Daily Light – August 20, 2019

Love Your Wife Like Jesus Loves Her

Ten Great Loves for Every Husband

Article by Tim Counts, Pastor of Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, Vermont

Some days, you go to Bible study and your life is slowly but imperceptibly changed. Other days, you go to Bible study and something in God’s word changes the trajectory of the rest of your life.

One spring day in 1998, as an 18-year-old college freshman, I understood marriage in a way I never had before. I had signed up for a Bible study taught by my college pastor, “Preparing for Marriage.” That day, Pastor Doug Busby gave me and all of the young men in the room an assignment that I have been working on for the last 22 years. I will continue to work on this homework until, for my wife and me, “death do us part.”

My pastor read to us, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). Then he asked us the obvious question (the question we husbands so often fail to ask in the daily grind of work and family life): Howdoes Jesus love the church?

Ten Christlike Loves

As I have scoured the Scriptures, year after year, looking for ways that Jesus loves the church, ways that he calls me to echo his love for me in my love for my wife, I have found ten great loves. As a husband, God calls you to love your wife like Jesus loves her, so meditate on his deep, complex, and unparalleled love.

1. Stubborn Love

Jesus won’t ever leave his bride. He says to her, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). His love for your wife is based not on her performance, but on his covenant love for her. When we keep our marriage covenants through all of the challenges and changes over years of married life, we reflect his kind of stubborn, delight-filled love. May our wives know the comfort of love that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

2. Hopeful Love

When Jesus looks at your bride, he sees her as already sanctified. This hope is anchored in the power and promise of the gospel. Paul writes to believers, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In fact, he sees her not only as already sanctified, but as already glorified (Romans 8:30). How often would your wife say that your love for her “hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)? By keeping eternity in mind, you can have patience with your wife, just as Jesus does with her — and you.

3. Pursuing Love

Jesus never takes a break from pursuing your wife’s heart, not romantically but persistently. In fact, he cares not only about her devotion, but also her affection (Psalm 37:4). He is the tireless Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to seek after the one (Luke 15:4–7). In a similar way, God is glorified when a husband continually seeks a deeper relationship with his wife. A husband who has been captured by Jesus’s love is an incurable romantic toward his wife.

4. Forgiving Love

Jesus gives your wife grace when she doesn’t deserve it. It may be that the most Christlike thing you can do is offer your wife forgiveness on a daily basis, remembering that you too are in need of forgiveness. The picture of forgiving love that every husband should seek to emulate is Jesus making breakfast for Peter, who had sinned against him, denying him three times at his crucifixion (John 21:12–15). Is it you or your wife who is usually the first to begin to move toward reconciliation when it’s needed?

5. Joyful Love

Jesus doesn’t just put up with your wife or grudgingly but persistently love her — Jesus loves to love her. He delights to be with his bride. He receives joy by giving us joy (Hebrews 12:2). Wives who are loved this deeply, who know their husbands love to love them, are often an even greater blessing to others. Love your wife so joyfully that it’s obvious to her and others.

6. Serving Love

Jesus served her in life and death. There is nothing — nothing — that God can call you to do for your wife that would be too much! Jesus “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Many husbands think of themselves as kings to be served, but you and I are called by God to be the chief servants in our homes. The way to Christlikeness in our marriages is through joining Jesus in taking up the towel and the basin (John 13:12–17).

7. Sanctifying Love

Jesus loves your wife by helping her to grow in holiness and by being her advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). Do you encourage your wife to go to Bible study, even if it means you have to care for the kids by yourself for the evening? Do you regularly bring your wife before the Father in prayer? Work hard to help your wife blossom spiritually.

8. Leading Love

Jesus leads us to what is good for us. Jesus not only loves your wife with a leading rather than a passive love, but he also leads her toward what is good (Psalm 23:2). It is impossible to lead our wives spiritually if we ourselves are not being led by God through the word and prayer. One way you can lead her well is by seeking her input and then making big decisions (and accepting the consequences), rather than allowing the decisions and consequences to fall to her.

