One of the biggest sins that I struggle with is the idolatry of materialism. I draw a great deal of comfort and contentment from the clothes that I wear and the way that I look. I often seek satisfaction in these things instead of finding it in God, and I’ve known this about myself for years.
Does that mean I have changed my ways, or at least resolved to do better in the future? Heck no! I like my cute shoes and I love going to Target like nothing else in this world, so even though the Bible seems to frown upon such a mindset, I’ve figured out a way to make it work. I can have my cake and eat it too.
You see the way I figure, the joy I derive from shopping isn’t really all that bad. Nevermind that it prevents me from tithing as generously as I might otherwise be able to, or giving as much to those in need. It’s not like I pay exorbitant amounts of money on designer clothes. I mostly shop at low end stores and I buy things on sale, so I’m actually getting a great deal. Some might say I’m being a good steward of my money. In fact, it’s not even really a sin, is it? I just to look cute, that’s all.
That is my thought process. Pretty godly, huh? But this is what has to happen whenever your lifestyle runs up against the grain of Scripture–one of of the two has to move. Something has to change, and it will either be our behavior, or it will be our belief. More often that not, it is my belief that is forced to adapt to my behavior.
And while I wish that I could say materialism is the only area in which I struggle, my compromising plays out in a variety of ways. Greed, pride, jealousy, gossip, hate–all of these sins are very much alive in my life, but I have excused them for “good reasons.” I will appeal to my freedom in Christ, or default to the reality of the world we live (ie. some of the Bible’s teachings just aren’t realistic in certain circumstances), rather than give up those vices.
The truth is that we want to live the way we want to live, and far be it from God to interfere. Many Christians live far more lavishly than they need while others are homeless on the street, but they reconcile their lifestyle by arguing that it’s permissible as long as they don’t “love their wealth.” I have seen husbands leave their wives for another woman, all because “God really just wants us to be happy.” I have heard people use offensive language when they really didn’t need to, all for the sake of bucking legalism. And as we have discussed in the last two posts, countless Christian couples engage in inappropriate intimacy, comforting themselves with the knowledge that they’re fine as long as they’re not having sex.
The list goes on and on, but this is what happens when we allow certain sins to take a foothold in our lives–our theology suffers. But why is this important? After all, theology is little more than abstractions, right? Does it even really matter?
The reason that a faulty theology becomes problematic is that it ultimately impacts the way we live out the Christian life. If we adjust our theology such that we are no longer convicted by our sins, then we have no motivation to change. And as a result, we no longer desire holiness the way we used to. Our discipleship is no longer radical because we are shaping our beliefs around our lifestyle, rather than shaping our lifestyle around our beliefs.
And you will see entire strands of Christian thought that have been impacted by this thinking. Strands that are heavy on God’s grace and weak on personal holiness often reflect this trend.
But you can also see this mindset in highly legalistic strands. Christians who believe in a practical works-righteousness will deny the grace that they see in Scripture, and instead proclaim a Gospel that is based upon what you do. They may not realize it, but they are so consumed with looking better than everyone else and basing their worth upon what they do that their theology has been impacted as a result.
That said, we need to take a hard look at our lives, and be honest about the sins that we may be rationalizing. Don’t ever deceive yourself into thinking that the one sin you refuse to surrender is no big deal. It actually says a lot about how you view God, how you respect the authority of Scripture, and it impacts the larger Church as a whole. I definitely need to keep that in mind the next time I wander into Target. I pray that God will change my heart, because the Lord knows I haven’t been able to do it myself!