Summary: A sermon in a series on removing sin as the idol in our lives.
Last week we discovered that for most of us in this room idolatry is the issue. Sin is usually what we focus on, but it’s just the fruit. Idolatry is always the tree from which it grows. So behind every sin struggle that I have, behind every sin struggle that you have, is a false god that is winning the war in our lives.
We asked ourselves some pretty difficult questions last week to try and identify some of the gods that are at war within you and at war within me. I hope that you’ve found that if you struggle with jealousy it is not just that you’re a jealous person; it’s that perhaps you’ve made stuff a god in your life. If you are anxious and worried a lot of the time, it is not just that you’re an anxious person; it’s that perhaps you’ve made comfort and security a god in your life. If you keep losing to lust, maybe you’ve made sex a god in your life. If you struggle with gossip, maybe you’ve made what other people think of you a god in your life. If you are a little bit legalistic and self-righteous, maybe that is because you’ve made religious rules into a god of your life. If you are discontent, maybe it is because you’ve made money a god in your life. If you are proud, maybe it is because you’ve made image a god. If you lack self-control, maybe it is because you’ve turned pleasure into a god. So behind every sin that I struggle with and you struggle with is this false god that is winning the war.
For most of my Christian life, I didn’t understand it that way. Instead, my focus would always be on the sin itself and on my mental determination to stop doing that sin. But we need to get past the surface. If we scratch at that sin and we keep scratching at it, then we’ll find underneath that sin is a false god that is sitting on the throne of our hearts. And until that god is dethroned, we will experience great frustration. Until that god is off the throne of our hearts, we will not know victory.
So we tried to identify some of those gods, and now we’re talking about, “How do we worship the one true God?” For you the question is, “What are some of the gods that you are struggling with? What are the gods at war within you?”
If you’re like me (and most of you are), then you will probably find that some of the hardest gods to defeat are the gods of pleasure. We continually find ourselves bowing down to what feels good. After all, it is the mantra of our culture: “If it feels good, do it!” If you have an appetite, feed it. If you have an itch, scratch it. If you’ve got this pleasure or desire, then go ahead and satisfy it.
So these gods of pleasure are everywhere, and they are some of the most difficult to defeat. In part (this is) because many of these gods are not evil or wrong in themselves. Instead they were gifts given to us by God himself, and we turned them into gods. We took gifts and turned them into gods. We took a gift that God gave us, and we turned it into his primary competition.
Imagine you are a parent and you buy a Nintendo Wii for your child. You take it home and the child is ecstatic. He gives you a big thank you, lots of hugs. It was worth every penny. Your child sets up the Wii and begins to play that thing, and you find great joy in seeing the pleasure that your gift brings them. But then after a few weeks, it seems like that is really all they want to do—play the Wii. They complain about the attachments that they don’t have. Finally you come home from work one day and you want to spend time with your child, but your child doesn’t want to spend time with you because they would rather be playing the Wii. What happened? The gift replaced the giver. At least practically speaking, the gift means more to the person than the one who gave it.
This is what we have done with many gifts of pleasure that God gave to us for us to enjoy. We have turned them into gods. We have made them his competition. These are the gods that can be hardest to identify and to destroy. Listen to these words from John Piper. He says:
The greatest enemy for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for the banquet of heaven but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video but the primetime dribble of triviality we drink in every night. The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemy but his gifts. The most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable. These are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes, coffee and gardening, reading and decorating, traveling and investing, TV watching and internet surfing, shopping and exercising, collecting and talking…and all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.