9. Providing Love

Jesus provides your wife with all that she needs. Do you notice your wife’s needs, even beyond physical provision, and do something about it? Christ nourishes her, providing an environment for growth and flourishing. The apostle Paul explains to us that “in the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). It made a marked difference in my marriage when I realized that it was my responsibility to do what I could to fill my wife’s sails.

10. Knowing Love

Jesus knows your wife better than she knows herself. He has an informed love for her. He knows her strengths, her weaknesses, and he acts on her behalf (Ephesians 5:29–30). While we will never know our wives like God knows them, he wants us to know them as well as we can. Our prayers for them will always be hindered if we fail to know them (1 Peter 3:7). Our wives know they are cherished when we make an effort to really know them.

Defy the Serpent with Love

One evening, I walked down the hallway from our bedroom with bare feet when I saw something you never want to see in your hallway: a snake tail sticking out where the floor meets the wall. It turned out that there was a crack in our foundation, and a snake had made its way through the crack, and up into our home.

Brothers, we have an enemy, that ancient serpent, who desires to squirm his way into our homes and cause havoc. But praise God, we know the snake crusher, Jesus Christ, who has already defeated him and loved us with a supernatural love. Know that when you love your wife like Jesus loves her, the foundation of your marriage is strengthened, Satan is defeated again, and Christ is lifted up for more to see.

Tim Counts (@timothycounts) is married to his best friend, Melanie, and they are the proud parents of three children. He serves as the pastor of Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, Vermont. Tim writes regularly at He Must Become Greater.

Daily Light – May 20, 2019

Three Ways to Purify Your Thinking

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

If we are in Christ, God is remaking our minds.

Once, we were “darkened in [our] understanding” (Ephesians 4:18). We may have been smart, even brilliant, but we shut the doors and windows of our minds against the knowledge of God. We preferred illusions over truth (Romans 1:18). We crafted alternative realities where God was not glorious, Christ not worthy, sin not damnable, and holiness not desirable. Our minds, created to be like a garden of the Lord, became a field of thorns, a scorched land.

But in Christ, God is reclaiming his garden. He’s opening the doors and windows and letting the light back in. He has told us that one of the great tasks of the Christian life is “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Pluck weeds and plant trees. Gather rocks and plow fields. Prune vines and build walls. Purify your mind.

Purify Your Mind

The purifying of our minds happens, in part, as we learn to habitually set our minds in certain directions — as we turn our mind’s eye from the worthless to the beautiful, from the defiled to the pure, from the false to the true. Like all repentance, such turning is not a onetime work, but a daily one, an hourly one, even a moment-by-moment one. Nor is it easy: changing our habits of thought is like carving new ruts in old roads. It will not happen spontaneously.

As we do set our minds in certain directions, and make holy thinking a habit, the effect will be like gradually opening the curtains: light and warmth from the God of glory will come in, making our thoughts bloom like flowers and rise like oaks of righteousness.

God tells us, in the book of Phillipians, to consistently set our minds in three directions: on glory above, on beauty below, and on people around.

1. Set your mind on glory above.

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:19–20)

Paul reminds the Philippians of their heavenly citizenship directly after he warns them not to be like “enemies of the cross of Christ,” people who have “minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18–19). By earthly things, Paul does not mean the gifts in God’s good creation, but rather sinful pleasures (see Colossians 3:5). Those who set their minds on earthly things have scrubbed heaven from the horizon of their minds, preferring to fill their heads with dark pleasures.

The antidote is to look up: lift your eyes to glory above, and walk often in the fields of heaven. But Paul will not let us speak vaguely of “glory above.” A mind set on high is not filled with a spiritual haze, but with a Person: Jesus Christ. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior.” “Set your mind on glory above,” then, mainly means, “Set your mind on Christ and all that is yours in him.”

Think much of the Lord Jesus. Consider how he left his Father’s side and took the form of a servant. Ponder how he relinquished his rights in order to die for desperate sinners. Remember how he is now clothed in a glorified body, bearing the scars of our redemption and crowned with the highest name. Meditate on how he will one day “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” and make everything broken about us whole (Philippians 2:6–113:21). Only then will we know something of what it means to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

Search for this Jesus as you read your Bible day by day. Cast your mind in the mold of his goodness. Carry his promises with you in all the chambers of your head. Return often throughout the day to think of glory above.

