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4 Signs That Your Hyper-Spirituality Has Become an Idol

Hyper-spirituality is ultimately divorced from the gospel because it attempts to place our identity and our standing with God in the vibrancy of our spiritual experiences.

Borrowed Light
Published Oct 24, 2023
4 Signs That Your Hyper-Spirituality Has Become an Idol

“She’s everything that I want in a wife. I love her so much. And I know she loves me. I want to spend the rest of my life with this girl,” he said.

“Well, why have you been dating for four years without pursuing marriage?” I asked.

I figured his answer would have to do with economics, a fear of commitment from one or both parties, parental relationships, or anything really except what I heard.

“God hasn’t given me my seven,” he responded.

I was confused. “Seven what??”

He answered, “Well, whenever I make any big decisions, I always ask God for seven signs of confirmation. As of today, he has only given me five.”

This young man, and the poor potential bride-to-be, were victims of hyper-spirituality. It’s certainly good to pursue God’s wisdom. It’s a good desire to be obedient. But there is a type of spirituality that can become an idol.

In this article, we will explore the concept of hyper-spirituality, what it means to make an idol, how hyper-spirituality can become an idol and the importance of finding a healthy balance in our faith.

What Is an Idol?

Before we delve into the topic of hyper-spirituality, let's define what an idol is in the context of faith. If we’ve read much of the Old Testament the word “idol” will likely conjure up imagery of statues and poles and images and all those false ways of pagan worship.

If we aren’t bowing to a golden statue, we might think we can safely assume that idolatry isn’t an issue in our hearts.

This is why many of us preachers like to extend the definition a little — in common lingo, we might say that an idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. What does that mean, though? I appreciate how Tim Keller builds on that definition:

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty and brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry (Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods).

Taking this definition, we might be left to wonder how something like spirituality — or rather hyper-spirituality could become an idol. Isn’t it good to be as spiritual as possible? Perhaps a definition of hyper-spirituality is also in order.

What Is Hyper-Spirituality?

The word “hyper” has come to mean being “high-strung and excitable.” Because of this, we might assume that someone who is “hyper-spiritual” is just more dedicated to spiritual things — maybe they just take it a little too far.

However, when “hyper” is used as a prefix it typically means to be excessive and above normal.

Take as an example the phrase “hypertension.” To have hypertension means that your blood pressure is above the normal reading.

Likewise, to be hyper-spiritual would mean that your spirituality is “above normal,” it is excessive. This begs a question. What is a “normal” spirituality?

Paul gives us a bit of direction in 1 Corinthians 4:6 when we are told to “not exceed what is written.” Hyper-spirituality will go beyond what God has revealed and add extra rules. I appreciate this definition from JR Cuevas:

Hyper-spiritualizing, by definition, is treating matters that are not meant to be weighty with equal weight with the ones that are indeed weighty. It attempts to create a set of rules for spirituality about those particular areas where the Bible gives freedom. It is “hyper” in its spirituality in the sense that it tries to make every matter of equal weight to one’s spiritual health.

The young man I mentioned in the introduction was allowing his life to be governed by rules that are not explicitly (or even implicitly) laid out in the scriptures.

There is nothing even with the rule of faith which ought to shackle such a one. And therein lies the problem with hyper-spirituality. It leads to legalism.

Hyper-spirituality is ultimately divorced from the gospel because it attempts to place our identity and our standing with God in the vibrancy of our spiritual experiences. The gospel places our identity and standing upon the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Because of this hyper-spirituality will often show itself in being oppressive and judgmental of others. It will not give freedom because its comfort is derived from going beyond what is written.

Perhaps an illustration might help. Imagine that on Monday morning you wake up with the roosters and immediately begin your quiet time. After an intense hour of prayer and Scripture reading, you wake up the family.

You lead them in a riveting Bible study and set everyone off to their respective locations for the day. You are kind and generous to everyone you encounter. You share the gospel with a co-worker. You give a generous donation to the local food pantry.

