isn’t confined to worshipping a golden statue or praying to trinkets. It’s much broader than that.
Here’s a helpful definition: An idol is when something or someone becomes more important to us than God.
By that definition even good things can become idols when we make them the ultimate things in our lives. Anything, or anyone, can become an idol if we place the value for that thing/person above our value for God.
In ancient times that would have looked like bowing down to worship a golden statue. That certainly is an example of idolatry.
Modern day idolatry looks different, but it’s still common. Remember, anything that becomes more important to us than God is an idol. And if we are honest, that list is pretty long.
Let’s look at how others are defining modern day idolatry.
Ed Stetzer, in an article called Idolatry Is Alive Today, gives this idolatry definition: Is it that a 12-inch tall piece of wood or bronze can do something bad to us? Or is it that we do something awful to ourselves when we place adoration and attention that should go to God in other things? When it comes to idolatry, the danger is not in an item… it is in us.
Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods answers what an idol is this way: An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.
So, what is an idol? What is idolatry? An idol is something that we have placed above God. Anything that is more important to us than God is an idol.
Idolatry is alive and well today, and all human beings are prone to have idols in our lives.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says about idolatry.
Idol Worship In The Bible
We are only going to take a brief look at what the Bible says about idol worship. If you want a more in-depth look check out my article on Idolatry in the Bible: Idolatry In The Bible (the important truth you need to know)
To put it concisely, the Bible doesn’t say anything positive about idol worship. It is regularly and bluntly condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
This should come as no surprise now that we’ve looked at what an idol is. Still, let’s take a little closer look.
Here’s a full list of what the Bible says about idols: Bible Verses About Idolatry
God sets the precedent for his people early on that his people shall have no gods except him. The Ten Commandments lead off with a command against idolatry (Exodus 20:3). And most subsequent books in the Old Testament echo this commandment.
The nation of Israel continually gets in trouble for turning from God and toward idol worship. This angers God so much that when they refuse to repent he lets their enemies overtake them. God is shown as a jealous God that does not want his people worshiping a false image.
The practice of idol worship is certainly not a positive thing in the Old Testament. The Jewish people are commanded to only worship the true God.
The New Testament is also vocal about idolatry. Colossians 3:5 and Romans 1:22-23 remind us of the dangers of idolatry. Many times the New Testament warns of being seduced by the things of this world to the point where they become the most important thing in our life- which is, by definition, idolatry.
We see time and time again in the Bible that the people of God tend to drift away from God. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are full of warnings against idolatry because we are so prone to wander. We must be diligent in examining our life for idols.
Now that we know what an idol is and have a good idolatry definition, let’s switch gears and look at what modern day idols are still worshiped.
10 Modern Day Idols (Idol Worship Today)
Before you read this list of 10 idolatry examples for us today, I want to be clear. This is NOT a list of things we should rid ourselves of totally. For many of the things on this list that would be impossible. In fact a lot of these things are actually good.
The point of this list is to encourage each of us to evaluate our lives to make sure none of these things have become more important to us than God. Because even a good thing can become an ultimate thing and ultimately that will destroy our lives.
With that in mind here’s 10 modern days idols we still worship today.
Our identity might be one the biggest idols worshiped today. We have largely abandoned who we are in Christ and placed our identity in other things. Whether it be our social media following, our position at work, our abilities/skills, or the achievements we are after, many have their identity wrapped up in the wrong thing.
It’s clear to see, simply question where one has placed their identity and you will be met with spirited pushback.
But the reality is our identities, or where we place our identity, has become an idol. Also, that’s a really tough way to live. If your identity is in your work, your skills, your looks, or anything else, you will constantly feel like you don’t measure up. They are harsh masters. But when our identity is secured in God, we can live in freedom. While we will still fall short, God’s love will never fail us.
For some, their identity has become an idol. It might not be physical object we tend to associate with idol worship. But this subtle form of idolatry is often worshipped. Many have placed more value on who they are, rather than in God.
2. Money/Material Things
Western culture has bowed to money and possessions for generations. The pursuit of money and the acquisition of things is a guiding force for many. It’s an idol.
And listen, you don’t have to have money for money to be your idol. It’s not about what you have. It’s about what you long for. For the rich, the poor, and those in-between money can be an idol that quickly entraps us.
Hear me on this. Money is not bad. Money is a tool. And like any tool, you have to use it correctly; otherwise, it can cause much damage. Money isn’t the problem, it’s how we use and view it that can become a problem.
It becomes a problem when we place our hope and our trust in money instead of trusting in God. Many have placed their hopes and dreams in money. They trust it to provide for them, care for them, and protect them. The problem is, it can’t live up to what we are trying to get from it.
Money has become the ultimate thing for many of us. This is one of the top idolatry examples today.
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Jobs used to just be a means to an end. For most people it was just want you did to provide for your family. Now, what you do has become who you are.
Job dissatisfaction is at an all time high. Could it be because we’ve elevated what we do to who we are?
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t find a job you enjoy that fits your skills. Nor am I saying we should put up with bad working conditions. I’m simply pointing out that maybe part of the problem is we’ve made our jobs an idol.
Much of the idol worship today centers around the jobs we do and the positions we hold.