2. Set your mind on beauty below.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

A mind set on heaven does not cease to think of earth. No: heaven sends us hunting through creation for all the marks of our Father’s handiwork. Thinking on beauty below is a matter of Christian obedience.

Too often, however, I substitute “whatever is lovely” for “whatever gives immediate gratification.” Many of us are content to set our minds on pleasures that sprint through our souls without leaving a trace. We need heaven to recalibrate our earthly tastes, so we move past snap delights to “approve what is excellent” — truly, enduringly excellent (Philippians 1:10).

Those with minds set on glory above will not ultimately be satisfied with trivialities below. We will search to find a deeper echo of the tune, something that sends us past the crust of life to the core. We will look for something to awaken us to the wonder of being image-bearers of the high God, in a broken but beautiful world, with the gospel on our lips and glory in our hearts (Philippians 1:27). We want something that will absorb us, that will take us outside ourselves and send us into Reality, with all its hard edges and bracing air, all its grand and intricate glory, all its raw and cultivated splendor.

We might, as our Savior was prone to do, regularly get out beneath a big sky and look at the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, the movement of clouds, and the habits of sheep. We might lose ourselves in some story that rekindles in us the glory of everyday life. We might find some hobby that rivets us and, for a few moments at least, makes us forget about ourselves as we run, hike, play, fix, write, craft, cook, and then kneel down to give thanks to the Giver of it all.

3. Set your mind on people around.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

As we go on the hunt for beauty here below, we would be blind if we passed over those walking wonders all around us — those children of Adam, destined for immortality in either heaven or hell, whose interests Paul tells us to look to (Philippians 2:4).

This command to “look . . . to the interests of others” means more than “consider meeting others’ needs if they’re in your path and you have time.” This looking is, rather, proactive looking, attentive looking, the kind that would not happen apart from serious, creative thought. Look to means “Think, dream, plan, and study how to do the most good to those around you — and then get to it.”

We know this because Paul gives Jesus as our model of looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:5–11). The cross was not a good work Jesus stumbled across, but one dreamt up in the merciful imagination of the triune God, and executed at extreme cost to himself. We are looking to the interests of others only if we reflect something of Jesus’s initiating, creative, and costly love, and are “genuinely concerned for [the] welfare” of those around us (Philippians 2:20).

The most well-balanced people in this world are those whose heads are so full of God and others that they have little time to circle around their own misfortunes. For many of us, then, perhaps the healthiest thing we could do with our minds is to absorb ourselves in the hopes, struggles, successes, and heartbreaks of another.

Think About These Things

The call to purify our minds is one we only begin in this life. Even the saintliest among us must stand guard over their mental garden, continually shooing away the crows of corrupt thoughts. Our thinking will bloom as it ought to only when we sink our minds into the soil of Mount Zion.

But much of our peace in this life, and much of the fruit we bear for God’s glory, comes as we heed the call to “think about these things” — to set our minds on glory above, on beauty below, and on people around. These are the windows that bring light and warmth to our minds, until the day Light himself will purify our minds completely.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – May 14, 2019

The Feel-Good Gospel

How We Use God for Comfort

Article by Greg Morse, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

It wasn’t the response I had hoped for.

On our first long-distance call, the future Mrs. Morse asked me how my day had gone. Excited, I detailed how, just that afternoon, I finally had an opportunity to share the gospel with a friend when he opened up to me about a recent breakup. I enthusiastically recounted the conversation with her, assuming she would be impressed.

After listening, she paused, then asked, “Well, did you share the gospel with him?”

She must not have heard me, I thought. I began retelling my story.

“Yes, you told me that. I was just wondering if you shared the good news that Jesus can save him from his sin, death, and God’s wrath through his substitutionary death and subsequent resurrection — not just that God could make him happier after a tough breakup.”

Stunned, I retraced the interaction in my mind. Surely, I had, right?

