Imitation Obedience, Idolatry In Disguise
Imitation Obedience, Idolatry in Disguise
Sickness may often have admirable traits, but it does not make it any less deadly. If we look at the flu virus, it is industrious, resilient, adaptable, but these characteristics are used as tools of destruction.
When given over to the wrong cause, our admirable traits of character can be just as detrimental. Idolatry in essence is when the good traits of our compassion, intelligence and resources are given over to the wrong cause. For example, take a look at some familiar dysfunctional practices like co-dependency, avoidance disorders, manic depression or something that is seemingly more innocuous like a desire for exaltation and self-aggrandizement.
All of these disorders have some sort of admirable characteristic. In co-dependency there is a seeming tolerance and patience, often miscalled love, on the side of the enabler. Yet these good traits of character are often the result of fears: fear of rejection, fear of loneliness, fear of who you are outside of the context of a “rescuer”.
Sickness often masks itself with admirable attributes. It can be industrious, hard-working, causing us to give of our best strength, yet such traits may come from a root of fear.
Fear can cause us to be generous and self-sacrificial. But the mentality of “dying” for someone or something may not always come from the most healthy of motives. Giving yourself up for someone regardless of the consequences in the lives of others or harm to yourself may be selfless in one sense since it calls for one to sacrifice finances and sever former associations, and most often it requires one to yield their self-respect. But such sacrifice does not automatically qualify as obedience to Christ. Pagans sacrificed their children, they cut their own bodies and bled for the ones they loved, they pierced, tattooed and went to extreme lengths in their acts of worship. But as Paul says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:3. We might give a form of self-sacrifice and zealous devotion, but if we are operating out of our own wants and fears, we may be astonished when Christ reveals that our “sacrifices” for others did not qualify as love nor was it out of obedience to Christ. Rather we were doing what comes more natural, worshipping our idols.
There is a selflessness that is birthed from a place of health, a place of understanding and faith in Christ.
There is a love that gives all that it has in devotion to another, but the pure love out of which we obey Christ will have examined itself to see whether we are walking in service to God or in service to self.
We obey. That is not in contention. But whom do we obey is the question? By nature we operate according to a belief system. We obey that belief system. At times we obey our fears, going to exceptional lengths to avoid a fearful outcome. We obey fear of rejection, at times putting up with great self-abasement in order to avoid loneliness. Yet all of this may not be true humility. The truest form of humility is trusting Christ when He takes us to places where we are not sure what the outcome will be. It is allowing ourselves to feel the pangs of loneliness and to face our fears knowing that Christ is there to see us through and wanting to obey His will rather than our own carnal appetites.
Spiritual sickness can often manifest itself with very noble traits of character. It can seem sacrificial, industrious, resilient, self-abasing, generous. But if these traits are misapplied, these self-sacrificing qualities given in service to another is idolatry. It is easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are acting in accordance with God’s will and to think that we are displaying the love of Christ when the objects we worship cause us to exercise these more admirable traits of character. But we must always ask ourselves, if we are operating out of a healthy faith in Christ. Addiction of any kind, even those addicted to approval, go to great lengths to get their needs met. They display what seems to be “courage” in the face of physical danger when they are really driven by desperation. They display what seems to be “humility” in order to elicit trust from their enablers and they even show “love” out of their gratitude for having helped them get one more feed from their drug of choice. But is this obedience to Christ? Or has our sickness, our love for self-aggrandizement, our need of approval, our addictions to love, our worship of independence masked itself in “positive” traits of character?
The picture that we have of Christ can also often mold how we ourselves relate to various circumstances.
Christ is not co-dependent, nor is He an enabler. Although, we sometimes have an image of Him that looks more like this: “I love you so much, I’d do anything for you. I’d die for you, please don’t leave me.” Or “No matter what you do or say, I will never ever deliver on consequences because that is mercy”. Or may it looks more like, “I will never call you out on any of your less detectable sins like manipulation, passive aggression, an independent self-willed spirit and a pride because it’s not as bad as overt acts of harm”.
Although it is true that He loves us very much and that He did die for us and that He doesn’t want us to leave Him, the spirit of desperation and a willingness to compromise principle and be lenient towards sin is not an attribute that He possesses. He is a lover of truth just as much as mercy. He often delivers on consequences (as seen over and over again all through out the Old Testament and New) so that His people will learn to return to Him and cease from sin. Although there is no length that He would fail to go in order to save us from sin and death, there is a boundary to what He will permit in His kingdom. He loves the sinner and hates the sin. Therefore, He does not permit His children to continue in sin just because He loves them. If we cherish sin in our hearts, and choose to keep those sins that Christ has asked us to forsake, He cannot stay the hand of correction for it would be positively unloving not to. He must use what ever method necessary to draw us back to Himself else we will be given over to a fate that no amount of His mercy can cause us to escape–eternal death, a death that will last forever. The people He is preparing to bring to heaven are those He has had to say “no” to on many occasions because they desired things out of selfishness and short sightedness. Yet those who have submitted to His “no’s” and obeyed the limits that He has set as a boundary about them, are those that He likewise prepares to bring to heaven at His return.
Christ is merciful, gracious, long-suffering, self-sacrificing, forgiving, just and righteous all at the same time. Yet He does not follow either of these attributes independent of the other. Jesus is not “merciful to a fault” because there is not fault in Him. He is not “just to a fault” nor “self-sacrificing to a fault”. But whenever He acts, all of these attributes are working together in perfect unison. In every instance they are coming together to act in perfect harmony. Yet when we pride ourselves on obedience to a single virtue alone we are committing idolatry because we take a snap shot of God at a single point in time and apply it to every circumstance. We virtually create an idol out of His character when we are only willing to see Him act in one single monotonous way. Are there times when it would be a sin to be severe? Absolutely. Are there times when it would be a sin to not be severe? Absolutely. So if we idolize the attribute of graciousness, and say we must be gracious at all times and that there are no circumstances in which a severe and swift action would apply, we confine Christ into only being able to act in a single way.
Are there times in the scriptures when Christ has called for a swift rebuke of sin? Yes, we see this with Peter when Peter counseled Christ to spare Himself from going to Jerusalem and Jesus answered Him saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan! You are a hinderance to Me. For you are not setting your mind upon the things of God, but upon the things of man.” Matthew 16:23. We also see this with Ananias and Sapphira who God put to death in Acts chapter 5 for lying about their generosity and wanting to appear before the church as something that they were not. In these instances, God acted swiftly, severely, cutting off the evil vine immediately before it had time to take root and infect the rest of the crop. Was He any less gracious, merciful and loving at this time? No. In other instances, Christ called for extreme mercy when Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” “And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:4.
Christ is who He is and always acted perfectly according to the circumstances.
Christ is the definition of merciful, gracious, long-suffering, justice and righteousness. Yet when we start to believe that mercy means indefinite tolerance or that justice means unyielding severity, we begin to paint an erroneous picture of God. If we idolize a single attribute that we appreciate about God, we confine Him to only being able to act in single way and we will miss Him when He tries to be who He is in all His fullness and well-roundness of character in our lives. If God tries to reveal Himself with a correcting hand, will we call it the hand of Satan? Yet if we do not know His voice we will be unable to distinguish the corrective acts of God that lead us into the way of righteousness and the undue severity of Satan that seeks to oppress his victims. There are times when a harsh word comes from the spirit of error, yet there are other times when speaking the truth in love may seem severe, but it is the outworking of God’s mercy to keep us from an ultimate destruction.