From the Head to the Heart is a blog series exploring common issues people may encounter that prevent them from experiencing God on a deeper level. We will then dig into strategies for helping make the connection between the head and the heart.
THE SUBTLE SLIDE
In his book, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry, Steve Gallagher writes about the spiral of degradation that occurs when one continues to engage in sinful behaviors. Gallagher points to the book of Romans (1:21-32) and what Paul has to say about the progression of sin once God is rejected and sinful desires are pursued.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.... And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Gallagher describes seven steps toward a downward spiral into sinful bondage.
Step 1: Failure to reverence and give gratitude to God
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…
Losing a reverent and worshipful spirit toward God is the first step in a downward spiral of degradation. There is a loss of a sense of adoration of God and how he’s saved us. What you are thankful and grateful for is what you will adore and worship. Paul Tripp, in his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, addresses how people are naturally worshipful beings, meaning if we are not worshipping God then we will find another “god” to worship. Do you know what god you worship? One clue is to look at how you spend your time, talents, and treasures. How your time is spent and what you spend your money on are two indications of what gods you worship.
Step 2: The Darkening Heart
Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
A growing sense of inner brokenness tends to lead people back to their previous sinful ways. A consequence of turning from God is backsliding, which inevitably leads to a greater distance from God, making the journey back more difficult and lengthy due to the sins one has to overcome. This is the process of turning to idols. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, writes, “what is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Examples of idols in our culture are money, power, sex, self-image, children, one’s profession, and intellect. One way to identify idols in your life is to examine where you invest most of your time and money. Whatever the source, where you spend most of your time and money points to what you are likely worshipping. And what you worship is what you idolize.
Step 3: The Suppression of Truth
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie…
The truth of our depravity is suppressed and lies replace truth. In essence, when you get to the point of suppressing truth you are believing lies - meaning you are living in a fantasy world you’ve created. The lies become your chains to which you are kept captive.
Step 4: Given Over to the Lusts of the Heart
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…
Gallagher writes, “the worst aspect of hell to be that a person is left to his own lusts with no possibility of satisfying them… The man driven by lust loses his reality.” The Creator knows what will satisfy the longings of his creations heart -- himself. However, his creation turns to created things to seek what only the Creator can provide.
Step 5: Given Over
For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
This is a scary idea to think about, God will give people up to the desires they pursue over him. God will give you over to what you desire. If you insist on continuing in your sin then God will eventually give you over to your sin by surrendering you up to the power of the enemy. For some, this act of being surrendered to one’s sinful desires is why one feels distant from God. Christian, do not be so naive as to think this does not apply to you. Many Christians grow impatient in waiting on the Lord and seek to take control -- i.e., be like god. They are given their “treasure” in this life, which is temporary and fleeting, only to lose the treasures gained in eternity.
Step 6: The Reprobate Mind
God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
Gallagher states,“to become reprobate means the person’s conscience has become hardened.” Just as God once hardened the heart and mind of Pharaoh despite the plagues that were cast upon Egypt, so now He gives us over to our hardened hearts and minds when we continuously pursue sin. Pharaoh viewed himself as a god, therefore idolatry contributed to his hardened heart. The same can be said about us when we worship the sin we pursue.
Step 7: Filled with all Unrighteousness
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Having settled into one’s sinful practices it is not uncommon to seek out others who also reside within the depths of such depravity. All touch with reality is lost and one is found living in a vacuum where the stench of death and decay fills one’s nostrils. Up becomes down and left becomes right, even though surrounded by death and decay those aromas appear sweet.
Gallagher paints a picture of the subtle yet dangerous slide that can occur when we turn from God as the sole source of our affections and rather seek to worship his creation rather than the Creator. Sin is serious stuff. God despises sin, therefore, we should despise sin. In order to know how great God is in forgiving us of our sins, through his son Jesus, we must be willing to stare at our depravity in the mirror. In doing so we will start to see ourselves as naked and ashamed. Resist the desire to cover yourself up. Rather, turn your gaze to Jesus and allow his righteousness to cover you. The greater we feel the depths of our depravity, the louder our cries of joy and praise will be toward Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for our sins.
If you feel distant from the Lord then there are some hard heart questions you must be willing to wrestle with. A few would be: Do you see yourself in any of the 7-steps above? Is sin the barrier that is keeping you from feeling closer to the Lord? Go to God and plead with him stating, “Search me, O Lord, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting!” - Psalm 139:23-24
A prayer for you: Holy God, I pray for my brothers and sisters reading this today. If sin has become a barrier in their way of being close to you then please bring that conviction to their hearts and minds. Lead them, through your Spirit, to turn back to you and away from any areas of sin that they desire and have chosen to worship. Let the depths of their depravity be felt so that their shouts of praise and worship toward your Son reach beyond the heavens. Settle their gaze upon Jesus and his finished works on their behalf so that their depravity is not the object of their gaze but rather Jesus is.
Exercise: A Process of Repentance
Tim Chester states, in his book 1 Samuel For You, "when we do not repent, our voice rules our life or we are ruled by the voices of other people. But when we repent, it is God’s voice that shapes our lives. That is the test: are we listening to the voice of God? Are we submitting to his word? Are we letting God’s word rule our lives? A repentant person is a listening person—a person who listens to the voice of God.”
We can sum up by saying that true repentance has the following characteristics:
An end to excuses. We face up to our guilt and responsibility rather than offering excuses for our sin. When someone’s description of their sin is punctuated with excuses, there is not true repentance.
A movement towards God. Repentance is turning back to God. It is more than frustration or shame with oneself. It is more than a concern for one’s reputation with others. It is God-ward in orientation. When someone talks about their shame or frustration but leaves God out of the picture, there is not true repentance.
A movement that results in action. True repentance leads to a change of life (2 Corinthians 7:10-13). When repentance does not lead to action, there is not true repentance.
Note: Repentance needs to end in praising and worshipping Jesus. A common mistake many Christians make is that they feel the weight of their sinfulness without looking to the radiant beauty of Christ. They are left feeling downtrodden and beaten. The weight of our sinfulness will cause us to sink to very low depths, however, the magnificent glory of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection will lift our voices from sounds of sorrow to songs of praise. Set your gaze upon Christ, and not-self, which will stir shouts of joy and praise.
Chester, T. (2 014). 1 Samuel for You.
Gallagher, S. (2007). At the Alter of Sexual Idolatry
Keller, T. (2009). Counterfeit Gods.
Tripp, P. (2002). Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Dr. Ruel Tyer is the Director of Care and Counseling for OneDay Counseling at Portico church. To learn more about OneDay Counseling visit the website - www.onedaycville.org. Dr. Tyer provides counseling services for individuals, couples, and families. If you are interested in learning more about counseling services please contact Dr. Tyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.