Turns out the gospel I shared was not the one which Paul called “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) — however much it may have felt like it. Rather, I had shared a kind of feel-good gospel with him. To this brokenhearted romantic, I had offered only a cookies-and-cream Christ ready to cater in the moment to his messy breakup. And while Jesus certainly doesinvite the dissatisfied, the thirsty, the unhappy near to find joy in him, the gospel does not say that Jesus first died to spare him from the immediate heartache of an ended relationship. Jesus came to address more than our felt-needs of the moment.

The Gospel of Feel-Good

The qualification cannot be overstated: God is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1), the emotional ballast for all saints going through valleys, our fortress to shelter his people from the storms of this life. He does indeed answer his children’s prayers: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). When you suffer, run to him. If you’re happy, go to him. When you’re anxious, turn to him. He is our Father and invites us near, both on sunny days when all is well, and in stormy nights when shadows creep along the bedroom wall.

But we must never forget: Christianity is about so much more than comforting erratic human psychologies. Christianity doesn’t terminate on us. The word of the cross is not first given for present mental health but for the eternal salvation of the soul. Emotional flourishing will be found in the shadow of the cross — a cross which is not first and foremost about emotional flourishing.

God has much to say to the anxious, the depressed, the angry, the grieving, the confused, the despondent, to all the discontent who will trust him. But God’s revelation isn’t primarily about meeting these ailments. Jesus did not come into the world to first save us from our sadness — but our sin. Yet that is not what the new prosperity gospel of emotional health, wealth, and happiness teaches. We may shake our heads at messages about Jesus bringing believers mansions and Mercedes, all the while subtly believing that Jesus’s primary mission entailed giving us our best (emotional) lives now.

Self-Help in Christian Veneer

This new “gospel” deals little, if at all, with what’s perceived to be immediately helpful. It lives on the diet of topical teaching that helps you live better today instead of helping you know and worship God now and forever. It promotes a shallow form of happiness, not holiness; man’s needs, not God’s glory. It is well-known in the Christian publishing world that books on Christian living sell — while most books on God and the cross do not.

In this modern “gospel,” the chief problem with sin is that it doesn’t work — not that it offends a holy God. It overlaps with the old gospel in that it denounces destructive sins, but for very different reasons. It encourages us to fight anxiety because it isn’t helping you sleep at night. Quit porn, because it isn’t preparing you for marriage. Forgive your mother, because you’re only hurting yourself in the end. Conquer envy, because it’s not making you happy.

To achieve these ends — to sleep better, to secure that spouse, to stop the self-abuse of unforgiveness, to become happier — the feel-good gospel sends us to God for help. It invites us to rub the bottle and ask for him to fix our present inconvenience — not to forgive or transform or give us more knowledge of him. It beckons us to settle for rejuvenation, not regeneration — being burped and fed, not born again.

This “gospel” might encourage us to memorize some verses in this area or that, but are these the only ones we memorize? If it does, ours has become the gospel of practical living. Self-help with a feel-good, religious gloss. We replace the sun from the center of the universe in favor of a fragment of its warmth and light.

Comfort Has Become Chief

J.I. Packer describes the change from the ancient gospel to this newfangled one:

One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man — to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction — and too little concerned to glorify God.

[The old gospel’s] center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. (Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ)

The feel-good gospel loves the effect of the Christian faith while tragically forgetting its God and true gospel. The comfort of man — not the worship of God — has become chief. The news that man can be happier — not that Jesus died for sinners — is the good news. Man comforted — not Christ crucified — is the heart of the system. And it deceitfully promises to hand out these effects to sinners when God says the wicked have no right taking up his promises while living in unrepentance. “To the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?’” (Psalm 50:16).

Loving the emotional gifts above the Giver leaves worshipers neither light nor warmth.

Emotional Health, Incidentally

The paradox stands that emotional health is caught when indirectly sought. Packer writes, “The old gospel was ‘helpful,’ too — more so, indeed, than is the new — but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God.” The emotional help that our God provides his people is unparalleled. His promises and Person give us reason to always rejoice — remember, this is true. But this stability is often attained accidentally as we “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

We see such help, in one of many places, in Isaiah’s charge to comfort the people (Isaiah 40:1). The prophet asked, “What shall I cry?” (Isaiah 40:6). After he then hears about the glory of God’s revealed word, God tells him to go up on a high mountain and herald the good news, to lift up his voice with strength, and to say to the people, “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9).

