Friday, June 30, 2006

The Primacy of Idolatry

…what must I do to inherit eternal life?
(Mark 10:17 – NIV)

An idol is something that, when it is present, it is the prime motivator. It is what we are most passionate about. Perhaps it’s not what we spend the most time doing, but what will cause us to do things differently then “normal”. The test is that when “it” comes around and then “it” has precedence, then “it” is your god.

Some identify habits, and say, “I hardly ever do that; it has no control over me”. But smashing down idols isn’t just doing something less and less; it is confessing their primacy and power over our lives and asking for cleansing (1 John 1:9 / John 8:31-32).

The storms of our conscience will reveal the substance of our character – “seekers” such as the man in the passage above, what most would call “good people”, may have the best of intentions, know they are missing something, and have a right attitude as well. They seem ready to “do what it takes”, as far as good works are concerned. If they just knew what to do, they would do it, fulfill their duty, and then they would be okay.

But none of us is good enough, no matter what we do (Romans 3:10), which is how Jesus answers this man. They don’t realize that it is the inside of the cup that needs to be washed clean (Matthew 23:25-26). Jesus used both tables of the Law to reveal to this man his true condition, and He does that to us as well.

We compartmentalize our faith; we fail to grow up in the Lord, just adding activity instead of being transformed. We are different on the outside, but when the prime motivator pops up we find out that we are still the same on the inside. We are still governed by the same passions, and we try to silence them by retreating into a Christian ghetto, or by staying busy.

This is why some children never go on with God because they see no relevance, church is just another thing they do, just a part of their life, but their passions ARE their life. Then, because they haven’t been taught that God can become their passion, and how to receive the life of God daily, they become frustrated and take the easy way by dropping out, giving up, or medicating with some secret sin.

They may keep going to church for years feeling inadequate, which they are in themselves, but not knowing what God wants to do through them, they harbor guilt and stifle their walk. They still fear God and hell, but never really commit their whole lives as true disciples of Christ. It is our fault to an extent, because we have done the same thing; we are those same kids all grown up physically but not spiritually. We are living defeated lives that go up and down depending on how successfully we can avoid our “it” rather than deal with “it”.

This may be you. To those who have the Holy Spirit as witness to their conscience (John 16:8-11), they don’t feel free. However, most, when confronted with this truth, would say that this is just their burden, their cross to bear. They would rather justify than just deny themselves. Even when it is something “good”, like service to God, or the feeling we get when we preach, or whatever, it can be an idol.

Oswald Chambers said, “You can never sanctify to God that with which you long to satisfy yourself”. Your destiny isn’t what you will do for Christ, it is not becoming the best you can be; it is Christ himself! Jesus was always preaching self denial, anti self realization, if you will. The ruler wanted to know how to be the person that would be enough, but Jesus says no! Those who would have us discover the heroes in ourselves are leading many down the primrose path to perdition. They would have thought that this young ruler was the best Christian in the church.

Some don’t even know that they have a need of eternal life; most people who we “convert” today just want to find something to fulfill their longings and felt needs. They have anxiety and frustration, and they think by adding faith to the mix, they can achieve joy, peace, and hope. They don’t see the need for forgiveness; they do not want to see their sinfulness as the problem.

We evangelize, not by making promises and having someone say a prayer, but by having them come to repentance, which leads to true saving faith, a believing that brings true joy and peace (Romans 15:13). If someone doesn’t realize their sinfulness, it is not a true conversion; repentance is a requirement for eternal life. Luther, in the first of his famous 95 theses, said that repentance is the whole life of a believer. We find out what is wrong, we repent, turning away from it, and in faith receive more of God in our lives.

This is how we bring Christians to maturity: some desire to escape from hell but don’t desire for the actual life of God in them (Galatians 2:20 / Philippians 1:21 / Colossians 1:27). They won’t empty themselves of themselves and therefore cannot be truly filled by the Spirit. They ride the rollercoaster of emotion, always going through a boom and bust cycle in their spiritual life depending upon circumstance. They try and “get better” by trying to control the circumstances in their life, but to try and control every circumstance is to be controlled by every circumstance.

