This blog started with a dream. In it, I reached for my cell phone and saw the back had a raised image of an idol god on it. When I woke up, it occurred to me that maybe God was trying to tell me something. I thought hard about what the idol god looked like in the dream. It was a picture of a curly lamb. Then I thought about the main things I use my cell phone for. I read the Bible, do Bible studies, respond to prayer requests, moderate Christian forums, and scroll for hours and hours reading devotionals, inspirational messages, and posts with Bible verses. Yes, almost everything I do with my phone is about Jesus, but has it become an idol in and of itself? Maybe, as I do, you need these 4 questions you can ask yourself to see if your phone is an idol.
The Definition of Idolatry
Idolatry is a sin. It’s the second of the ten commandments and one that God takes four whole verses to explain.
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”Exodus 20:3-6
In the New Testament, 1 John 5:21 tells us to keep ourselves from idols. 1 Corinthians 10:14 tells us to flee from idolatry, and Colossians 3:5 tells us to put idolatry to death. In fact, the website Knowing Jesus catalogs 254 instances of the word “idols” in the Bible, and it was the number one cause for God’s judgment of His own chosen people.
Now, when we think about idols, a lot of us think about those old statues people worshipped in Bible times. But Christians now aren’t in any danger of worshipping Molech, Baal, and Ashtoreth. No, the danger for us has more to do with placing our desires, pursuits, and attentions on things other than our God. In fact, two years ago, God led me to write a blog that detailed exactly what idolatry looks like today. It was called Modern Idolatry: Meeting Needs Without God. In it, there were four categories of needs that people meet – either with or without God. Those categories form the basis of the questions here.
Question 1: What is the focus of your life/time?
Does your phone occupy a large portion of your time? Do you check it even before you greet the Lord and thank Him for a brand-new day? When you aren’t sleeping or working, do you find yourself scrolling and scrolling, your phone never far from your fingers? When you put it away, do you find yourself stressed to be apart from it? Is it sometimes difficult to pull your mind away from your phone to do other things? Are you surprised to find big chunks have time have passed with nothing really accomplished except looking at your phone? Even if everything you are doing on your phone is godly and even ABOUT God, are you paying as much attention TO God as you are to your phone?
Question 2: Where does your comfort come from?
When you’re sad or upset, do you search for solace in your phone? Does it provide an escape from the real world, a place to numb your mind from the physical or mental pain you might be going through? Do you feel better when you’re on your phone than you do without it? Has your phone become an immediate “quick fix” to anxiety or discomfort when time in prayer and worship might take a little more time and effort (but be of real help instead of a cheap substitute)?
Question 3: How do you feel connected/like you belong?
When you feel lonely or disconnected, do you reach for your phone? Does time on social media posting, commenting, and liking posts fill your need for fellowship? Does it make you feel important/loved when others like or share your posts? Are you seeking to fill a deep void of loneliness and connection that only God can fill (because that is what we are designed to be filled with)? Note: This is not to say that you can’t have Christian fellowship online. This is to point out the times when we use it as a substitute for connecting with God.
Question 4: Who/what provides your guidance?
When you have a question about what to do in your life, is “pray and wait for God to answer” your strategy? Or is your first response to post a question on social media or message other Christians to give you advice? Are there other ways you look for guidance online? Even if you aren’t reading horoscopes, do you take every quiz that comes across your social media feed to see what kind of person you are or what your future will be? Do you allow anything other than God to speak over your life?
The Solution If Your Phone Has Become an Idol
If you are like me, the answers to more than a few of those questions brought a ping of conviction. While phones are a great resource to keep us up to date with what’s going on in the world and connected with other Christians, it can be a problem if we are using it too much or to meet the needs that God is supposed to be meeting for us. So, if our phones have become our idols, what should we do now? Charles Spurgeon had a sermon about idolatry in 1891. It’s called Three Decisive Steps. In it, he details the three things we can do to get out from under the sin of idolatry.
Step 1: Confess and Repent
Don’t make excuses. Tell God that you have sinned in making your phone an idol and that you are sorry. Cry out to Him and beg Him to help you not to do it anymore. Then believe and trust God that He will help you.
Step 2: Prepare Your Heart
Declare your decision and intention not to allow your phone to be your idol anymore. Settle it not just in the action of refraining from using it as much but in actively acknowledging that your phone doesn’t actually meet your needs at all. Think back on all the times you came away from your phone still feeling sad, still unsure of what to do, and still feeling lonely – but with hours of time wasted and nothing accomplished.
Step 3: Serve God Alone
It’s not enough to turn away from your phone if you will use other things to meet those same needs instead. Turn to God with your whole heart! Spend time with God, allow Him to be your comfort and connection, and seek Him for His guidance.
Your Phone is an Idol If It Comes Before God
Idolatry is no small thing to God. It’s not something to take lightly and must be dealt with when God brings it to our attention. Cell phones can be useful tools, but if we are using them too much or as a substitute for time and attention to God, we must repent, get our hearts right, and serve God alone.
Do you like articles with questions? Try Are You Offering Your Sacrifice of Praise? Or try Lordship Salvation: What Does It Mean to Believe? Please sign up to receive my blog in your email inbox. You can find that at the upper right of your screen (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.