Thermometer or Thermostat?

From a quick google search I learn the analogy of a “thermometer” or “thermostat” in a leadership or religious context is not unique.  But the idea was new to me when I heard it briefly referenced yesterday in Sunday school and to be honest, I couldn’t wait to think through it more thoroughly.

So today I found that little sticky with the scrawled out words tucked in my Bible next to the passage we had been looking at to wrap up our study of Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods (which I highly recommend), dealing with idols.


In our American Christian culture we often think of an idol as money or materialism.  But an idol is ANYTHING that rules our hearts instead of God.  It can be a specific object or money, but very often it is a desire, dream or fear. For instance, the overriding desire for control, power, status or to be viewed a certain way.  A dream of having the perfect spouse, children, neighborhood, vacation or job and nothing less than that will satisfy.  A driving fear of what others think about you, that you don’t measure up or that you have to be perfect.  

Some good pointer questions to see what idols might be ruling you:

  • What does your mind automatically drift to?
  • What do you worry about?
  • What consumes you?
  • What do you fear?
  • What must you have to be happy?

We all have them.  All the time.  If you think otherwise, you need to probe your heart a little deeper!

It’s what we do with a particular idol once recognized that is the key.  As Keller says, “this cannot be remedied only by repenting that you have an idol, or using willpower to try to live differently. Turning from idols is not less than those two things, but it is also far more. Setting the mind and heart on things above where your life is hid with Christ…

To set our mind on Christ… For Him to be more appealing than the idol, For Jesus to consume our heart.

To truly see and be captivated by who He is and what He has done for us is what must replace the idol! Only when He is bigger than whatever it is that captures our hearts will that idol be put to rest.

Now, back to the thermometer or thermostat… A thermometer responds to the temperature, right?


While a thermostat controls it.


So, let’s apply to our idols…

If I am consumed by what you think of me and respond as a “thermometer” than I will do what I think will elevate myself in your eyes. My actions will stem from how I gage the “temperature” to be, or in other words who I think it is you want me to be or what I can do to look good.

However, if I have set my mind on Christ – than He controls.  Who He is and what He has done for me will keep me from wavering.  He is the set “thermostat.”  So whatever your opinion of me will not change how I feel about myself or what I do because that is not what is driving me.

Easier said then done because the reality is idols do pop up all throughout the day and we have to constantly combat them. But this is how: Setting our mind on Him! Not ourselves. Not on others. Not working harder. But, Christ!

Who He is and what He has done for me. The Gospel!

And I am secure – in Christ. 

In fact if we could get this one foundational truth we would see higher self-esteem is not what we need. We need to esteem Him more! (I won’t get started on that, at least for this post, but I have a whole lot more I could say about that!)  

My security comes in Him alone. When this controls me I will not fluctuate by every changing variable, but remain at rest in the One whom my “life is hidden” in.

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