When Good Desires Become Idols

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This past Sunday night, we watched part of the video series on “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand.”  The two things that stuck out to me the most that Paul Tripp said were: “Desiring a good thing can become a bad thing when it becomes a ruling thing” and “Desires properly held are held with an open hand.”

In the popular story of Abraham being tested in Genesis 22, we see a perfect illustration of these two statements.  For one hundred years, Abraham waited for the son that God had promised.  And now God was asking him to sacrifice Isaac?  Yet he proved that he loved God best by placing his son on the altar.  He was ready and willing to carry out what God has asked of Him even though it didn’t align with his own desires and plans.  He trusted God’s sovereignty and followed obediently even though I’m sure he didn’t understand God’s purpose.  We see that he held this desire for a son with an open hand and that his love for Isaac (a good thing) was not a bad thing because it was not a ruling thing.  Instead, his love for God was what ruled his life.  Luke 22:42 also accurately describes these statements: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  These are the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His crucifixion.

John Piper describes an idolatry as “an act of loving too much what ought to be loved less.” Often our idols in and of themselves are good things.  It’s when we place them above God and love them more than Him that they become idols.  It’s not what we love but how much we love it.

Accountability Partners

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I struggle with sticking to a regular Bible study.  I often am “too busy” or I just plain forget.  But what is that saying of me?  That school or work or hanging out with friends is more important than God.  My priorities are a tad askew when those excuses are my reasoning for not spending time in the word.  I have time to watch a movie with my family but “don’t have time” to read a chapter of the Bible?  I remember to grab dinner with a friend but “forget” to seek God’s face?  Something sounds wrong there…

Recently, I started reading through the Bible with a friend from church.  We’re holding each other accountable weekly.  I find this is helpful to me.  We plan to meet up a couple times a month to talk about what God is teaching us that month.  It’s a wonderful way of encouraging myself to stick to a study plan.

I did the same thing a few weeks ago with some a few people from my Bible study class at church.  We memorized Isaiah 53.  We would memorize 4 verses a week and then test each other on them.  If you struggle with staying consistent in Bible reading or memorizing, I would definitely encourage an accountability partner.

My friends also hold me accountable in other areas of my life.  I trust them and am able to share my struggles.  They pray for me and also check up on me to see how I’m doing with particular sins/issues I’m struggling with.  Find someone who you can also encourage in their walk.  As Romans 1:12 says: “that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Dating Nonbelievers

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It was a hard conversation.  One of the hardest of my life.  He was a great guy.  Sweet, thoughtful, smart, athletic, tall, handsome, funny, great with kids, easy to talk to, and an absolute gentleman, but he wasn’t a Christian.

I made a decision at a young age that I would never date a non-Christian.  When I made that commitment, in my naivety, I assumed I would never actually face such a situation.  But there I was…gearing up for just such a conversation.  I wanted to be friends; he wanted to get into a relationship.

Many of our values and lifestyle choices did not align.  I wanted to explain to him what I believed.  I didn’t start out with this of course.  If I had, I knew he would have immediately agreed with everything I said (even though I knew he didn’t believe it).  Instead, I started out by asking what he believed.  He was open to any religion.  He believed there was a God but not much past that.  When he was finished, I explained that to me, Christianity was not a religion but a relationship with Jesus.  And this relationship impacted all aspects of my life and every decision I made.  But of course he jumped right in and told me that he would support me 100% in all my beliefs.  I calmly told him that it was one thing to support my relationship with Jesus and a completely different thing to share it.  I explained that I’m waiting to get in a relationship with a guy who shares my love for Jesus.  

I know of many Christians who don’t see dating a nonbeliever as a big deal.  They cite 2 Corinthians 6:14 as a command not to MARRY a non-Christian.  So dating him is of course fine.  Here are some reasons why I disagree:

The first is that, to me, dating is serious.  I wouldn’t want to date someone who I know I would never marry.  And of course 2 Corinthians 6:14 clearly lays out that marrying a nonbeliever is not God’s best for us.  Not only is this Scripturally commanded, but I also want to be able to connect to my future husband at every level my life.  God is the most important part of my life (correction: He is my life) so how would I even begin to justify not being able to share that aspect of my life with my boyfriend/husband?  I think of the spiritual conversations we would not be able to have, the advice I would not be able to go to him for, and the Sundays that I would go to church alone.  I think of the moral choices where our opinions would clash drastically, I’m sure. I personally know a family where the mother wasn’t saved when she got married.  She came to Christ about five years ago.  Now, she struggles to raise her daughter in the faith and often watches her husband undo much of the Christian upbringing she’s trying to teach her daughter. I can’t imagine loving someone and being biblically commanded to submit to them but having to constantly evaluate if what they said was disobedient to God.

