Sin

You Become What You Trust

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Humans have always loved idols. Israel’s history shows us that no matter how many miraculous wonders we witness, our hearts will always elevate the created before the Creator (Rom.1:25). What began as statues to Baal, Asherah poles, and Greek temples, continues to permeate our culture. These days, our idols look a bit nobler—a spouse, children, happiness, comfort, health—but they enslave us just like the idols of old.

Our idols don’t just settle for helping us break the second commandment, they permeate much deeper in our lives. The Psalms tell us that those who trust idols will become like them (Ps. 135:18). We may not turn into stone and wood, but eventually, the idols of our heart can chip away at significant areas in our spiritual lives.

The idols we create are blind, deaf, and mute, and if we continue serving them, we’ll eventually become the same. If left undisturbed and ignored, we may begin to lose our own sight, become deaf to others, and render our speech useless to the surrounding world.

Blind to Our Sin

One of the first ways we become like our idols is in becoming blind to our own sin. If we are in Christ, we have been given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26) and our eyes are opened to the gospel, yet the temptation to turn back towards darkness endures. It’s why the author of Hebrews exhorted the church to take care that no one has an unbelieving heart, “leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12-13).

Each person, feeling, circumstance, or dream we hold up as more important than God is ultimately a declaration of unbelief. Our idols make us believe that God won’t satisfy more than our they can. Our idols make us think that God’s grace isn’t enough, so we must make our own rules. They make us think that seeking our own comfort is more worthwhile than seeking the Lord’s glory.

We may not say these truths out loud, but the subtle deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) will continue to feed our idols of unbelief, make excuses, and harden us to the sin we harbor. Some of us may continue to idolize health, blind to the ways we are trusting in our workouts to give us the peace that only God can give. Others may cloak our approval-seeking in righteous words like service or encouragement, but in reality, our idols stay hidden behind the sin we can’t see.

The trouble is, we can’t crush what we can’t see. This is where the passage in Hebrews gives us great hope. We must “exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). Just as we could not open our eyes to Christ without his work, we need the Holy Spirit and Christ’s church to open our eyes to our blindness—even after salvation. It’s our brothers and sisters who can illuminate the darkness, and the Holy Spirit alone who can give us back our sight and put to death the idols of unbelief in our hearts.

Deaf to Our Brothers and Sisters

Our idols can make us become blind to our own sin, but they can also cause us to become deaf to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We see this played out in big and small ways in the church, whether it’s the prideful parent who refuses to seek any outside help, or the church member holding his politics so tightly that he can’t hear the concerns of a brother in Christ. Our strong opinions, steeped in the idolatry of self, can keep us so attuned to our own views that we can’t stop to give grace or charity to our dissenter.

But Christ calls us to something radical. He not only tells us to open our ears but to go even further by outdoing one another with honor (Rom. 12:10). We are told to bless those who hurt us, to be humble in our own eyes, and do what is honorable in the sight of all (Rom.12:14-17).

Beginning to knock down these idols begins by first finding the root. Where are we deaf to the concerns and wisdom of our brothers and sisters in Christ? What topics do we bristle at hearing a word of correction? Or what topics do we refuse to seek wisdom in?

You’ll likely have to ask a trusted brother or sister to help you see what you cannot. Of course, our brothers and sisters in these disagreements are sinners too, but Jesus tells us our first step is always to look upon our own sin (Matt. 7:3).

Mute to the World

Finally, our idols can mute our voice to the world around us, which fleshes out in two ways. The first is seen when our idols make us look exactly like the world around us. When we idolize comfort, a job, or happiness, we will inevitably be tossed into anxiety when these idols are not met. When the job is lost or life gets difficult, we will look no different than the unbeliever in the cubicle sitting right to us.

As Christians, however, our lives should look different because our hope is completely different. That doesn’t mean that we can’t feel stressed or experience difficulty, but it does mean that our priorities should look different than the unbelievers around us. When we continue to let the idols of our hearts take over, they rob us of the chance to preach a different and beautiful story to the world around us.

