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Thirteen Diagnostic Tests for Heart Idolatry:

1. Esteem: God calls us to esteem his name:

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.

Malachi 3:16. Now, esteem alone does not constitute idolatry; for we should rightly esteem those who labor most diligently for Christ’s Kingdom (1 Thess. 5:12-13). Rather, that we we must highly esteem is our God.

Only one object can be held held in highest esteem. Thus, we each must ask ourself: What do I most highly esteem? What do I count as most honorable, most desirable, most excellent, most valuable? For the very act of counting some object as most valuable is to make God somehow less valuable.

In this place, special mention must be given to self: Our heart seeks its own. By nature, we esteem ourself, our hope, our dream, our desires, our honor, in the first place. Indeed, we consider it a positive evil to prohibit the self’s desire as the standard of all good.

Our culture in particular creates idols after this manner. The moral value of thing, whether it is good or evil lies in subjective human estimation. Morality is relative, not because we have no standard. Rather, the standard exists in the personal valuation. Thus, the public moral standard is to protect the right of personal valuation. I cannot condemn any moral decision other than to call someone else’s valuation wrong.

How do I test for estimation? Given a choice between X & Y, which do I choose? Which do I think best? We must measure this against our actual actions, because we often & easily say we esteem X when our practice shows that we esteem Y. We must look to our actual conduct, because sin by its nature deceives.

2. Mindfulness: God calls us to mind him:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; Ecclesiastes 12:1

11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. Psalm 77:11-14.

What gets your attention? Look to your thoughts: When you have idle moments, what do you first consider? When you wake & sleep, what first captures your heart?

This requires great self-consciousness. Our thoughts and intentions (Heb. 4:12), may be disclosed in our conduct, our choice of words. But by their nature, our thoughts and intentions cannot be seen by others unless we bring them forth.

Here the Scripture brings a knife:

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Heb. 4:12-13.

When we read the Scripture; when hear the Scripture preached, how do we respond? The Holy Spirit uses the Scripture to uncover and display the seemingly hidden thoughts and intentions. We realize that we cannot keep our heart secret from God. Romans 8:27 calls the Spirit, “he who searches hearts.”

Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD;
how much more the hearts of the children of man! Proverbs 15:11

That which consider most, that we makes up the meat of meditation, that we captures our heart’s attention — that is our God:

5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; Psalms 63:5-6

3. Intention: The thing we make our chief aim, our intention – that thing is our God. It is here we can misuse God and make our seemingly devoted actions sin. It as on this ground that Jesus rebuked the crowd:

26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” John 6:26-27

They sought Jesus, but only as a means. They did not search for him for himself; they sought for him the way one would search for a door: to go through for something better. They sought him to fill their true god, their bellies:

18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. Philippians 3:18-19

When we intend any other end than to obtain Christ, we have made an idol:

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:13-15.

It is at this very point that the reward offered to those believe is mistaken. No true follower of Christ desire heaven or the new creation for itself; rather, such things are sought because that is where we may see our Lord.

Look to intention, consider your goals. Note this carefully. The sin of the people who came to Jesus was not hunger: Jesus had just fed. Jesus acknowledges food and clothing as rightful and needful. The sin lies in seeking such things first and most:

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33

(Adapted from David Clarkson’s sermon, “Soul Idolatry Excludes Men Out of Heaven”).