Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2) New International Version
I’ve read several books on counseling that describe all people as addicts in some form or another. At first, I thought it ridiculous. But the authors (secular and Christian) agree on criteria for addiction that struck me as absolutely biblical: 1) a compulsive desire, 2) dependency, 3) attempting to bring relief from stress, and 4) little regard for consequences. Isn’t this how His Word describes slavery to sin? Sin’s euphoria seems to be in the synapses of muscle memory, trying to consume us from the inside out. The Christian authors went on to say that addiction is a contemporary euphemism for idolatry: searching for fulfillment in created things rather than in our Creator.
What does this have to do with fitness and sacrifice? When our body feels a “need‟ (see the section on “hunger‟) we tend to go to our addiction to relieve our stress. And all of us have idols that tempt us: food, exercise, work, etc. But look at the four elements of addiction again. God has designed us to be addicted to Jesus! Still, even the most faithful in His Body experience withdrawal symptoms when we give up our idols.
Sacrifice means giving up our “treasure‟. (Matthew 6:21) But who among us can easily do that? Jesus told the Apostles “it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25)
Knowing that each of us holds onto something, they replied “‟Who then can be saved!?‟ But Jesus answered, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.‟” (Luke 18:26-27) If you’re not sure what your idols are, read on. We need to be mindful of the devil’s schemes so we can give up the habits that are killing us. (1 Peter 5:8)
There are many ways to identify idols. Just ask yourself what most excites you when you have it and most scares you when you don’t. Take a look at your bank transactions to see how you’re “investing‟ in your happiness and security. How about where you go and what you do with your time when you’re stressed. Or make a list of your actions that have repeatedly damaged your important relationships, yet you’re still having difficulty giving them up. You get the picture.
Intellectually, a hot-head might know that blowing up only gets temporary results and will cause even greater damage later, but their body doesn’t want to give up the adrenaline rush and the physical release. A habitual liar may know that getting caught could destroy them, but their craving for even a brief good reputation is insatiable. A coffee-holic may know that caffeine only temporarily pacifies their enslaved nerves. And the junk food junkie can know that the high intakes of fat, salt, and sugar can send them to an early grave and still go to restaurant row to feed the fat roll growing around their waist.
So how do we sacrifice what we love? We have to find a greater love – a perfect Love. When we are convinced that the new love of our life is better than our old pacifiers, we will sacrifice our former ways in order to enjoy what truly satisfies – faithfully following Jesus. The Lord used graphic imagery in Matthew 5:27-30 to drive the point home: it’s better to have a partial body with Him than to have a whole body in hell. We know His statement is hyperbole since God’s Word promises His people perfected bodies when He returns (Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:39-53, Hebrews 1:10-12), but Jim Elliot, who was killed for his Christian missions work in Ecuador by the very people he had come to help is famous for having said, “he is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Our sacrifices in this life are nothing compared to the riches that we gain in Christ.
I’ll say it more specifically, before we will be willing to sacrifice the things that have weighed us down in our journey with Jesus we need to know how He is better than our former idols. This is why Paul takes the first eleven chapters of his letter to the church in Rome to describe in detail our need for God and His provision in Jesus death and resurrection. And then, in Romans 12:1 comes “THEREFORE, I appeal to you according to the mercies of God that you present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” If we’re to give up our former loves, we must know the detailed wonder and glory of our new Love.
Another motivation to giving up our idols is seeing the results in our relationships. God warns us against damaging our unity by holding onto “grey areas‟ that hurt the conscience of other believers. (Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10:23-33) You’ve seen it in the professing Christian who insists that all believers give up all alcohol and immediately stop smoking or another “brother‟ who demands to be free to drink and smoke whenever, wherever, and however they wish. These are unnecessary and hurtful points of division in His Body.
God designed our bodies to express and experience godly relationship with others. But idols can tempt our flesh with temporary pleasures that seem to fill a spiritual craving for a sense of control, joy, etc. Only God can fully satisfy us.
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