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.


Death or Life: Which Will You Choose?

That seems like a pretty easy question to answer, doesn’t it?  If I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that 100% of people, when presented with a choice between life and death, will choose life.  I believe it’s safe to assume that we like living more than we like dying.  Most people, when they’re asked if they’d like to have eternal life, will say yes.  Again, I don’t have statistics to back that claim up, but I feel like it’s a safe assumption.

But do we know how to gain eternal life?  There’s no denying that we all want it, but Jesus makes it clear that not all will have eternal life.  Not all will be with God forever.  While we all want to have eternal life, or as Kenny Chesney put it, “everybody wants to go to heaven,” how can we know that we will go there?  How can we be sure that we have life?  Jesus has answered that question for us in Matthew 7:13-14.

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus lays out two possible paths for us to be on: on a hard road, having gone through a narrow gate, or on an easy road, having gone through a wide gate.  All of humanity is on one of these roads.  There is no middle ground here.  And Jesus says the gate that we enter by and the road we are on determines whether or not we have eternal life.

The way of destruction that Jesus describes is the way of the world, the way of those who don’t know Jesus.  The gate is wide because there’s room for all kinds of beliefs, all kinds of behaviors, all kinds of (false) saviors.  There is no one way through at this gate.

It’s not hard to look at the world around us and see that there are a lot of different religious beliefs.  Christianity is not the only religion in the world.  It is certainly not the only religion that claims to be the one and only way to heaven.  This broad gate accepts all sorts of beliefs.

Some will ask, “Why is that so bad?  Shouldn’t all beliefs be honored as equally valid?”  Not if they’re not true.  There’s a reason we don’t accept the opinion that the world is flat anymore–we know it to be false.  As someone who’s crossed the Pacific Ocean, I can testify that the world is indeed round, and not flat.  There’s a reason that children all across the world lose points on their math tests if they answer that two plus two equals seven.  Two plus two is four, case closed.  And when we argue about the existence of God, and the nature of who He is, and what we must do to be in right relationship with Him, we cannot afford to treat it as just another talking point.  There is nothing more important than understanding and knowing who God is, and being in right relationship with Him.  The wide gate leads to destruction because it allows false beliefs about false gods to creep in, meaning that those who are on it are not right with the real God.

The way that leads to destruction is also easy.  On this road, there is no sacrifice, no commitment, no change.  There’s no repentance, or change in behaviors.  It is the road of the “good life,” the “easy life,” the “my life feels like a vacation life.”  It is the road that justifies sinful behavior by promoting self-rule.  It is the road of “your best life now.”  If your best life is now, you don’t know Jesus.  For those who know Jesus, we know our best life is yet to come, because our life is in Jesus, and He is coming back to finish making all things new.

So if you choose the easy road, that requires no commitment to God, if you choose the wide gate that leaves room for all sorts of “gods,” you may have an easy life here.  You’ll have fun following the “gods” of self, sex, money, power, etc.  But 20,000,000 years later, you’ll be separated from the real God, the one you rebelled against your entire life, and there will be no way to get out of hell, out of separation from fellowship with God.  Scary?  Yes.  But praise God Jesus’ sermon doesn’t end there.

Jesus next describes the way that leads to life.  This way goes through a narrow gate.  Now, understand that Jesus isn’t preaching a works-based salvation.  He isn’t saying that the gate is narrow and you have to work really hard, and do a lot of good things, to pass through it.  The gate is narrow because there’s only one way through–Him.

You enter by the narrow gate when you give up on yourself and lean on the finished work of Christ alone for your salvation, and trust in Him alone to be your Lord and to lead you in a new life of knowing, trusting and obeying Him.  In other words, we are saved, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

But isn’t that, someone may ask, insulting to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc.?  Yes, it is.  It’s insulting to me, too.  It’s insulting to all of us.  The cross is insulting because the cross is humbling.  We want to save ourselves.  We want to pay back our sin debt.  We want to be in control, and we want God to listen to us.  We want the Creator to be at the mercy and will of the created, and that’s just not how it works.  You can’t be your own God and have God as your God at the same time.  You can’t have life while rejecting the God who gives life.  The question is not, “Is the cross insulting?” but rather, “Will I let God kill my pride that I may be saved through Christ?”

The Christian life is hard.  Sometimes, we like to dress it up like it’s a party, where we’re constantly in worship, constantly growing to be more like Christ, always smiling and happy.  We never struggle to believe God, or to give our time and money and energy to the kingdom of God.  But that’s not the truth, and anyone who’s trusted in Jesus for more than five minutes can testify to this fact!  On top of the sufferings and struggles every person, regardless of their relationship with Jesus, experiences, such as medical problems, job loss, relationship tensions, etc., Christians are also in a war with their sin.  A Christian is one who has made Christ their Lord and has made sin their enemy.  We hate our sin.  Jesus is in charge now.  He has given us His perfect righteousness.  He has forgiven us through His precious blood.  We recoil at the very thought of offending Him because of His great love for us.  But we do sin.  And we sin a lot.  And we sin horribly.  Some of the things I most regret in my life have come after I came to know Christ.  The difference is in how we respond to our sin.  Instead of simply shrugging our shoulders and getting on with our lives, we confess our sins before God.  We agree with Him that our sin is wrong.  We trust Him to help us follow Him, and we rest in His righteousness and in His forgiveness of our sins.

That’s hard work!  There’s joy in knowing we’re forgiven, but the pain of daily repentance and the effort required to daily pursue God threatens us and entices us to turn away from Him, and live our lives like He does not exist.  But Christ has not left us that option.  He is Lord.  And those who fight sin and trust Him for the entirety of their lives will be saved, and will have a joy beyond compare in the life to come.  Let’s choose that life today.

This is not the popular way.  To renounce self and put my dependence on Christ and follow Him as Lord never has been and never will be popular.  The result of Jesus’ ministry was public execution.  The result of some missionaries’ preaching of this gospel is their death.  But will we be popular, or saved?  Will we be with the world, or with God?  Will we be famous and living the easy life, or struggling for the glory of God?

Will you choose death, or will you choose life?

Lord, may we choose you.  May we trust that you love us, that you save us, that you lead us, and that no matter how hard this difficult road gets, we won’t ever walk it alone.  May the gospel rid us of all fear and doubt and lead us to give our lives for your sake.  May you be glorified in the lives of those who choose to enter by the narrow gate and embark on the hard way.

God bless,

Neal E.