“As my situation began to crumble into despair, the Lord of light blindingly broke into my life.
By His grace, He empowered me to act in faith and break off the engagement.
The dark days that followed were a sobering reminder of the real consequence of attempting to operate outside the will of God.
The painful uprooting was part of a gracious plan to graft me into an eternal and intransient foundation.”
hen we think about idolatry, we tend to think of those foolish Israelites and their golden calf in Exodus 32 or God’s great display of power through Elijah at the showdown with the Baal worshipers. Contemporarily, we associate modern idolaters as those who do not believe in God and are obsessed with accumulating material possessions. These are dangerous thoughts, however, because Christians are just as susceptible to idolatry as non-Christians, and the things we pursue are indicative of the content of our hearts. Anything that we cling to tighter than God becomes sinful. Idols do not even have to be physical entities; they can be distorted ideals, or goals or pleasures that take precedence over our pursuit of God. Satan can turn even the purest of joys into a destructive pursuit. C. S. Lewis illustrates this in The Screwtape Letters:
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. . . . All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. (Letter IX)
Marriage and security had been idols in my life for a long time. Although marriage is a sacred institution that is ordained by God, I allowed for this righteous longing to be sinfully manipulated to meet my idolatrous desires: acceptance, security, and protection. All these I sought in a husband before I sought in God. The desire for marriage became a debilitating idol rather than a life-giving picture of the gospel. And it is for these reasons that I hastily and impulsively rushed into an engagement. I was seeking me first, not the Kingdom, and still waiting expectantly for all these things to be added unto me. But not even the most highly recommended pre-marital books or biblical exegesis on womanhood could rightly prepare me for the role of wife because I was worshiping at the wrong altar with idolatrous motives. As long as my hunt for marriage was self-serving, I would never be able to personify the sacrificial love it was meant to embody.
I was not simultaneously aware of my wrongly rooted motives and desire to marry. I was under the impression that marriage was good, I was a Christian, and I was entitled to secure it for myself. I had been warned of red flags and advised to refrain from a rushed engagement, but the matter had already been decided in my mind and the marriage ideal had supremacy. The problem with God-given pleasures that become dearer to us than God himself is that we can easily start believing lies and selectively approaching His Word to feel affirmed. We water down and sugarcoat the gospel until the message loses its potency so we do not have to deal with the distaste. And we blindly ignore the counseling buffers God provides in our lives: accountability to fellow believers, the wisdom of parents, and most importantly, the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is so easy for the Christian to become calloused and desensitized to the moving of the Holy Spirit because we use Scripture to justify our idolatry rather than expose it. But Jesus’ encounter in the wilderness (Matt. 4) proves that even the devil knows the Scriptures, and it is not beyond Satan to manipulate our minds and hearts through selective reading and partial truths.
Because of my unrepentant sin, my family and friends were faced with an impenetrable stubbornness that had taken root in my heart, and their attempts to speak truth fell on deaf ears. I was still claiming to follow Jesus and be attentive to God’s will, but the fruit I bore was not indicative of a sincere heart or a righteous source. Though I felt frustrated and passive in my faith, it was going to take a much stronger and Holier force to break me. Proverbs 16:9 states, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” I could arrange my life to fit tidily within the limits of my finite desires and wants, but ultimately it is God that makes it happen, and my plan was not according to His will.
In John 15:2, Jesus says to His disciples, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit [the vine-dresser] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” For months, I was ignorant that the fruits of my faith had been slowly rotting because of the wrongful nourishment I was seeking. As my situation began to crumble into despair, the Lord of light blindingly broke into my life, uncovering my sin and exposing the darkness left and right. By His grace, He empowered me to act in faith and break off the engagement. The dark days that followed were a sobering reminder of the real consequence of attempting to operate outside the will of God. To be convicted of sin, open to discipline, and pruned back to a lowly stub is humbling and painful, but God has a purpose in discipline because He knows a harvest is coming: The painful uprooting was part of a gracious plan to graft me into an eternal and intransient foundation.
This verse in John 15 clearly states that a branch has only two options: be cut off, or be cut back. By God’s sweet and gracious mercy, He had pruning in mind for me. Because I had not loved Him or worshiped Him as I ought to have, God had just warrant to cut me off, but this is where the full blown truth of the gospel, in all its flavor and potency, comes to my rescue. Now with blinders removed, sin exposed, and repentance ensuing, I was back on my knees in full recognition of the undeserved grace being poured out on me through the good news of Christ that I had neglected. The lesson I learned was not that marriage is bad and that desires always lead to sinful manipulation. Rather, our wills must always seek God as our highest joy in order for secondary desires to be enjoyed in their rightful place. He must be the root of pleasure. No half-truth or partial gospel will paint a full enough picture of the loveliness and desirability of our God; therefore, it is crucial to saturate oneself with the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are several ways we can help guard our hearts from callous apathy toward the gospel:
1. Be aware of the severe gravity and cost of sin. Jesus died innocently on behalf of sinners because sin requires a punishment. Do not let this lose its severity. The wages of all sin is death (Rom. 6:23); you sin, you die. Jesus’ sacrifice will mean nothing to us if we do not recognize the consequences of our sin as worthy and in need of eternal punishment. No pain on earth will compare to the horrors of hell, so put away idols, and be the branch that is cut back rather than the branch that is thrown into the fire (John 15:6).
2. Remember the extreme holiness of God. Liberalism has let a diluted gospel seep into Christianity. The God of love is preached, but His holy and just attributes are sorely abandoned. Recognizing His standard of perfection ought to humble us into repentance and grow us in appreciation of the mediating work of Christ on the cross. It should also set us on a track to continually grow in sanctification, seeking after God and being made more into His likeness: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2).
3. Remain open to the accountability of fellow Christians and the Holy Spirit, praying continuously for strength to battle your sinful desires. Submit to His will in all things. And when you are once again aligned with His will, the accompanying peace and contentment found in Him will radically juxtapose the callous hardening that you experienced when you were operating outside of the good and perfect will of your Lord.
4. Consider discipline a mercy that the Lord has chosen to administer to you in His peculiar grace through Jesus Christ. Be freed by His grace in all gratefulness and thankfulness, and learn from it. Be responsive. Do not fall into the worship of idols or under the spell of a false gospel again. Naturally, we will continue to struggle with sin and may fall into habits again, but remember His mercy and respond in righteous pursuit of holiness. The branch that abides in Christ will produce good fruit, but it has to be pruned.
Lindsay originally hails from Ottawa, Canada. She attended the University of Denver for two years, where God grew in her a sweet desire for Himself. Because of her changed perspectives and life aspirations, Lindsay transferred to Wheaton College, where she recently graduated after studying Music and Bible/Theology. Lindsay enjoys reading books by John Piper, Mark Dever, D. A. Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and J. I. Packer (to name a few). She loves being able to talk and share about the gospel.