Idolatry: Using God’s Word for Codependency

The word codependency has a bad rep these days. Many psychologists think the word stigmatizes spouses of adulterers or sexual addicts who are already traumatized by their partners’ sins. Telling these victimized spouses they have a socially-transmitted “disease” is like kicking them when they’re already down.

But there’s another word that sets even more people on edge—idolatry. Many Christians will say, “Well, that’s just an Old Testament word.” After all, it’s used five times as often in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament, and God himself gives quite an exposition on it in the Ten Commandments.

We don’t have idols like that today. Or do we?

Using Biblical Terminology

When my children were young, my husband and I made the choice to use biblical terminology with them instead of the newest catchphrases. Instead of “follow directions,” we’d say, “Obey.” Instead of “that was rude,” we’d say, “You were disrespectful.” Instead of telling them to try harder in school, we’d say, “You need to work with all your heart.” We did this because it empowered both us and our children to use Scripture to address character issues and sin.

So when my husband and I separated for four years due to his adultery, I was empowered to use the scriptures to gaze into the shadows of my own heart. I clearly saw that like many who acknowledge Jesus as Lord, I put more trust in myself than in God’s desire to work for my good (Romans 8:28). Because of a dysfunctional childhood, my fear of rejection and abandonment culminated in a desperate need to control every area of my life, including my husband.

The world calls this codependency, but that word isn’t in the Bible.

Since God’s Word clearly says there’s nothing new under the sun, I knew this sin of mine must be somewhere in Scripture. And then I found it:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…” (Deuteronomy 5:7–8)

After 30 years as a committed disciple of Jesus, it was a hard pill to swallow. But there it was. I’d made an idol for myself—me.

Our Universal Sin

While this revelation surprised me, it did not surprise God. He’s been dealing with this nasty sin in us since Adam and Eve violated the one simple boundary He set. Why did they cross the line? Because they were convinced He was holding out on them.

But “I’m not co-dependent!” you might say. That may be because you have a stereotypical view. Most people think there’s only one type of codependent, a “doormat” or someone so passive they can’t see how they’re being used and manipulated by others. Their motto is, “I’ll do anything for your love or approval.” If you’re a Harry Potter fan, think Dobby the house elf.

But there’s another kind of codependency. I call it active codependence when someone strives for control of everything and everyone to prove their worth or value. Their motto is, “I’ll prove I’m worthy of your respect or love.” Think Voldemort.

Both types of codependency can be found in the bedroom and the boardroom, the school yard and the stockyard, and in suburbia and the slums. Granted, these two examples are at the far extremes of codependency, and most people vacillate between them depending on the situation. But these examples show how twisted and warped any of us can become when we don’t obey the most basic law the Creator gave us—no other gods before Him.

God-Dependence

How do we combat being an idolater? For me, in my restored marriage, I had to accept a few godly facts:

  1. I have no power over my spouse’s choices (I can barely control myself!).
  2. My husband and I are two completely separate people (duh, but I wasn’t living like I believed it).
  3. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. God already approved and affirmed me when he sent His Son to die for me. What more proof of my value do I need?
  4. It is completely unfair to expect my spouse (or anyone) to meet needs only God is qualified to meet for me.

Will we ever perfectly acknowledge our utter dependence on God? Probably not until heaven. There’s only one person who accepted and rejoiced in His absolute God-dependence and that was Jesus. As “Christ-ians”, we are working every single day to be more like him.

Try Before You Buy

Not sure if you buy into this idolatry thing? That’s okay, try this God-Dependency Quiz:

Pick the five most important things in your life—things you fear losing because they provide a sense of worth, significance, or security. They might include:

  • Relationships with your spouse, children, parents, or friends.
  • Activities like church, entertainment, internet, social media, work, sleep, sex, or personal development.
  • Material things like money, digital devices, vehicles, homes, or businesses.
  • More nebulous things like love, respect, health, happiness, knowledge, validation, freedom, peace, or success.

Ask yourself these questions about your five:

  • What do I get from it/them? (There is always a payback.)
  • Am I afraid to lose it/them? If so, why?
  • Do I rely on it/them for my self-worth? (Don’t be so quick to say “no.” Really think about this one.)
  • If so, are my expectations wise or fair?

If you are depending on any of these to give you self-worth or value, you’ve placed a “god” before the God.

But we don’t have to stay there. The first step to repenting of sin—or changing our mind—is accepting the truth and turning to God. Change isn’t easy, but with Christ all things are possible.

 

Thriving in a 26-year marriage that was once traumatized by adultery, codependency, and a four-year separation, Kim Pullen shares hope and healing with spouses who feel isolated due to their partner’s sexual sin. She is a freelance writer, speaker, playwright, certified yoga instructor, and advocate for healthy living. She lives in Orlando, Florida with her courageous husband, three teen children, six backyard chickens, and a bunny named Hazel. Learn more about her adventures at https://hopeforspouses.com/.

19 thoughts on “Idolatry: Using God’s Word for Codependency”

  1. Fatimahtene Saunders

    My heart is moved to tears because I understand the fight within me. This article encourages me to analyze my thoughts and behaviors by becoming God-dependent. Wow!

  2. This was a great article about idols and putting God first. Very convicting and thought provoking. I just don’t understand using Harry Potter as examples and anologys! I was really surprised that you referenced those books.

    1. Elizabeth, I’m glad you got a lot from the article. It was written as part of my own journey of my heart. As far as the literary examples, I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series for many reasons. Some do not share my sentiment, and I am okay with that.

  3. Thank you !! I love the scriptures you gave in this study! God is amazing and patient! He wanted me to see how I have put my husband first and not Him! My fear has come to fruition and I’m still living! God wants me to trust him and make Him number one in my life! Thank you for your encouragement and guidance!

    1. Yes, God is so good. He shows us these areas of our character so we can repent (change our minds) and become more like Jesus. What a privilege to know Him!

  4. Samantha Thomas-Chuula

    Thank you for an insightful lesson. I’m encouraged by your sharing of your life and perspective post-adultery. Not always easy to speak about amongst disciples. And you’re correct, the scriptures are clear on idol worship if we can see idols as anything we put above or before God in our hearts and minds. God has used you in a powerful way, to His praise and glory. Love, Samantha

  5. Very touched by your openess and vulnerability. It is convicting for me . I need to depend on God more.
    The questioners were also revealing as to how much I depend on people and worldly desires. Thanks. Please continue to write and inspire.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Joyce. It isn’t easy to be completely dependent on God, but we’ll never really be satisfied without that dependency. Bless you and thank you again. 🙂

  6. Thanks I have just gotten out of a 34 year codependence relationship with my Pastors wife whom we were friends, did not realize how much I idolized her, of course she feels hurt because I served as her ministry assistant and unfortunately I had to change churches. It was definitely a thing that I sought approval instead of realizing my worth to GOD. Your article helps me a lot as I am attempting to get my life back, mainly addressing the dysfunctional childhood and adult life I experienced, This definitely is taking a lot of work on my part and seeking God to experience his unconditional love for me. Do you have any other suggestions?

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