Be sure of the fact that your idol will surface and you must deal with it or you will miss out on the power of God in your life to that extent. Most of us try and treat the symptoms and not the disease by doing “good works” or “staying busy”; we deal with the symptom not the sin. You may be saved but you can have more. You can be delivered from your sin in this life as well, and you can know what rivers of living water is all about (John 7:37-39). Become an iconoclast.

10 comments:

Even So... said...

No, I don't mean all sin, but those sins that are habitual, and those sins that pop up in some other form.

We can begin to crush these out, or I should say, the Lord begins to crush these out, and we move on to the next thing.

We will never finish, but we will be making progress, we will be growing in grace, the pattern will be set, and while we will most certainly have setbacks, this will now be the exception, rather than the norm.

We will be breaking down the idols as God would have us do, in the timing He sets, rather than having to take the tests all over again. We will be experiencing true repentance.

Anonymous said...

Pray that God will reveal our idols to us (the deceiver is good about blinding us) and that we will repent. And just maybe we will start maturing and enjoying the victory and power that can only be received from Him!

Keep 'em coming Even So

itsboopchile said...

I thank you for this post and I want to examine myself and see if I have "passions" that overrule my love for God.
What pleases God is my aim in life, in writing my blog, but sometimes I wonder if I like blogging too much.
Being an obedient Christian is never easy.
And, since I am 80 years old, I am a good example of someone who never stops learning!!!
Betty G

Exist-Dissolve said...

even so--

Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. While there, you asked that I stop by and make some comments about "Christus Victor." What exactly would you like me to say about this issue?

Peace to you

Even So... said...

exist,

What I am looking for is your understanding of "atonement" issues. Most don't even know, or at least cannot articulate, the penal substitutionary model, let alone understand the Moral Government theory, etc.

On an earlier blog, somewhere else both of us visit, you mentioned that Christus Victor, to your knowledge, was the more dominant position, and that Augustine, and later Calvin, implemented the substitutionary idea, so as to bolster the entire Augustinian doctrines (notions) of God and His sovereignty. Anslem I believe also has a place in this arena, and while I may definitely have my opinions on the matter, it is well and good for others to know and understand where others are coming from, especially in light of the patristic writers.

This, IMHO, would help people to have a little more grace in responding to you and others whom simply want to deconstruct and reconstruct the dogmatic position so many take as a granted, forgone conclusion, a priori, without any meaningful discussion.

Fire away...

Exist-Dissolve said...

even so--

So as not to be overly verbose in my response, I will simply offer some introductory mention of the various metaphors which were dominant in ante- and post-Nicean thought. I shall do this in bulleted format, and hopefully some discussion can ensue from this format.

* One of the earliest and clearest descriptions of a robust atonement theology can be found in Ireneaus. In a nutshell, Ireneaus advocated the idea of "recapitulation." Recapitulation, to Ireneaus, involved the "restoring" or "setting right" of the dysfunction and corruption that had crept into creation because of human sinfulness. So then, Ireneaus believed that Christ, in his Incarnation (becoming human) and death upon the cross (defeat of the corrupting powers), "recapitulates" humanity, recreating them in incorruption. A famous phrase of Ireneaus encapsulates this idea: "That which is not assumed [by Christ] is not redeemed [and conversely, that which is assumed is redeemed]." In this way, Christ has assumed the corruption of humanity and in his assumption and overcoming of this corruption, has recaptilated humanity, restoring them to a place where they are no longer slaves to the corruption of sin, but can rather participate within the resurrection and newness of life.

The "Christus Victor" motif is present here, for it is corruption and non-existence which Christ overcomes by assuming the nature of sinful humanity. Through his Incarnation, death and resurrection, Christ defeats these powers, rendering them powerless.

* One of the more famous of the early church fathers, Athanasius, tied atonement directly to the Incarnation. To Athanasius, humanity, although once free from corruption, through its sin has lost the knowledge of God and has fallen prey to the powers of death and non-existence. Moreover, the image of God within humanity has been maligned, and humans are no longer able to partipate within the divine life of God. Therefore, to Athanasius, the answer is that this corruption must be overcome; the knowledge of God which humanity has lost must be restored and the image of God within humanity must be restored. By God becoming flesh, Athanasius believed that Christ has restored the knowledge of God and recreated the image of God within humanity. A famous statement of Athanasius encapsulates this idea: "God became human that humans might become God." Of course, Athanasius does not mean that humans will become God in the fullness of divine nature but rather will share fully in the image of Christ.