Some Christians may see dating a nonbeliever as an opportunity to witness. This is often referred to as “missionary dating.” Some of the common excuses are: “well, he told me he’d start going to church once we started dating” or “he’s such a great guy . . . definitely better than any Christian guy I’ve ever known” or “I talk to him about Jesus and he really seems to listen.”

But most often what is actually happening is that this guy is using your faith to get a date. He isn’t interested in Jesus; he’s interested in you. He might sit through church with you now, but unless he has a faith of his own, church will no longer be a priority after he wins your heart.

Perhaps some of your excuses sound more like this: “I’m just dating him for goodness sake! It’s not like he’s proposed or anything!” Anyone who chooses to date an unbeliever proves that they are also vulnerable enough to marry one. Why would you want to become attached to someone you can’t, by God’s standards, rightfully have? Why would you want to enter into a relationship with a non-Christian if it would be disobedient to God to marry him? Many girls have started a relationship with an unbeliever with just this excuse: that they won’t marry him. But what ends up happening? She ends up falling in love and cannot possibly live the rest of her life without him. Wouldn’t this problem have been totally skipped over if she had just said “no” in the first place? Remember, once you become emotionally involved, it will not be as easy as you would think to “just walk away.”

Have you considered the fact that by allowing yourself to be distracted by a man who is obviously not God’s best for you, it may actually take longer for a true man of God to pursue you? After all, if a man is a true follower of Christ, his interest will most likely be deflected when you start chasing after someone who is not living in obedience to God.

2 Corinthians 6:14-15 shares God’s thoughts on the subject: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?”

In her book “And the Bride Wore White,” Dannah Gresh expounds on this subject when she asks, “Do you want to be intellectually and spiritually superior to the man you fall in love with, or do you want to be challenged and stimulated by him forever and ever? That is entirely your choice.”

I believe that if each of us actually took the time to pour through the Scriptures, we would realize that God makes His thoughts on being unequally yoked VERY clear. In Deuteronomy 7:3-4, God commands the Israelites not to marry unbelievers: “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods. . .” The latter part of 1 Corinthians 7:39 states, “. . . she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”

Amos 3:3 asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (King James Version) How do so many expect to be able to live in harmony with someone who believes something completely opposite? Why do so many women seem to think that they can change this guy? It is more likely that he will change them as recognized in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”

In Deuteronomy 22:10, God forbids the practice of yoking two different species of animals together lest the more dominant animal cause the weaker to suffer and perhaps even bring injury upon one or both. Two animals of the same size, strength, and temperament will work the best together because they were meant to be yoked together. If an ox and a donkey were yoked together, most likely one would be trying to go this way while the other would be straining to go in the opposite direction. The work that they were supposed to be doing would certainly not get done very well (if it was accomplished at all). In the same way, we should not be yoking ourselves to someone who is not of the same mind as ourselves lest we enter a continual game of tug of war. God makes it quite obvious that He doesn’t want us to attach ourselves to someone who can very easily pull us away from Him. How do we come up with excuse after excuse saying otherwise?

Even Exodus 34:7 has something to say: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” You may be wondering how this verse has anything to do with “missionary dating.” Have you ever considered that if you marry an unbeliever, he will not only be a husband to you but a father to your children? Perhaps you think you could live with the fact that he refuses to go to church with you on Sundays, but what if he’s leading your children down a path of destruction? You may think your love for this man can get you through the problems caused by your religious differences, but would you be proud to have a miniature replica of him that every day you would call “son”? What if because of this man’s atheistic beliefs, your children walk away from God and never return? What then? Do you think you’d regret that you married him? As Allistair Begg says, “You can either cry now or you can cry later. You can cry now because you’ve lost him or you can cry later because you’ve got him.”

I can’t wait for my husband to come but for now I just try to remember: I don’t want to be the girl that needs a man; I want to be the girl a man needs. Until then, I’m planning on waiting patiently for my man—a man after God’s own heart.