Secondly, our idols keep us from purposefully entering into the lives of those around us. Who has time to develop a relationship with a neighbor when we are too busy with our own projects? How do we encourage the woman behind us in the checkout when we are too concerned with our phone? The nature of man-made idols is that they must be maintained. We must keep feeding our need for approval, tone our body, multiply our entertainment—and when we do we are left with little time for else.

But again, Jesus calls us to something radical. We have a different mission than maintaining our idols. Instead, we are to give up our hold on everything in this world to gain everything in the beauty of Christ. We are to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) and to proclaim his name among the people God has put around us. And if we want to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pt. 3:15), we must first clear away the idols that rob us of that voice.

Good News for Idolaters

While it’s painful to see the grip of idolatry, the good news is that we worship the God who stands above every idol. Just as the ancient statue of Dagon fell to the ground before the Ark of the Covenant, our own idols will fall prostrate before the true God of heaven (1 Sam. 5:2).

We don’t have to feel defeat but can seek out our idols so we can destroy them. We can stop to see what has been keeping us from speaking the gospel to those around us. We can ask God to show us where our ears have been closed to our family in Christ. And we can ask from the Holy Spirit and our brothers and sisters to help show us the sin we can’t see.

We may start to become like our idols, but it’s the power of the cross—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead—that gives us the power to crush them. Each day we can lean on the God who continues to breathe life and hope into our blind, deaf, and mute hearts.


Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.

Sin is Crouching at Your Door—Don’t Let it in

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He tried to let it go but he couldn't stop thinking about it. Cain's anger burned within him. Why had his brother, Abel, received God’s favor and he hadn’t? It wasn’t fair. When Cain’s mind lingered on thoughts of harming his brother, he didn’t try to stop it.

Then the Lord confronted him:

"Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it." —Genesis 4:6-7

Sin was crouching at Cain’s door. He could let it in and be devoured or he could keep the door bolted. The same is true for us. Whether we open the door depends on what we believe about sin.

The Devastation of Sin

The Lord warns Cain of the devastating effects of sin, which he refers to as a ravaging animal waiting for its opportunity to pounce. Sin's desire is like the longing of a predator for its prey. If Cain does not repent of his evil thoughts, the crouching animal will devour him.

"Nothing about sin is its own; all its power, persistence, and plausibility are stolen goods. Sin is not really an entity but a spoiler of entities, not an organism but a leech on organisms," says Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Like a rip in our jeans, sin is merely the tearing of something good. Or as C.S. Lewis writes, “Badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good before it can be spoiled."

God created everything and declared it good. When sin entered the world, it was not a new creation but a perversion of God's good design. God gives us food but we turn into gluttons. He gives us sex but we turn to adultery and lust. Relationships become abusive, codependent, or manipulative; material blessings devolve into greed; passion turns to uncontrolled anger.

Sin perverts God’s good gifts. While promising to fulfill us, our sin instead leaves a wake of devastation.

The Subtlety of Sin

"To do its worst, evil needs to look its best,” Plantinga, Jr. says. Satan doesn't come to us with horns and a pitchfork lest we recognize him for who he is. Rather, he "disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).

Our sin disguises itself as good and only asks for small compromises. Just one more glance, one more “harmless” flirt, one white lie, or one more high. Inch by inch, our sin leads us down a path of destruction.

It doesn't require big steps. The small steps are much easier to justify. However, a thousand small steps will lead you into the same dark pit as a few big steps. Don’t let the subtlety of sin deceive you into believing your sin is “no big deal.”

Sin is crouching at your door. And it won’t settle until you are devoured—or until you decide to rule over it.

Repent Before Sin Devours You

Slowly but surely, Cain's jealousy led him down the dark road to murder. The Lord graciously confronted him and warned him of sin, the wild animal ready to devour him. It wasn't too late for Cain; there was still time to repent.

But he didn't. He gave opened the door to sin and the predator devoured him. Icy sin coursed through his veins, freezing his heart until he murdered his brother Abel in cold blood.

"Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden" (Gen. 4:16). Instead of fulfilling him, sin separated Cain from the Lord’s fulfilling presence. Instead of bringing Cain joy and satisfaction, sin isolated him from the Giver of joy, severing his connection to what is good and beautiful.