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4. Physical Appearance
You don’t have to look very far to see an advertisement that promises to “fix” our physical appearance. To make us look better, younger, or like your favorite celebrity.
Why are those so common? They work. Many of us worship our physical appearance. We spend hours in the gym, thousands on products, and constantly think about what others are thinking about us.
We worship our physical form.
Again, I’m not saying all that is bad. Going to the gym is a good thing. Showering and doing your hair is a good thing. But we ought to be careful to not let this good thing become an ultimate thing. We have a world screaming at us that we NEED this and we have to remind ourselves of what is true.
Our physical appearance is a modern day idol.
We are obsessed with being entertained. From Netflix to vacations and podcasts to TikTok. We LOVE entertainment in many forms. Love might not be strong enough, we are obsessed.
Again, as with the other modern day idols, it’s not that entertainment is bad. It can be a good thing. But when our lives become all about the search for entertainment and chase of the best experiences we can find, then it becomes an idol. It’s more important than God.
I would argue that entertainment is good and a gift from God, but we should worship the giver not the gift. And we should enjoy our favorite things in moderation.
Much of the idol worship today centers around being entertained.
Sex might be the only thing we think about more than money. It’s everywhere in our culture. We have taken a gift from God and made it into the god of our lives. And for many, their lives are controlled by sex.
To even question the sexual ethic in our society will bring outrage and defensiveness, showing how tied to our idol we actually are. Our sexual identity, sexual practices, and sex-filled lives are sacred to us.
The church has some blame for this. Rather than portraying sex as a good gift from God, in recent history, they have heaped guilt and shame. You could argue this is one of the factors that brought the over-exaggeration of sex. Culture simply swung the pendulum.
But regardless of how we got here, sex is a modern day dol.
For more, check out: What The Bible Says About Sex (hint… it’s a lot)
There is an endless list of products promising to simplify and add comfort to your life. We have made our lives much easier and much more comfortable than at any other time in history. Tasks that used to take all day can be done in minutes. Many menial tasks are now automated. While that’s a good thing, our pursuit in life should not be comfort alone.
The call that Jesus gives his followers is a life of calling, not primarily of comfort.
Jesus promises that his followers will face trials, persecution, and difficulty. While comfort isn’t bad, it can become damaging when it becomes the main pursuit in life. When comfort is an idol, we will struggle when God calls us to something difficult.
Smartphone addiction is increasingly becoming a worrying trend. This is especially true for Gen Z and Millennial generations, but it’s certainly not confined to them. For many, they simply cannot live without their phones (or online presence).
It’s gotten so out of hand that if we are even sitting still for a few minutes we can’t help but reach to pick up our phones. Don’t believe me? Go into your phone settings on “Screen Time.” You can see how many hours a day you spend looking at your phone and how many times you pick it up. If you’ve never done that, it’s shocking.
If our phones and technology aren’t a modern day idol I don’t know what is.
At the heart of this problem isn’t our phones or social media or any form of technology. It’s the value we place on it that makes it a problem. When our lives revolve around how many likes we get, what our following looks like, or if we can’t sit in silence for 5 minutes without refreshing our newsfeed, we might have an idol. Anything that takes the place of God in our life, anything that becomes more important than Him, is an idol.
I was hesitant to include this one because I know it can easily be taken the wrong way. Let me be clear, your spouse and children are a blessing from God. The Bible is blatantly clear on that.
But we have the tendency to worship the gifts rather than the giver. And for some their family, their kids, their spouse, have become an idol.
Let me be clear once again, I’m certainly not saying we should rid ourselves of our families. That would be wrong on the other end of the spectrum. What I’m saying is we should place our families in their proper place. Important, but not as important as God. Ultimately that’s what’s best for them anyway.
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With the advent of social media almost anyone has the opportunity to become famous and gain influence. All it takes is one viral video or one hot take and suddenly you can have thousands and thousands of followers.
Past generations tend to idolize their jobs and social status. Younger generations are more drawn toward fame and influence.
This has lead many to endless chases, thus creating another modern day idol.
How To Identify Modern Day Idols In Your Life
Idol worship is still present and active. Many of us have idols; the problem is we just don’t recognize them for what they are.
Let me reiterate one more time. This isn’t a list of things to avoid or a list we should use to beat ourselves down or ammo to shoot at others. This is a list of things that can take the place of God in our lives. When a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, ultimately it becomes a destructive thing in our lives. That’s idolatry. That’s idol worship.
What I want to encourage you to do is to prayerfully evaluate your life and make sure nothing has become more important than God. Use this list as a guide to help. Ask yourself, what is an idol in my life?
To further help you, here are 4 questions to ask yourself to help you identify idols in your life:
Where Do I Spend My Time?
Where Do I Spend My Money?
Where Do I Get My Joy?
What’s Always On My Mind?
Actually think about those questions. They will lead you to what either is an idol or what you might be tempted to make an idol. Spend some time in prayer asking and seeking what is an idol in your life.
Idol worship today might look different, but it still exists. We shouldn’t let anything, even a good thing, take the place of God in our life.
Thank you for reading this blog post I hope that it helped you better understand what is an idol and how to identify idol worship in your life. If it did would you share this with a friend so they too can benefit?
I’d love to hear from you! What would you add to this list of idol worship?
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