We have talked about believing & applying, powerlessness, hope, and surrender. The goal of the first four weeks was to get us to the point where we are ready to seek God and trust him to change us. This week we are going to start digging deeper into our struggles by discussing the principle of self-examination.


Self-examination is an essential part of change because it helps us get to the deeper issues related to our struggles. When we think about how we want to change, we typically think about the negative behaviors associated with our struggles (e.g. lying, overeating, lashing out, sexual immorality, etc.). When we fall into sin, we feel bad and we resolve not to do it again. The reason that never works is because it does not get to the real issue. It focuses on the fruit, not the tree. Our behaviors are the fruit of our desires, or loves. When we love or value something more than we value God, we will sin to get it.

This is the essence of idolatry: putting something else in God’s place. If we want to change, we should not fixate on our sin. We should focus instead on the idolatry underlying our sin. The real problem is the tree, not the fruit. This requires some thoughtful self-examination. We must identify the idolatrous desires of our hearts, so that we can then take them to God and ask him to heal us.


Most of us don’t think deeply enough about our lives, taking time out to truly examine how we are doing. Let’s look at a passage that points to our underlying need for self-examination and as we read this passage, I just want you to look for how it describes our struggle with sin. Read Romans 1:18-25

  1. How does this passage describe our struggle with sin (look for key phrases, images, etc.)? How would you define sin based on this passage?
  2. Think about the way these verses talk about God and our sin. What emotions do these verses invoke in you?

The image Paul uses here to describe our sin is “idolatry.” Idolatry is not one sin among many, but rather it is what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart. Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God.

Let’s read one more passage that talks about this issue of heart idolatry … Read Colossians 3:1-10. “The central command that we see here is that we are to put to death our idolatry.”

  1. How does truth affect you? What are you thinking now? How do you feel about this truth?
  2. Why do you think it is important for us to identify the idols of our heart? Why not just address our sinful behavior?

These two passages show us the key or the secret to experiencing real change: we must identify the idols of our heart and put them to death. That process begins with self-examination.


The diagnostic questions below are designed to help you in the process of self-examination. They will help you discover the desires underneath your behaviors. Remember to be as specific as you can about your real life.

  1. What is the general area of struggle that you want to change? (anger, lust, fear, anxiety, insecurity, gossip, people pleasing, etc.)
  2. Think of a recent example of how this struggle played out in your life and describe it. For instance, if your struggle is anger, a recent episode could be yelling at your kids. Or if the struggle is people pleasing, then it could be a recent conversation where you lied to someone in order to avoid a negative reaction from them.
  3. Thinking about this recent example, now we want to explore what underlying desires could have been producing that behavior. Below is a list of heart idols (idolatrous desires). Read through them and identify which ones you think could have been present in the example you gave.

Common Heart Idols: “Life is good if …” OR, “I will be happy when …”

I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort Idolatry)
I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control/Security Idolatry)

Repeat this process with another example. Stay on the same issue, but just think of another example. So if the general struggle is anger, pick an example of how that played out with a friend or co-worker or driver, etc. Then read through the list of heart idols again, identifying which ones seem most prominent in that example.

After you have worked through 2-3 examples, have any patterns emerged? Are there one or two predominant desires that are producing the behavior you want to change? In other words: What seems to be at the heart of your struggle? What are you trusting in to bring you fulfillment?

Finally, consider how God alone satisfies your desires in ways that sin can’t. What does God promise and give us related to your specific desires?


Below is a chart to help you think through this principle as it relates to your specific struggles. We have given the example of anger. Identify and articulate three more areas where you need to surrender to God, and discuss them with your mentor. Spend time meditating on Colossians 3:1-4 this week.