When People Displace Jesus


A few years ago, a worship song went viral with two million hits! With a beautiful melody and poetic words, it caught the hearts of many.

You’re the first thing I know I can believe in,
You’re holy, holy, holy, holy, I’m high on loving you
You’re the healing hands where it used to hurt,
You’re my saving grace, you’re my kind of church,
You’re holy.[1]

This however, was not a song about the Lord Jesus Christ, but a person! H.O.L.Y., the song’s title, referred to someone being “high on loving you.” They were words of devotion and ecstasy about a person providing healing, saving grace, and even being a ‘church’ within which to worship.

Relational Idols

We all desire the security of feeling loved—and we all are tempted to find that security not in God our Creator but in unhealthy relationships with people around us. Through books, songs, and movies, we have stories of people craving and searching for an experience of love and security that can only truly and in a healthy way be met by Jesus.

As H.O.L.Y. illustrates, romantic love is one way the ‘worship’ of a person can displace Jesus as the worthy focus of our hearts. However, idolatry of people happens between parents and kids, in friendships, and in mentoring relationships. Wherever there are two hearts unanchored from worship of and dependence upon Christ, there is fertile soil for relational idols to grow.

Tim Keller describes idols as anything more important to us than God, anything that absorbs our heart and imagination, anything we seek to give us only what God can give.”[2] When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, or to have your life be fixed, your heart healed, an empty heart made whole through a person, some might say you are being codependent—but it’s really idolatry!

Let’s be clear though, desire for unfailing love, to be deeply known, needed, pursued, and even just to matter (!) to someone,  are beautiful aspects of being image bearers of God, who loves us deeply, knows us completely, AND who exists Himself in a holy relational Trinity.

The problem is that our image bearing capability has been distorted by sin. Our desires have become disordered so that what is ‘natural’ to us is what rises from our sinful heart.  All of us struggle in one way or another in our relationships. We crave and work at getting things from people that can only be found in our union with Christ.

Evaluating the Heart

Is there a person in your life who you:

  • Depend on for your sense of identity and value?
  • Obsess about in your thoughts?
  • You feel ‘addicted’ to being in touch with throughout the day? To not have contact prompts you to feel threatened and insecure?
  • Is needy for you to be a mother/counselor/surrogate-spouse for and you are happy and secure in this role of being a ‘need-meeter’ and rescuer for?
  • Was a friend, spiritual daughter, or counselee but has become someone for whom you have romantic feelings? Have gotten involved with physically, perhaps even sexually?

Sister, did you answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions? If so, I plead with you to pause. You may be playing with fire, or you may be in the flames already. Displacing Christ with people may happen intentionally from a hard heart; it also happens when we are naïve. Regardless of how you got here, Jesus has a way out for you.

Here are a few steps to consider:

  1. If this person is a family member, you’ll need to get help to understand what healthy boundaries are, and what godly love looks and ‘feels’ like. God is not calling you to abandon this relationship (!) but to have your affections and the relational dynamics radically reoriented and transformed. Seek help from someone outside your family.
  2. For other relationships:
    • If there has been sexual involvement, confess your sin to a trusted person, end the relationship, and commit to no contact with this person for an indefinite length of time.
    • Seek Christ! You probably won’t feel like it, but fleeing to him and his word is a must.
    • Expect a season of pain and grief that can lead you to God’s comfort. John Newton said, “He wounds in order to heal, that he might make us alive.  He casts down, when he designs to raise us up. He brings a death upon our feelings, wishes and prospects, when he’s about to give us the Desires of our hearts”.
    • Pursue discipleship regarding the underlying heart issues that made you vulnerable to people idolatry.
    • Hope! One day, the pain of this costly obedience will subside. Jesus is with you and he will never stop loving you.
    • Believe! God Himself does battle with our idols as he transforms us into Christlikeness.

Editor’s Note: Ellen will be speaking on this topic at the Women’s Ministry Leadership Training Conference this month.

[1] From “H.O.L.Y” by Florida Georgia Line

[2] Keller, Tim. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, p.xix.

About the Author:

Ellen Dykas

Ellen received her MA in Biblical Studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in 1999 and serves as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and teaching regarding sexuality. Ellen loves ministry to women and is most passionate about mentoring, teaching God’s Word and spiritually nurturing others to walk deeply with Jesus. New Life Presbyterian in Dresher, PA, is her home church.

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