Well-being will come through true worship. Seek comfort for comfort’s sake, relegate God to the background, and you get neither.

Promise of Perfect Peace

Emotional health in the Christian life comes first from looking outside ourselves. Hate sin, love Christ, trust in his power to save, seek to live for his glory, and we mature in emotional health. The truly happy man seeks God in his word, planting himself by life-giving streams, and his “leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). We seek first for God, and, in finding him, we gain fullness of joy in him, and heaven thrown in.

Must we choose, then, between pursuing happiness in God and glorifying him? No. In fact, we must not. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We seek for happiness in God, for his glory, not so we can settle for our best life now, with God at the periphery. We seek eternal life, not in a pleasant state of mind in the moment, but in knowing Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him (John 17:3). And as we set our minds on Christ, he will, in his perfect time, keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).

Human feelings are not ultimate; God is ultimate. Jesus is not a means to real joy; he is our joy. We do not dethrone the God of all comfort for comfort itself. Our hearts and souls will not truly flourish until firmly planted in this bedrock: “Behold your God!”

Greg Morse is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul.

Daily Light – May 9, 2019

We Sin Because We Forget

Article by David Bowden, Guest Contributor

How do you stop committing a certain sin?

Some suggestions may involve putting guardrails up around areas of temptation or being held accountable by trustworthy friends. Others include conditioning your mind to be better or avoiding anything associated with the sin. Some may even suggest that you mentally berate yourself when you mess up until your will relents and you stop the sin.

Some of these might be helpful; others destructive. But none of them can stop you from sinning. Because none of these strategies gets to the heart of sin — namely, your heart’s desires.

So the question we have to ask first is not, “How do I stop sinning?” but rather, “Why do I sin at all?”

The Bible and the Heart

The Bible consistently holds the same view of why humans do what we do. We only ever do what we want. We only ever do what we desire.

I’m not saying we only ever do what we like, wish, or prefer. For example, we can do things under coercion. You may not want to give a mugger your wallet. But your desire to save your life will overpower your desire to save your money when he has you at knifepoint.

Everything you do flows from your heart (Proverbs 4:23). That is because you can only perform an action if the desire is initially in your heart (Psalm 119:11Matthew 12:33–34). In fact, even if you do the right things with your hands, it is of no value to God if your heart is not right as well (Psalm 51:17Isaiah 29:13Matthew 15:823:27).

So why do we do what we do? We only ever follow what our heart’s desire.

Follow Your Heart’s Desire

I assure you, I am not advocating a Disney version of Christianity where you simply follow your feelings. Nor is this a relativist version of Christianity where you just do what feels right for you. In fact, saying “follow your heart’s desire” is not a suggestion for a way to live; it is the description for how you live, whether you know it or not.

The biblical view of what it means to follow your heart may be best presented by the book of Deuteronomy. In it, God is calling his people to obey his law once they enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 6:1). But before God gives his law, he emphasizes repeatedly the people’s need to love him with all their hearts (Deuteronomy 5:106:5–67:910:1211:1132213:319:930:1620). This is because God knows something fundamental about human nature: we obey what we love.

Where Love Comes From

Deuteronomy opens with a brief record of everything God had done for Israel. These mighty and gracious acts of God then are peppered throughout the whole book. Why? The answer comes in one of Deuteronomy’s most frequent commands: “Remember” (Deuteronomy 5:157:188:2189:715:1516:31224:9182232:7).

If the people of Israel would remember what God did for them, something would happen to their hearts: their hearts would love God. Love is revived by remembering, rehearsing, and treasuring.

But when love is stirred up in the heart, what results? Obedience.

So, for the Israelites in Deuteronomy, love for God in their hearts, and keeping it alive by remembering what God has done, would cause them to walk in obedience. Obeying God would naturally result from their loving God. That’s what love in the heart does: love incites obedience.

