Enjoying God’s Gifts Without Making Them God

It’s a tough question for the believer: How do we enjoy God’s gift without falling into idolatry?

Between the blessings of food, jobs, entertainment, and even relationships, how do we enjoy the things God allows us to enjoy without turning them into idols? Let’s see what Scripture has to say.

In Romans 14:5, Paul charges the believers in Rome to be fully convinced of God’s will for their lives “in their own minds,” especially in regards to what we might call “gray areas.” For the Romans, this centered around eating food that was offered to idols. “Stronger” believers understood that because the false Roman gods weren’t actually alive, the food was fine to eat, whereas weaker believers felt like it was wrong to eat. Paul’s command: Do what the Lord leads you to do, and don’t judge other believers for it.

When it comes to things like entertainment, different foods and drinks, and how much of it we should consume, there are clear Scriptural guidelines, but there is also room to simply do what you feel like best honors the Lord and shows His greatness. If you feel like God has called you to abstain from Netflix, or watching sports on Sunday, then follow the Lord, not popular culture.

Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.“–Matt. 6:24

While this passage directly deals with money, which is one of God’s gifts, the principle of not serving the gifts God gives us helps us understand how to approach the “stuff” of our lives.We want to enjoy God’s gifts, because doing so honors Him. When God allows you to take a day off and go fishing, or take a day off to take your kid to a baseball game, or God allows you to (fill in the blank with your favorite relaxing hobby/activity), you ought to worship God for that. I recently had a three-day weekend where I went to two baseball games, and spent the Monday watching more baseball. It was a wonderful time enjoying my favorite sport with my friends and family. And while I certainly was not faultless in regards to indulgence in this area, I can say I praised God for those three days.

But again, I am not faultless. I began to overindulge, and found myself spending too much time with baseball, especially on the third day of my three-day weekend. I had let a gift turn into an idol, and had to repent. For you, it may be spending an exorbitant amount of time on social media, or watching another sport, or even spending too much time at the office. Good things can become god things very quickly if we aren’t carefully seeking God’s will for them in our lives. Idolatry begins when God begins to exit the picture, and we begin to let the gifts direct our lives, instead of the gift-giver.

We must remember where our gifts come from. James 1:17 says that every good gift is from above, that is, it is from God. God gives us good things, not to magnify and exalt the thing, but to magnify and exalt Himself!

Lastly, treat God’s gifts as that–gifts. As stated before, enjoy them, thank God for them, and see God’s grace in giving you good gifts. But use God’s gifts God’s way–don’t worship them, worship God.

How do we do this? By remembering the greatest gift God gives–Himself, in the person and through the work of His Son Jesus Christ. Because Christ has died for us and has brought us back to the Father, we can enjoy good gifts from a good Father, and let them lead us, not to idolatrous worship of worldly pleasures, but to eternal worship of our gracious God.

Lord, may we enjoy your gifts. May we thank you for them. May we enjoy you through your gifts, thanking you for your grace toward us. May we not turn your gifts into false gods and idols that would keep us from worshiping and finding our deepest joy and satisfaction in you.

God bless,

Neal E.

Idolizing Christianity

What if I told you that it was possible to know all of God’s Word, front to back, serve on church committees, even pastor a church, share the gospel with thousands of people…and still spend eternity in hell?  What if I told you that you could spend 12 hours a day in prayer, six sharing your faith, and the other six fasting, and despite all of the Christian conferences you went to and all the Christian music you listened to, still spend eternity in hell?

I shared this quote from a book called “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” by Jonathan Dodson last night on Facebook: “Jesus, alone, should take the center place in our lives, not our Bible reading, evangelism, character, or effort to be different or spiritual.”

At the end of the day, the actions listed in the opening paragraph amount to nothing, separated from a relationship with Christ Himself.  Because at the end of the day, what makes you a Christian is not Christianity.  It is not immersing yourself into a religious setting, simply trying to live life differently and hoping that being a part of Christian culture can do that.  What makes you a Christian is Christ.

I think it’s easy to forget that, especially in American culture.  American culture emphasizes being swept up in the latest and greatest trends and fads, and unfortunately, this way of thinking makes its way into our churches.  We have to have the newest worship music on Sunday morning.  Make sure everyone knows about the next big conference in town, because (insert favorite late 20s-early 40s-age speaker here) will be there!  Have you read the newest book from (insert favorite Christian author here)?

None of those things are bad.  We are blessed with Godly men and women that can write well, sing well and teach well, for the glory of God here in America.  And it is wise to take advantage of that, to listen to godly preaching, to read good books about God and the Christian life.

But if all of our Christian “things” are not driving us to boast and rejoice more in God, they are worthless.  If we do these things divorced from knowing and trusting and following Christ, it is worthless.

It is possible (I know because I’m guilty of it, too) to enjoy Christian things without enjoying God.  It is possible to idolize Christianity.  We consider ourselves Christian because of how much time we spend in Bible study, or how much time we spend in prayer, or because we read a certain author’s books.

All of the Bible reading, praying, fasting and mission trips in the world can never replace repentance and faith in Christ.  Ultimately, God will declare you righteous based on your relationship with Him, not all of the secondary things that accompany that relationship.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).  We are not guaranteed that our favorite music, favorite speaker, favorite writer, will be here tomorrow when we wake up, much less in 30 years or more.  But Jesus Christ will reign as Lord forever, and His Word shall stand for eternity.

Are we caught up in Him?  Or are we caught up in Christian culture?  Do we love Him?  Or do we love the idea of loving Him?  Do we love knowing Him?  Or do we love Christian culture?  All of the things mentioned here that are associated with Christianity are just that.  They are things.  They are disciplines.  They are good things, gifts from God.  But they are not God Himself.

So, please, listen to godly music and preaching.  If you’re blessed to go to a Christian conference, go.  If you have a chance to share the gospel, by all means, do share the gospel, boldly!  But don’t do those things because you think that’s what makes you a Christian.  Read your Bible, pray to God, share your faith, because, God, in His amazing grace, has made you a Christian through Jesus Christ.

Let Jesus be at the center of your life.  Better yet, let Jesus be your life, period.  And let everything else that comes with a relationship with Him take its rightful place as gifts from God to help us trust Him, love Him, delight in Him, obey Him, and share Him with others.

Father, may we never confuse Christian culture or Christianity with Christ Himself.  May we never think that doing Christian things makes us a Christian.  May we remember and rejoice that we are saved through Christ alone, and may all that we do in light of that be for your glory.

God bless,

Neal E.