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The difference between Idols and Icons

Updated on January 4, 2013

A Quick Definition of Terms

There is a lot of discussion on making sure as Christians we do not create idols. The 10 Commandments speak against creating an graven image that represent God in any way. But why do so many churches have crosses, crucifixes (the difference being that Christ is on the cross), or other statues, pictures, banners and artwork showing God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit? There is a difference between creating an Icon and making an Idol. It is all in what we, as people, think about when we see the image.

An Icon is something that makes us think about God, or Jesus, and how wonderful it is to be so loved by Him. An idol is something that makes us think how wonderful it is or how amazing we are for creating such a cool thing. The actual statue or artwork becomes the center of our thinking and it distracts us from God. That is what makes something or even someone an idol. If it brings us closer to God then it is an Icon, if it distracts us from God, then it is an idol.

My kids remind me how great God is in my life

Love me some Joelman
Love me some Joelman
Erin's, my daughter, first night at home.
Erin's, my daughter, first night at home.
It was hot at the ST Louis Zoo
It was hot at the ST Louis Zoo
At my brother-in-laws wedding.
At my brother-in-laws wedding.

Icons in Daily Life

There are some beautiful churches throughout the world. Some have artwork and other creative expressions that help us get into the right attitude for giving glory to God. if the cross helps people remember what Jesus has done for them, and it can help them focus on being ready to serve God then it is fitting to have in God's house, the church. I personally cherish many different icons in my life.

The cross is one of the most important to me. I enjoy the reminder that the cross is empty. That Jesus is no longer suffering for our sins but he did once and for all time. The cross was used as a torture device and a humiliating way to die. Now it reminds me of all Jesus did to save me from sin and death. I think of Jesus in honor and awe whenever I see a cross.

My children are another icon for me. Seeing them laugh and play, helping them when they are sick or in need are all ways to remind me of how blessed I am. Getting a hug from my daughter or playing video games with my son help me to see that in all manners of life I can feel God's love. Every night I thank God for the time I was able to spend with my children.

There are many other smaller ones that I see throughout my day, but the real power of an icon is how much it allows us to focus on God's grace and mercy in our lives. When the person or thing starts to distract us, that is when we start on the slippery slope to idol-ness.

Idols found in the Bible

There are many different idols in the Bible. From Aaron creating the Golden Calf to the 30 pieces of silver Judas took to betray Jesus. The reason God teaches people not to make graven images was to help the people understand they were not the source of salvation. We cannot make something to save us. We need to be truly dependent on God in everything we do. If we think, as in the Tower of Babel, that we can create something that rivals God, then we have lost sight of the true power in this world. People decided they were the source of power and control over the world and took credit for actions and situations they had no right claiming.

This is a common struggle with people even today. Too often I see or hear people taking credit for something they did not actual do or create. We put trust in people who cannot actual help us and listen to other sources of information that only lead us astray and distract us from God.

Anything can be an idol. From Facebook and Twitter to the News and Politics. If it distracts you from God, if it makes you think you have more power and authority than you really do, then whatever you did is an idol. Idols are everywhere, and the real challenge is to see them for what they truly are... a distraction from God.

Does it bring us closer to God?

It is funny how something can be an icon for one person and an idol for another. Watching shows like Toddlers and Tiaras I can see how children can become an idol. We need to be careful and diligent in understanding how we are treating everything in our lives. If we focus on the material, or the person, and think about how wonderful they are or how great they make us feel, then we have treated them like an idol. If we think how great God is for putting that person or material in our lives, and we give honor to God for having those things, then they are an icon. There is a subtle difference, but it is a great one for following the 10 Commandments and showing God the respect and love He deserves.

It is easy to change your thinking from idol to icon. Remember who created you, who loves you beyond your understanding and that everything we have and everyone in our lives was given to us by God. Each material possession, each skill we use in our lives, each person who loves us is a gift from God. Let them all remind you that God is good. Keep the understanding that everything should bring us closer to God, not distract us from Him. That is how we live our lives with icons and keep us safe from committing idolatry.


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    • Rev. Akins profile image

      Rev. Akins 3 years ago from Tucson, AZ

      Thanks lambservant, we like them. :)

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Your children are darling.

    • Rev. Akins profile image

      Rev. Akins 4 years ago from Tucson, AZ

      MsDora- That is one of the things I love about Hubpages. You can find what you need when you need it. Glad the article helped. Thanks for the comment!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Glad I read this, though it is six months after you wrote it.: it is very timely for me. Thanks for the explanation.

    • stirringtrouble profile image

      Jm Bob 4 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      What a great read for a Sunday, thank you for sharing your message of gratitude.

    • Rev. Akins profile image

      Rev. Akins 4 years ago from Tucson, AZ

      Jesus taught us to love God and love others. This is the same break down as the 10 Commandments. If we live in the law of love we will also be following the Commandments by default.

    • SwordofManticorE profile image

      SwordofManticorE 4 years ago from Burlington

      Why would a christian follow the 10 commandments in the first place? We are not required to. We follow the law of love.

    • Rev. Akins profile image

      Rev. Akins 4 years ago from Tucson, AZ

      rdlang05- I wrote this in response to a question almost 6 months ago. I appreciate the comments and agree that many people create idols out of what should always be icons. Thanks!

    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Excellent and very reasonable hub. Its interesting how many people engage in iconoclasm when they have idols of their own in other forms.