* Gregory of Nyssa, one of the famous Cappadocian Fathers, advocated a theory of atonement known as "Ransom Theory" that enjoyed great popularity in the church's theological understanding up until the time of Anselm. According to Ransom Theory, humanity has, by its sin, sold itself into slavery to the devil. The only way for humanity to be free would be for a "ransom" be paid to the devil who had legitimate claim over humanity. Advocates of ransom theory often advocated that God paid the ransom directly to Satan with Christ's blood. However, Gregory does an interesting twist on ransom theory. Instead of paying the devil the ransom, Christ's blood is viewed as a divine "deception" of Satan. The logic goes like this: Christ, the God/human, appeared to Satan as a normal human being. As all human beings are the slaves of Satan, the devil came to "collect" his legitimate claim and killed Christ. However, it was not until Satan killed Christ that he discovered Christ's divinity. Gregory likens this to a great fish who chomps down on the "bait" of Jesus' humanity, only to discover, too late, the "hook" of divinity concealed within. As Satan has no legitimate claim over Christ, the divine human, his killing of Christ fractures his legitimate claims over sinful humanity and Christ, vindicated and resurrected by the Father, is able to lead the ransomed captives of Satan free. The great "fish" is hooked, unable to escape, and is defeated.

Obviously, in briefly outlining the metaphors described above, there are severe omissions. For example, all speak of Christ in classic biblical terms of "sacrifice" and all see a definite "substitionary" element to atonement. However, the difference between their thinking and more modern, penal/forensic conceptions of atonement is that their utilization of these metaphors primarily revolve around the concept of atonement as "rescue" and defeat of the powers of sinfulness and the devil. Although Ireneaus, Athanasius, Gregory, etc. all describe atonement through different metaphors, the Christus Victor motif is present in each as Christ is the conqueror of corruption and non-existence (Ireneaus and Athanasius) and Satan (Gregory).

Again, this is an admittedly brief and fragmentary overview of these individuals' thinking. If anyone has questions or comments, please feel free to respond.

Exist-Dissolve said...

I should make a clarification of Gregory's thought. Although God, from a human perspective, acts through "deception," Gregory does not believe that God acts deceitfully. Rather, God merely repays Satan for his deceit in luring humanity into slavery and corruption. It is a subtle, yet necessary clarification, and I apologize that I omitted it above.

Even So... said...

exist,

Thank you for those enlightening comments.

Truly, to be able to understand and articulate these and other theological matters will help believers. IMHO (in my humble opinion), if you stay the course with your studies, this will yield amazing benefits. Rather than confuse the issues, through this understanding you will gain a further confidence in what you do believe. And why you believe it. Perhaps you may also see why there is difference of opinion; it isn't always that people are just heretics or apostates or just wanting to start or win an argument. Some may indeed fit the devil's mold; but consider that they may be trying to help others understand their position so as to cause others to sharpen their own understanding. We all have presuppositions, and we all need help further defining our beliefs.

I have work to do today that may keep me from my computer, but as a start, for those who might want to see what the "ransom theory" could look like in praxis, consider the recent movie "The Chronicles of Narnia" based on C.S. Lewis' work. Not to spoil it for those who didn't see it, but for those who have, remember Aslan having to consult with the White witch, and thereby consenting to his own death as payment for the sins of the humans? Also, remember that Aslan comes back from the "dead", and explains that death could not hold him because although he could pay for the sins, since he was innocent, he did not have to stay dead. He explained that the White witch misread the deep magic, and didn't understand what she was doing. She thought she ended the ordeal, but what she did was bring about her own destruction instead.

In scripture, we may liken this idea to 1 Corinthians 2:8: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

All that being said, I do not agree with the ransom theory of the atonement, but my reply will have to wait.

Hopefully you can see that we intend a level headed dialogue with real issues here at this blog. Not that we will come to a perfect understanding of any issue, but perhaps a more full understanding of most of the surrounding issues, that we may be able to make an informed decision regarding doctrine, and that this information would lead to a more consistent theology. And yes, whether you acknowledge it or not, we all have a theology.

