The Sophisticated Idolater
In the new issue of Credo Magazine, Bob Kellemen diagnoses the idolatrous heart through examining the heart’s four fallen chambers. Bob Kellemen is the Pastor of Counseling and Equipping at Bethel Church, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Academic Dean at Faith Bible Seminary in Lafayette, Indiana, and Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries. The following is an excerpt from Kellemen’s article.
God, who freely wills and powerfully purposes, designed us with the capacity to choose—we are purposeful, volitional. God created us not as animals controlled by instinct, computers controlled by chips, or souls controlled by lusts.
How tragically far we’ve fallen. Now we’re unable to have dominion over our own passions, much less God’s planet. Titus describes us as enslaved destroyers. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3, emphasis added).
Notice the first link in the chain—foolishness. Our wills obey our minds, which obey our thirsts. If we’re convinced that God is our Supreme Good, then we’ll pursue him with a steely will. If we’re persuaded that God is not good, then we’ll pursue non-god substitutes with an enslaved will.
Peter’s haunting words portray that enslaved will. “For a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him . . . A dog returns to its vomit, and a sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2:19, 22).
Consider the enslavement cycle:
- We were created for a relationship with the infinite God of the universe.
- Only God can satisfy our soul.
- We reject God as our source of life.
- We retain the God-shaped and God-sized vacuum in our soul.
- We seek to fill that vacuum in non-God ways and through non-God means—through the finite.
- Filling our soul’s emptiness becomes our god.
- It takes an infinite amount of finite “food” to fill the infinite, God-size vacuum in our soul.
We’re driven to quench spiritual thirsts with physical water. We try to feed our infinitely hungry souls through finite morsels for our stomachs (Jeremiah 2:13).
Picture the infinite goodness of God as a huge dotted line indicating that he is without limits, boundless, utterly immense, immeasurable, and endless. Only his infinite Being could ever quench our thirst.
Now picture our petty substitutes as puny dots, a period at the end of a sentence, a pinprick, speck, or grain of sand. Pornography, lust, power, promotions, pleasure, money, an affair, acclaim, people-pleasing—these are smaller portions than a crumb off the table. How many crumbs will it take to fill the God-sized hunger in my soul? How many grains of sand are required to fill the ocean-sized desire of my heart?
James helps us to understand the connection between enslaved wills and destructive relationships when he asks the age-old question, “What causes the fights and quarrels among you?” (James 4:1). His answer: “Don’t they come from the desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it” (James 4:1b-2a).
Since desire itself is not evil, volitional sin involves our sinful responses to our unmet desires. I want my wife to respect me. She doesn’t. How do I respond?
“You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” (James 4:2b). What do I do with my frustrated desires? I covet. I attempt to manipulate you into meeting my need. “Perhaps my wife will respect me if I’m a successful businessman or the world’s best dad.” What drives such thinking? A servant’s heart? No. The motivation is self-centered. “I must be respected by my wife!” As James says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).
Wrongly motivated, empty, what happens if my wife does not comply? I kill. I retaliate. “I want what I want and I want it now! Give it to me or else!” If my wife does not meet my need, then I’ll retaliate. “I’ll either get back at you or hold back from you.” Perhaps I’ll be cruel. Or perhaps I’ll be aloof.
What’s going on in my soul? “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2c). The sin in our home (human relationships) is always ultimately due to the sin in our heart (relationship with God). The sin in our home (human relationships) is always ultimately due to the sin in our heart (relationship with God). Click To Tweet The root cause of all human quarrels flows from a Divine problem. We refuse to humbly ask God; we refuse God-dependency.
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:5). Spiritual adultery causes every relational problem. An enslaved will is always a destructive will.
The Prodigal and the Pharisaical sons were both enslaved and destructive—each in their own unique ways. In counseling them biblically, you must identify the root source of their enslavement by identifying the core thirst they are trying to quench apart from God, exposing the central foolish beliefs and images that are motivating their futile attempts, and specifying the habitual enslaved path they are following to quench their thirst. To do so you might ponder the following heart probes:
- What cistern are they digging in their attempt to replace God the Spring of Living Water? What God-sized and God-shaped vacuum are they each trying to fill with “finite dots”?
- What does their pattern of behavior indicate about their beliefs about the true source of life?
- What heart issues might be motivating their manipulation and retaliation? How are issues in their heart impacting issues in their home?