Like Cain, we must beware the danger lurking within us. Our sinful hearts cannot be trusted (Jer. 17:9). The distance between our thoughts and our actions is closer than we think. Sinful thoughts nudge us into sinful actions before we realize what's happening. The familiar quote, "Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay," comes to mind.

But the good news is that God's grace is greater than sin’s power. Take God’s advice to Cain: repent of your sin before it destroys you. Take every thought captive lest it lead you down a dark path (2 Cor. 10:5-6). If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off (Matt. 5:30; Mark 9:43).

Grace is Greater Still

After David was confronted with his sin, he cried out to the Lord, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow . . . hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities” (Ps. 51:7,9). David’s sin was great but the Lord’s grace was greater still. This triumphant grace is lavished upon the broken and repentant, or as David says, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

God sent his Son to bear his wrath and free his children from the bondage of sin, and to set us on the path of life. Because God’s justice against our sin was satisfied on the cross, we are given this wonderful promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

God delivers those who cry out in genuine repentance and faith. Yes, the crouching at your door is ferocious and wants to devour you. But as devoted as sin is to your destruction, God is even more devoted to the good of those who trust him.

Don’t Let Sin Have the Last Word

Don’t go the way of Cain. Instead, follow the path of Abel: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Heb. 11:4).

What gift did Abel offer God? The firstborn of his flock of sheep, yes. But what he truly gave the Lord was his faith. And because of his faith, he still speaks today.

Sin may be crouched outside your door like a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8) but there is a greater lion still—the risen Lord Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. And this Lion rules over all (Rev. 5:5).

Don’t let sin have the last word. Rule over it through faith in the Greater Lion.


James Williams has served as an Associate Pastor at FBC Atlanta, TX since 2013. He is married to Jenny and they have three children and are actively involved in foster care. He is in the dissertation stage of a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology. You can follow James Twitter or his blog where he writes regularly.

Finding Release From Our Spiritual Mistresses

God’s intention is to restore believers in Christ and turn them into new people. “If anyone is in Christ,” the Scripture says, “he is a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.” As Christians, it is our job to cooperate with this new creation vision for our lives. Our motivation for embracing newness of life in Jesus is quite different than moralistic motivation. Religious moralists obey God’s rules to feel morally straight and morally superior, and also to earn applause from God, from others, and even from themselves. Christians, on the other hand, are able to obey God precisely because they don’t have to.

Let me explain that one.

If you are a Christian—that is, if you have anchored your trust in the perfect life and substitutionary death of Jesus on your behalf, then you need to know that God smiles over you before you lift a finger to do anything good. Christianity is different than moralism. In that unlike moralism, God’s embrace comes to us at the beginning of our journey versus at the end of our journey. He approves of us not because we are good people, but because Jesus was a truly good person in our stead. His moral straightness, his righteousness, and beauty have been laid upon us as a gift. That, and that alone, is the reason we obey . . . because it makes us want to obey. God does not decide to love us because we first loved him. No, we love God because he first loved us. That is biblical Christianity.

How idolatry works

Imagine you are a married woman and your husband tells you he wants to start dating around. “It’s not that I don’t love you,” he says. “I’m not saying that I want a divorce. You are extremely important to me. We have been through so much together. But I just think that my life would be more complete if I could also date some other women—play the field a little bit, you know?”

Absurd as this may sound, this is precisely what we do to God whenever we disobey him. Every act of disobedience flows from a desire for something or someone besides God to be our first love, our true north, our reason for being. Each of us has his/her own unique potential mistresses—whether money, power, cleanliness, control, relationships, material things, entertainment, or even a spouse or children. Whenever anything becomes more essential to us than God himself (by the way, anything is usually a good thing), it becomes an idol. According to God, our true and everlasting Husband, we become spiritual adulterers. An idol is any person or idea, any created thing that captures our deepest affections and loyalties and will—and in so doing steals our attention away from God. An idol is anything that becomes more precious to us than him. It’s not that we love the thing (whatever it is) too much. Rather, it’s that we love God too little in comparison to it.

Idolatry is the sin beneath every other sin

Idolatry is the root beneath all sin and beneath every choice we ever make to go our own way instead of following Jesus in faith and obedience. Sin, ultimately, is not a matter of behavior, but a matter of desire.