The opposite is also true. Forgetting what God has done causes love for him to shrivel and die in our hearts, causing us to disobey (Deuteronomy 4:9236:128:111419).

Remember. Love. Obey.

Forget. Hate. Disobey.

This is why we do what we do.

Why We Do What We Do?

Now we can circle back to where we started. Why do we do what we do? We obey what we love, and we love what we remember.

That’s why we sin. We sin because we love sin. And we love sin because it’s familiar. Our hearts have been trained to remember what the world offers, to trust that sin can provide, and to rehearse the story that we can provide for ourselves.

So how do we stop sinning? How do we stop loving sin? We need to remember a different story. We need to become familiar with what God has done for us.

As Israel was called to remember their story of God rescuing them from Egypt, we need to remember the story of Jesus rescuing us from sin and death. We must continually remind ourselves of the gospel story.

As the people of Israel had regular feasts to help them remember what God had done for them, we must regularly feast on what Jesus has done for us (Deuteronomy 16).

How Do I Overcome Sin?

At the end of the day, Israel could not hold enough feasts or remember because God had not given them a heart to understand (Deuteronomy 29:4). They did not have the circumcised heart that God commanded of them.

But God promised that a time was coming when he would circumcise their hearts and cause them to remember, love, and obey him (Deuteronomy 30:6). We have those hearts. We are those who must keep the story of Jesus constantly on our lips and in our homes because we, by the Spirit, can remember God and love him with all (Deuteronomy 6:6–9).

How do you overcome sin? Remember what Jesus has done for you. Recall his blood on the cross, his grace toward your sin, his Spirit inside you, his promises to you, and his kingdom to which you’re called.

This will revive in your heart love for God, and the shine of sin will begin to fade. You will not trust sin’s lies, buy its narrative, or accept what it’s offering. Not because you have resolved to stop up your ears, sequester your body, berate your mind, or blind your eyes, but because you have reminded your new heart what it really desires.

David Bowden is a spoken word poet and author of Rewire Your Heart. He is the founder and president of Spoken Gospel, a non-profit dedicated to creating gospel-centered content. David and his wife, Meagan, have one son.

Daily Light – April 24, 2019

Friends…this is wonderful deep food today…wonderful truths…please make yourself absorb and digest ‘so that’ it will feed your heart and mind 🙂

The Good We Can’t Let Go

How to Guard Against Subtle Sins

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

For many of us, the most dangerous sins are not the ones that will get us excommunicated or bring public shame on our families. They are the sort that we can carry right into church without anyone noticing.

Friends are unconcerned. Our small group sees no problem. Even we assure ourselves that we have kept our feet from every forbidden tree in God’s garden. All the while, we have forgotten that often, the serpent’s subtlest temptations are not to pluck the fruit God has forbidden, but to crave the fruit he has given. We have closed our grip around the good gifts of God, and slowly, even imperceptibly, have become unable to let go.

We should not be surprised if we trick even ourselves. Like all sin, this idolatry is deceitful (Ephesians 4:22) — especially because it so easily wears the mask of virtue. We numb ourselves with entertainment in the name of rest. We grow too dependent on a friend in the name of fellowship. We control our children in the name of responsibility.

The result is a domesticated disobedience, a nearly invisible idolatry, a respectable rebellion — a spell that can be broken only by heeding Jesus’s blunt command to “be on your guard” (Luke 12:15).

Be On Your Guard

Jesus and the apostles never assume that any of us, even the born again, could live in the midst of God’s gifts without being on guard. Jesus gives his command in the context of money and possessions — good gifts that can become devouring idols (Luke 12:13–21). And, according to Paul, what’s true of wealth is true of all good things. When the Corinthians told him, “All things are lawful for me,” he replied, “But I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Given the chance, our flesh is ready to enslave us to any good thing: money, reputation, marriage, comfort, success, control, beauty, food, children, sleep, career, free time, friends.

Sometimes, God delivers us from such subtle idolatry by sending us into the wilderness: he removes his good gifts for a time to remind us that his “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). But what if he doesn’t? How do we remain on our guard in the land of plenty?

