Question: Does Everything Have To Glorify God? — A Mega-Post On When Idolatry Is Not Idolatry

Three anons (edited for length):

– My friends always say that everything we do should glorify the Lord. Because of that, we don’t go to the movies or read different books. If they see me watching Hunger Games or something, they tell me it’s all the Devil’s work. I feel ashamed because they say they are closer to God. What do I do? It’s hard to stay away from sin…

– Should all hobbies and interests SOLELY be for the Kingdom, or is it fine to sit down and write a horror story …? Even if you felt it was fun and maybe even cathartic to do so? I mean to say if we only wrote Theology 24/7/365/a lifetime, that Sherlock Holmes and Guy Montag might never have existed in our imaginations and that would be selling God-given gifts short. Is this right to think this?

– Hello! My mother tends to collect Asian statues from a junk store for me, my favorite things being Foo Dogs and the Mankei Nekos. However when some of the more strict Christians come to my apartment I can see them side-eyeing the animals and the smiling Budai as though they’re sources of evil. Is there any particular reason for this? My mother raised me to believe you can appreciate another culture’s lore and art without falling into the idolatry but the side-eye makes me a little nervous.


Well dang.  Please allow me the grace to write an open letter for the people who want to “glorify God” in dang near everything.

Dear serious brothers and sisters:

I know that some of you are very, very serious about your faith.  It kills you when an unbaptized heathen slips a bad word, you cringe at those “worldly” TV commercials, you scoff at pool halls and karaoke bars, and you think that old hymns and unleavened bread will save the American church.

I understand.  You are sincere.  It’s great that you take this seriously — but if you’re squeezing undue pressure on rules about rules over other people’s external behavior, you will inadvertently turn a relationship with God into a moral-boundary-pushing competition.  This is just straight unhealthy.

You’ll forget the original reason why you had these rules, and perhaps ironically, your good intention of glorifying God will turn into idolizing these moral fences, and you’ll be so far removed from Jesus that you’ll make fundamentalists look like easygoing liberals.

I really do sympathize with all this: because maybe you had a friend who started off enjoying a slice of cheesecake after each meal and then he went up to black tar heroin.  You had another friend who listened to an Eminem album and now he’s racing cops and punching babies.  You knew a church that started singing contemporary praise and now they’re playing Highway To Hell on Sundays.

I’m poking a little fun, but I get it.  You’re afraid of the slippery slope into idolatry.  You’re worried for your children and your church and this world.  I bet that this is very real concern, and I do love you for that.

But can I just make a simple gracious suggestion?

Please, please, please hear me in all humility on this, but maybe we could just relax about some stuff.  Perhaps many of these boundaries, which began with a noble heart, are actually causing some brothers and sisters to imprison themselves with a paranoia about being able to enjoy anything. This desperate race to “glorify God” can easily become a masochistic slavery that focuses on arbitrary self-imposed standards which do not bring us any closer to Jesus, but only breeds superiority or despair.

This is simply legalism, and it kills us slowly.  The second you begin to idolize anti-idolatry, you enter into a very clenched, restrictive, airtight faith that sucks the life out of our joy.

Certainly there are many things with which we should exercise discernment and caution — but shopping does not instantly mean materialism, and secular music doesn’t mean satan-worship, and enjoying the arts doesn’t mean we are witches and warlocks.


I know this will make some of you cringe.  You are already yelling 1 John 4.  But can we balance this?  Apostle Paul writes to Timothy

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons … They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

And also to to the church in Colossae —

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.


According to Romans 14, if something causes you or someone else to stumble: then don’t do it.  It’s that simple.  But please don’t hold those secondary rules over other fellow Christians.  Some can handle certain things, some cannot, and while we must graciously rebuke one another when we have a blind spot, we cannot legislate someone’s behavior to claim someone is “not glorifying God.”

So yes, you can enjoy the cheesecake.  You can buy the dress and the video game and the brand name jeans. Go write your fanfic and draw your anime.  You can cry when the fictional wizard kills the other fake wizard.  You can feel good when you get a ton of likes and reblogs.  You can enjoy Mumford & Sons, even when they sing the f-word.  These are not sins unless you force them into sins, which is still pretty tough to do.  I trust you will be reasonable about these things and you will not wave them like a banner.  I trust you will keep Jesus at the center.  God is not a cosmic parole officer, and He wants you to have fun too.

Let’s also please be considerate towards other cultures, upbringings, and backgrounds.  What you think is sin is actually a preference, and your traditions are not written in stone.  None of us have the power to turn our claims into “Thus saith the Lord,” unless he really did saith that, and even then, do not lord it over others.

We can only exemplify Christ and pray that others will be convicted by the Spirit.  We pursue Christ first in all these things, and he alone will change hearts and grow our faith and keep our eyes focused on the essentials.

Keep the main thing the main thing, and go have fun please.


When I was growing up, I was not allowed to go to the local pool halls. As I look back, I’m sure my parents did not want me to come under the influence of the unsavory characters who frequented those halls. So they built a fence to keep that from happening: “Don’t go into those pool halls.” The problem was I didn’t understand why, so I grew up thinking it was a sin to play pool (don’t laugh, I really did). Imagine my consternation when I moved to a Christian conference center and saw a beautiful antique pool table in the recreation room and godly men playing pool.

That is the way a lot of manmade “dos and don’ts” originate. They begin as a sincere effort to deal with real sin issues. But very often we begin to focus on the fence we’ve built instead of the sin it was designed to guard against. We fight our battles in the wrong places; we deal with externals instead of the heart.

— Jerry Bridges


“You can always see who’s a legalist because he can’t laugh at himself. He’s the one going around saying, “That’s not funny.”

— Timothy Keller

– Here’s a sermon I gave recently about how to glorify God and what that actually means, preached at a wonderful lively church that knows how to have fun and get serious too.

— J.S.

6 thoughts on “Question: Does Everything Have To Glorify God? — A Mega-Post On When Idolatry Is Not Idolatry

  1. Gradually shedding from our lives things that are dishonoring to God is a good thing. If we try to force out things because it doesn’t fit some kind of arbitrary list of rules will never work and will never last, though. We all just need to remember that the solution to EVERYTHING is to press in closer to Jesus Christ. If we focus on that, our lifestyles WILL change, but that process will be organic, from the inside out, and the change will be permanent. Trying to comply with the “list of the forbidden” is us trying to please God in our own strength. IT WILL NEVER WORK, FOLKS!


  2. Been there, done that, have the “Certificate of Pharisaical Attitude” to prove it. Finally, scripture and truth invaded my mindset, and I was able to relax, realizing that I had no right to play conscience for anyone else because that is the Holy Spirit’s job-and he doesn’t need my help!


  3. I heard a good line the other day that I think is good to think about: Before tearing down fences, it is best to figure out why is was put up in the first place. I think that applies for any time we want to put up boundaries or tear down a boundary. What was the reason for it in the first place? As a transformed Pharisee, I think it is good for me to test my own boundaries and convictions and see if it was really from God or is it just me trying to appear “holy” on the outside. As it has already been stated, it is better for change to come from the inside-out rather than outside-in. Great advice! Thanks, J.S.!


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