You engage in another deep and meaningful Bible study around lunchtime. You come home from work and patiently love and serve your family. You attend a prayer meeting at church where you pray for unreached people groups.

You commit to going on a mission trip in the fall. After a jam-packed day of God-honoring activity, you drift off to sleep in a time of unhurried prayer.

Tuesday is different. You don’t wake up until 9:15. Everyone is running late. You yell at your family. You miss your quiet time. Rather than sharing the gospel with people you share all of your complaints.

You do drive to church again, but this time only to scratch your name off that list of those going on the mission trip. Your depression and anxiety have gotten the best of you — no way that you’re going to even think about staying a week with these goobers at your local church.

You come home and give everyone in your family the cold shoulder. You decide to go to bed early, but before you do you give up a half-hearted prayer of forgiveness for your awful day.

If you believe that God loves you more on Monday than he did at the end of Tuesday, you might be a victim of hyper-spirituality.

Furthermore, if you meet the Tuesday person and assume they are further from God than the Monday person, you may also be prone to hyper-spirituality.

It is true that all of those things on Monday are good and pleasing to God. And it’s also true that some of the behaviors and heart attitudes from Tuesday need repentance.

However, they don’t change our identity in Christ. They don’t change whether or not God is fundamentally pleased with us.

If I struggle through an anxious and distracted six-minute quiet time is God disappointed in me? Would he be more pleased if I had an unhurried thirty minutes where the Spirit is thick in the room?

The reality is that there are too many unknown factors to properly answer the question. To understand this will help us discern how hyper-spirituality has become an idol.

How Can Hyper-Spirituality Become an Idol?

Let’s combine our definitions. If idolatry is leaning on something else to give me what only God can give, then how can hyper-spirituality do this?

Hyper-spirituality is an attempt to measure our standing with God based on the veracity of our spiritual practices. And that is something that only God can do.

Therefore, if I’m attempting to find my identity in my spiritual performance — or my level of spirituality — then I’m engaging in idolatry. I’m placing my hope where it shouldn’t be placed.

How can you tell if hyper-spirituality has become an idol? Here are a few diagnostics:

1. Your spiritual practices feel like a heavy burden. The yoke of Christ is easy, and His burden is light. To spend time with Jesus is to grow in shalom.

2. Your spiritual practices make you neglect your duty. Sometimes we can over-exalt spiritual practices to the neglect of the responsibility around us. What C.S. Lewis said should be true of us,

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

3. You are constantly pursuing spiritual highs. For those coming out of a culture of addiction, this can be a real temptation.

We can simply replace one “high” with another one. I know that I’m not engaging in hyper-spirituality if I can engage in quiet, ordinary, and unseen means of grace.

4. You are increasingly judgmental of others. There is a good chance that if you’re a hyper-spiritual person you have many rules for your own life. And there is also a good chance that you often feel like a failure for not meeting those goals.

When this happens one of the best ways to feel better about yourself is to compare your rigid discipline to the people around you who aren’t even measuring their life by your yardstick. Hyper-spiritual people tend to be judgmental of others.

Why Does This Matter?

What is the answer to hyper-spirituality? Healthy spirituality. Ultimately our answer is to rest in the finished work of Jesus. It is here that we will find freedom and an unshakeable identity. Hyper-spirituality happens when we don’t have confidence in Jesus.

The idol of hyper-spirituality is conquered just as any other idol is conquered by the Lord. He often shames them by showing their emptiness next to His fullness.

True spirituality lies in maintaining a strong, authentic relationship with God while fulfilling the gospel's call upon our lives. True spirituality always flows out of the finished work of Jesus. Why wouldn’t you want to drop anchor here?

For further reading:

7 Sneaky Idols Destroying the Church Today

Can Being True to Ourselves Become an Idol?

How Can Marriage Become an Idol?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Tinnakorn Jorruang

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.

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