Scripture gives us dozens of ways to be on our guard. Before we look at four of them, it bears mentioning that the goal is never to permanently distance ourselves from God’s gifts, as if holiness keeps creation at arm’s length. Our goal, rather, is to raise up some fences around God’s gifts so that we might, as G.K. Chesterton puts it, “give room for good things to run wild” (Orthodoxy, 9).

1. Come awake to the danger.

The battle against idolatrous desires begins with coming awake to the danger. Many of us have already fled into our fortresses and bolted the door against bad things: sexual immorality, lying, angry outbursts, gossip. But we have not realized — or we need to remember — that sin has already infiltrated the fortress, hidden under the cover of good things.

Perhaps some of us feel like saying, “But what’s so bad about having a good marriage? Or my kids’ safety? Or enough money? Or some downtime?” The answer is nothing. Used rightly, each of these gifts is an ally to our joy in God, not an enemy. They are part of the very good God spoke over Eden, wonders sprung from the joy of the triune God, designed for our delight (Genesis 1:31).

Where, then, does the danger come from? Not from God’s gifts, but from our flesh, that defeated foe who still finds a way to whisper in our ear. The day is coming when the angels of God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin . . . and throw them into the fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:41–42). Until then, the devilish suggestion to grasp for God’s gifts remains with us. The enemy is always inside the gates, because it is always inside our chests. So, Jesus tells us, “Be on your guard.”

2. Pay attention to your emotions.

We would be wrong, however, to interpret “Be on your guard” to mean, “Lock yourself away in the cellars of your soul, and don’t come back out till you’ve found every idol.” Some of us are tempted to become little Hezekiahs, hunting our hearts for every high place and pillar (2 Kings 18:4). The search often goes awry, and we end up inverting the famous counsel of Robert Murray McCheyne: “For every look at Christ,” we say, “take ten looks at yourself.”

David Powlison writes, “Our renegade desires are not so ‘inward’ as to call for intense introspection” (“Revisiting Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” 41). Although these desires often hide in the cellar, they can’t help but show their faces from time to time — often in distorted emotions.

Our emotions are never just givens; they are ambassadors of the heart, sent to tell us what’s happening there. Negative emotions like worry, anger, and sorrow tell us that something we care about is under attack. Sometimes, of course, we feel negative emotions for the right reasons: we are angry because injustice is happening; we are sorrowful because a close relationship has ended.

But much of the time, our negative emotions reveal that one of our idols is under fire: we are angry because someone has crossed our desires for control; we are sorrowful because we have lost someone who had given our lives meaning. When I drove to work a few days ago in a little palace of self-pity, the emotion was uncovering an enemy: my desire for comfort had gone rogue. No longer a gift to be received with thanks, it had become a right to be expected.

Positive emotions, too, can raise warning flags. The world is filled with happy idolaters, people like the rich fool who kept his joy in bigger barns (Luke 12:16–20). Sometimes, our deepest problem is not that we are anxious, sorrowful, or fearful, but that we are incredibly happy for all the wrong reasons.

From time to time, we need to query our emotions before giving them a room in our hearts — especially emotions that visit quite often. We need to ask ourselves, “Why am I irritable right now? Why am I worried? Why am I so happy?” Often, such questions will lead us to an idol that has been pulling the levers of our heart for too long.

3. Gauge your spiritual desires.

When we enjoy God’s gifts as he created us to, they will not compete with Christ for our affections; they will take us in hand and, like a godly friend, say, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). God made us to wrap our arms around a spouse, or fill our stomachs with food, or feel a thunderstorm shake the ground, and say, “These are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!” (Job 26:14).

But when an idol eclipses the light of God’s face, spiritual desires limp. Bible reading becomes a formal affair. Spontaneous prayer dries up. Fellowship feels less urgent. We would do well to heed the advice of McCheyne, who was more jealous to guard his spiritual desires than most: “Brethren, if you are ever so much taken up with any enjoyment that it takes away your love for prayer or your Bible, . . . then you are abusing this world” (“Time Is Short”).

