January 31, 2014

Idols of the mind

An idol is not necessarily an object or a visible thing. It can be anything that takes the place of God, something that gets more of my love and attention than God does. It may not be an evil thing for I can substitute something good for the Best, the Living God.

As I read today’s devotional, I thought of how my mind takes vacations from the hard work of the courses I am taking. The current course is simply “Ethics” but it is far from simple. Most of the reading requires a dictionary and total concentration. When I get up from my desk, I want to give myself a break. However, I know that meditation on what has been studied enables me to better process it. Not only that, the material IS about God and the Gospel and focusing on anything less than Him, even for a rest, could be dangerous. Whatever I use for a substitute could become a mental idol.

Some of those mental vacations have me thinking about daily chores, or I might be chatting with family and friends. These are not a threat, but at times my mind is preoccupied with thoughts that cross the line into substitutions. How do I know that? Because they contradict this list from Philippians . . .  

Finally, brothers, 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)

Since the material in my studies fits this list, then I ought to spend more mental energy on it rather than taking those vacations. If the concepts and ideas are too much, then I can at least praise God for them and let my focus be on what is “worthy of praise.”

That is thought number one, but there is another thought from today’s devotional reading. It is about an “idol” has never made it to my “shelf of idols” but I have heard about it in the lives of others. It is the idol of self-atonement. This is a tendency of the human heart to want to make up for something wrong by doing something right as penance for it.

This is illustrated when someone hurts the feelings of another, then overdoses them with praise to try and make up for it. If we do the same thing toward God when we sin, that penance becomes an idol. That is, our acts of penance become substitutes for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is why Christians must always remember our salvation. It is not in anything we do but in what Christ has done for us.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8–10)

This is the Gospel. We worship God and what He has done, never trying to do it for ourselves, for that is not acceptable. This idea also ties into my initial convictions today. That is, it shows me another thing “worthy of praise” that can preoccupy my mind and give me rest . . .

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:11)

The goal is pleasing God, which takes both focus and courage. “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:6–9)

It also takes a crucifixion, certainly that of Christ, but also that I remember I was crucified with Him and in Him. Because that is true, then I’m dead to sin and alive to God.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14–15)

How then could I atone for my sins? It is already done. I would be insulting God if I acted as if what He has done wasn’t good enough. No amount of penance can take the place of the Cross.

What I can do is tell others. People need to know that God has made provision for our sin. When we put our faith in His provision, we are set free from sin’s curse, and . . .

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18–20)

Put aside all idols, those used to give comfort and those used in an effort to make me look like a better person. Christ does both and I need to worship and love Him with all my heart and soul — and mind . . .  and tell others about His amazing grace.

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