My hope is that all this will be done to the glory of God.

Exist-Dissolve said...

even so--

Truly, to be able to understand and articulate these and other theological matters will help believers. IMHO (in my humble opinion), if you stay the course with your studies, this will yield amazing benefits. Rather than confuse the issues, through this understanding you will gain a further confidence in what you do believe. And why you believe it. Perhaps you may also see why there is difference of opinion; it isn't always that people are just heretics or apostates or just wanting to start or win an argument. Some may indeed fit the devil's mold; but consider that they may be trying to help others understand their position so as to cause others to sharpen their own understanding. We all have presuppositions, and we all need help further defining our beliefs.

Agreed.

I have work to do today that may keep me from my computer, but as a start, for those who might want to see what the "ransom theory" could look like in praxis, consider the recent movie "The Chronicles of Narnia" based on C.S. Lewis' work. Not to spoil it for those who didn't see it, but for those who have, remember Aslan having to consult with the White witch, and thereby consenting to his own death as payment for the sins of the humans? Also, remember that Aslan comes back from the "dead", and explains that death could not hold him because although he could pay for the sins, since he was innocent, he did not have to stay dead. He explained that the White witch misread the deep magic, and didn't understand what she was doing. She thought she ended the ordeal, but what she did was bring about her own destruction instead.

It's interesting that you should mention this, for my prof once used this very illustration in a seminar class on the atonement that I took. I think Lewis gives a fair representation of ransom theory that avoids the charicatures that many level against it (and not always unjustifiably).

In scripture, we may liken this idea to 1 Corinthians 2:8: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Interesting. I hadn't thought of this verse in connection to ransom theory. Thanks for pointing it out.

All that being said, I do not agree with the ransom theory of the atonement, but my reply will have to wait.

Nor do I. I think it fails as a proper treatment of atonement because it takes the biblical metaphor of "ransom" (Christ giving his life "as a ransom for many") and attempts to treat it systematically, defining all the "players" involved. This is particularly evident in Origen's thinking, as he asks the question, "To whom is the ransom paid?" As Origen thought it absurd that God needed to be paid a ransom, and humans was the ones being ransomed, the only conclusion was that the ransom was owed, and paid, to Satan. However, this seems to go well beyond the biblical intention of the metaphor of "ransom."

Hopefully you can see that we intend a level headed dialogue with real issues here at this blog. Not that we will come to a perfect understanding of any issue, but perhaps a more full understanding of most of the surrounding issues, that we may be able to make an informed decision regarding doctrine, and that this information would lead to a more consistent theology. And yes, whether you acknowledge it or not, we all have a theology.

I look forward to continued dialogue, my friend.

Even So... said...

exist,

Considering Athanasius' views on atonement as outlined here, what would you say or believe were his ideas on Original sin, and how might this tie in to Apotheosis?

What is Apotheosis?

(UMMM, yeah, I think I know right well what these are, but I would like to define some terms for the folks here, and show how what seem to be peripheral issues are not at all, but are issues that determine the consistent outcome of other matters. This you are certainly well aware of, but for the benefit of many who don't or won't "do" theology, it will be a big eye opener, I hope).

I will look at recapitulation in an upcoming comment.

Thank you for continued dialogue...I probably will turn this into a separate post, leave it up while we go through this material, and invite some of our "heavy" friends over (maybe, maybe not on that deal, depending on if they can accept certain ground rules).

To all: I am looking to establish things here, not come full frontal assault mode against things, yet, or maybe not even at all..let's set the table before we attempt to presumptiously eat each others' lunch, shall we?

No people, I am not a liberal, but I want to do something here, namely, help some understand what the "fuss" is all about concerning issues they think don't matter, and try and let them make an informed decision.

(BTW, "liberal" is such a wonderfully generic label that you can stick on anybody so very nicely, anyway, but you can ask anyone who knows me, including my congregation, they will tell you I am a radically conservative rabid fundamentalist!)

Of course I hope to set forth my own views, they are perfectly right, after all (ha ha ha...)

With anticipation for edification expressed through multiplication...

Even So..