Left unchecked, innocent enjoyments become thorns, ready to choke out our spiritual desires (Mark 4:18–19). If we find that a hobby, friendship, or form of entertainment is keeping us from God’s word, or from our knees, something radical needs to change.

4. Occasionally ask, ‘What if God takes it away?

Perhaps no test helps us discern hidden idolatry more than occasionally looking at our most precious earthly gifts, and asking ourselves, “What if God takes it away?”

We should not expect to consider this question with an unruffled heart. The thought of losing a spouse, a child, a dear friend, or a lifelong dream should stir up waves within us. Mature godliness does not create stoic detachment from this world; it creates real lament arising from real anguish directed to the real God. He who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3) will not reproach us when sorrow’s deep waters rise up to our necks.

The test is this: Will we, as far as we know ourselves, resolve to bless the Lord rather than curse him, even if the worst comes (Job 1:21)? Will we believe that God’s mercies will be new with the sunrise, no matter how dark the midnight (Lamentations 3:22–23)? Will we still say, though tears be our food, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)?

“What if God takes it away?” is not a question to ask every day. Most days, we should hold God’s gifts in hand, thank him from the depths of us, and keep what-ifs outside the door. Only every now and then should we subject ourselves to such introspection, and always with the aim of recalibrating our hearts so that we might throw ourselves back into the enjoyment of his gifts.

Keep Christ In

The four strategies above are all defensive — ways of climbing up into the watchtower to keep guard over our soul. Such battle plans, though necessary, are never sufficient. Unless we fill our souls with light, we will sweep the floors only to welcome more darkness (Matthew 12:43–45).

A.W. Tozer reminds us, “The best way to keep the enemy out is to keep Christ in” (Tozer on the Holy Spirit, 27). Our struggles with wayward desires arise chiefly because we have kept Christ outside the door. But when Christ is the host, all the guests take their places and get along famously. The best way to protect our souls, then, is not merely to keep idolatry out, but to keep Christ in.

For the sake of our souls, we must seek him. No matter how long ago we heard his “Follow me,” there is more of Christ to be had. More of his beauty to be seen. More of his wisdom to be admired. More of his power to be feared. More of his friendship to be enjoyed. More of his grace to be treasured. More of his comfort to be felt. More of his authority to be hailed. More of his worth to be confessed.

When Christ is in, the gifts of God will not compete with him. Every one of them will bow its knee before his throne, and bid us to go further up, and further in, to him.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – April 5, 2019

More S.O.A.P. from ‘Genesis’ (study, observe, apply, pray)… by David Niednagel

Genesis 9:1-7      In the image of God

9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. 2 All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. 3 I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables. 4 But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it. 5 “And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. 6 If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. 7 Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth.”   NLT

After the Flood God gave permission for humans to eat anything, not just the plant, vegetable diet in 1:30. Here, there are no restrictions on “unclean” animals, that will be later forbidden under the Law of Moses. But there is a restriction against eating “meat that still has the lifeblood in it”. They could not bite into living animals or drink the blood of animals. Lev 17 teaches that “life is in the blood”, and I believe this is a picture of the blood of Christ which would be for our atonement.

This point is connected to the next verse which says if an animal or a person takes a human life, the life of the killer must be forfeited,because humans are made in the image of God. God is commanding capital punishment for murder. Today many oppose capital punishment because “it is cruel and unusual” and/or because innocent persons are sometimes convicted. In the Law of Moses safeguards were built into the judicial process to protect the innocent, but here God says the death penalty for those who murder another shows a higher value of human life than letting the murderer go free. The NT also teaches that to curse a person (James 3:9) or discriminate against other ethnic groups is wrong because we are all created in the image of God. (Col 3:8-10) Capital punishment applied biblically upholds the value of human beings.

Lord, Thank You for revealing truth and perspective that goes beyond what our society thinks. Thank You for giving us so many good things to eat! And thank You for showing us how to value life – in animals and in humans. I have never been tempted to kill anyone, but I have sure devalued and disrespected people created in Your image. Help me treat everyone with the dignity appropriate to someone in Your image. And Lord, I do pray for Your people to work for justice in our court systems so that innocent people are treated with justice and dignity. Amen