We always obey that which we desire the most.

When we desire something more than we desire God, we will obey that something if ever and whenever we are faced with a choice to obey God or to obey it. So this is what keeps us from being good in the purest sense. Our distorted over-desires escort us into the arms of adulterous lovers, pseudo-saviors, counterfeit Jesuses that put a spell on us and make them appear more life-giving than Jesus, our one true love.

How do we do this? Thanks to David Powlison and his insightful essay, Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair, there are several diagnostic questions that can help us effectively identify and name our specific spiritual mistresses:

  • What do I feel I cannot survive or function without? What do I feel I must have in order to enjoy life, be acceptable as a person, etc.? What are the things I am terrified of losing or obsessed about having?
  • Where do I spend my time and money with the least amount of effort? The things we give time and money to most effortlessly are absolutely the things that we worship and serve. They are the things that we believe in our hearts will give our lives the most meaning.
  • What do I think and talk about the most? Where do my thoughts go most quickly and most instinctively when I am alone in the car, when I awake, when I am alone in a quiet, undistracted place? As Archbishop William Temple once said, “Your religion is your solitude.”
  • Which biblical commands am I most reluctant to obey? What do I treasure so much that, if it is threatened, I will disobey God to keep it? What is so essential to me that I will disobey God to get it?
  • What things anger me the most? What kinds of people, things, or circumstances irritate me the most, and what about these people, things, or circumstances give them this kind of power over me? What, if it happened, would strongly tempt me to curse God or push Him out of my life? (Remember Job’s wife. See Job 2:9)
  • How would I fill in the blank? I cannot and will not be happy unless.

Dismantling idols after they are identified

Idols are dismantled when they are first exposed and then replaced. Dismantling our idols requires that we labor in our study and meditation of Scripture to understand the many ways that Jesus fills our emptiness in a much more adequate, life-giving way than any Jesus-substitute we may be tempted to worship and serve. Replacing our spiritual mistresses means giving them a back seat to Jesus in our hearts and lives. Basically, every idol (and every sin) traces back to a self-salvation strategy. We use this strategy every time we attempt to replace something that only Jesus can provide, with a counterfeit. What does this mean for us?

It means that we must face head-on our own idols, and humbly admit exactly how the things we love more than Jesus will reduce us, empty us of ultimate meaning, and even destroy us. We must admit that our “over-desires” cannot bring us the lasting wholeness, happiness, or fulfillment (salvation!) we desire. Only Jesus can. Ironically, only when we love Jesus more than these things, we actually end up enjoying these things to a much fuller extent! As CS Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

When our love for Jesus exceeds our love for other things, we end up loving, cherishing, and enjoying these other things even more than we would if we had loved these other things more than we love Jesus. However, if we put the gifts in the place of the Giver, our enjoyment of the gifts ends up being spoiled. Why is this so? It is so because we are made in the image of God. The human soul is so magnificent that only God is big enough to fill it. As Pascal is famous for saying, “Only God is able to fill the God-shaped vacuum in the human heart.”

Be possessive of anything but God—a romantic interest, a career, a net worth, a life goal—and you will never possess that thing. Instead, it will eventually possess you. It will have you and it will hold you . . . around the neck! This is why we are much better off when we learn to pray like the Puritan who had nothing to his name but one piece of bread and a glass of water: “What? All of this and Jesus Christ too!”

Redirecting our deepest loves

Christian growth is about learning to see clearly that Jesus will fill our hearts in much more adequate and enduring ways than any Jesus-counterfeit ever will. Using Scripture, we must immerse our minds and stir our affections with the many ways in which Jesus delivers fully and truly on the specific promises—especially the promises that our specific idols falsely make to us. For example, if we thirst for approval, only the unwavering smile of God over us through Jesus can free us from enslavement to human approval. Or, if we hunger for secure provision, only the God’s sure promise to take care of us like he does the birds and the lilies can free us from our enslavement to money and things.

So what about you? What are your spiritual mistresses? How are they working out for you?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for his righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls.

Originally posted at www.scottsauls.com. Used with permission.