Monday, December 08, 2008

Tasting honey: Riffing on Keller on the way to losing our grip on idols

Somewhat inspired by Tim Keller at All Souls last year, at 'The Evangelists Conference'. We find Jonah in Jonah 1v17-2v10. He's run from God and ended up in the bottom of the Med.

What keeps us from doing what God calls us to do? (in Jonah’s case: evangelism – obviously applicable to a Christian Union too). Not fear but idolatry. Jonah ends up ‘dead’ because he ran – and the problem is not fear (as we see later) but rather idolatry. At a point of apparent repentance we confesses that: “Going after idols is to forfeit grace” (Jonah 2v8) and that the FX of this has been to cut him off from the presence of God (ch2), for you cannot worship God and idols.
There is then but one true religion, the religion which God has taught us in his word. We must also notice, that men in vain weary themselves when they follow their own inventions; for the more strenuously they run, the farther they recede from the right way, as Augustine has well observed. Calvin
Why does this change things? Jonah is sent on mission to pagan idolators of Nineveh (ch1), but to get there he has to be confronted with his own idolatry – something that makes him prefer death to mission.

Initially we might think it hard to spot an idol – few of us have blocks of stone or wood in the corner of our bedrooms that we physically bow down to. But, we all worship something. Here’s a test you can discern from Jonah . When his idolatry is exposed in chapters 1 and 4 as he goes into ‘death wish’ mode. What’s your nightmare? When you play “would you rather” what is the something in “death or something” that makes you choose death? Idolatry is always about having something more important than Jesus.
Might be that you don’t actually want certain people to end up in the CU or your church...
Might be that you don’t want to risk embarrassment…
Might be wanting to be accepted...
Might be not wanting to ask for help...
Might be you don’t want the inconvenience…
Might be you prefer comfort and security and that you value that above the salvation of friends, course-mates etc. If you’re not on mission then idolatry will be the problem in one form or another – and those who cling to idols forfeit grace.

How can we end up doing what God is calling us to? Knowing this might mean you try harder to overcome idolatry. But, that’ll only depress and kill you for you cannot kill your idols. In fact, your sinful heart (and mine) loves to make idols. Calvin said our hearts are ‘idol factories’. Production has to be halted, but how?

The key is found in Jesus who himself preached Jonah 2. He says Jonah 2 is a picture of his death and resurrection. As in, Jonah ‘dies’, three days in a fish, vomited to new life… And likewise, Jesus dies, three days in the grave, rises to new life. A very simply analogy! Notice Jonah went through it for his own idolatry, and Jesus did it because of ours. This gives us the shape of a Christian life. It’s not just lifestyle it’s a matter of ‘being’. Death to our idolatrous life, and resurrection into new life. Not pick up new habits. Not reform your ways. Not get religious. The shape of Christian life is DEATH and RESURRECTION. And then all that’s left is to confess that ‘Salvation belongs to the LORD’ (2v9) a song we’ll sing in eternity of Jesus. In Jesus we die to idolatry. In Jesus we rise to a life in which saving grace is ours.

Some have never died – still clinging to idols. You need to die in Jesus and live for the first time. Jesus died and rose and invites you to own that death for yourself, and so also to own his resurrection. Death and resurrection are the way to grace. Some have gone back to clinging to idols – you need to die to those things and live. That’ll free you for mission and get you back on what Jesus is calling you to. See the salvation of Jesus and repent.

And this too is the message of our mission– not just, ‘Add Jesus to your life’. But rather ‘your old life has to die and a new one has to begin’. Some people wish that could happen – question is whether they’re prepared to let go of their idols and take hold of Jesus. Whether they consider that to be a good trade. That requires death and life, it requires seeing the extreme worth and sweet taste of the gospel of Jesus. Jonathan Edwards says, in A Divine and Supernatural Light:
There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness....There is a wide difference between mere speculative rational judging any thing to be excellent, and having a sense of its sweetness and beauty. The former rests only in the head, speculation only is concerned in it; but the heart is concerned in the latter. When the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension. It is implied in a person's being heartily sensible of the loveliness of a thing, that the idea of it is sweet and pleasant to his soul; which is a far different thing from having a rational opinion that it is excellent.
Those who continue to cling to idols only know, those who release their grip and take hold of Jesus truly taste, they gain the grace of God, they sing: salvation belongs to the LORD.

Update: relatedly, Marcus suggests "Bible Enjoyed" - a concept that will be foreign to us if we don't have the language of affections in our Christianity.
PS: I've mostly been taking my honey mixed in with lemsip over the last few days. Thankfully recovering.


  1. Thanks for this post Bish. My parents aren't Christians and i am really cowardly when it comes to trying to talk about Jesus with them. This is convicting and encouraging.

  2. Dudley Hall says's "A famine is a blessing, God does whatever is necessary to expose and eradicate your idols." It seems the idolatry of my country (USA) is being exposed. Dudley said, "Idols are those things that make life work without absolute dependence on God." Thanks for the post.

  3. Oh by the way, Dudley Hall is a Bible teacher from Texas and he shared these words at a conference I attended last weekend.

  4. "Salvation belongs to the Lord"
    The only way to turn my heart
    From the idols I love to grace
    That comes so freely in Christ