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Throughout its history, God’s people have continually struggled with the influence that the godless cultures in which they lived had upon them. Idolatry. Sexual impurity. The murder of children. In the Old Testament, from the beginnings of Israel, it wasn’t long before there was little real difference between it and the surrounding culture. Before the Lord delivered them from slavery in Egypt, He said to them,    

“‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.’ But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:7–8).1

The rest of Ezekiel chapter 20 reveals that Israel and Judah never ceased to worship idols, even after all the amazing things the Lord had done, which they had seen with their eyes.

They also put their trust in evil political and national powers rather than trusting in God. After allying himself with the terrible king of Israel, Ahab, the Lord confronted the otherwise good king Jehoshaphat.

“Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned in safety to his house in Jerusalem. But Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him and said to King Jehoshaphat, ‘Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the LORD. Nevertheless, some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Asheroth out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God’” (2 Chronicles 19:1–3).   

These cultural compromises made sense to God’s people at the time. But the Lord sent prophets to turn His people back to Himself. They rejected them.

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Acts 7:51–52a).

I can’t help but see parallels for God’s people today. We struggle with being overcome by the cultures in which we live. We flirt with idolatry. No, we don’t make little idols out of wood and gold to which we make sacrifices, but there are things that we make our ultimate goals other than Him. Money, of course, is always a concern. But what about comfort, pleasure, and security? What about children? How are we any different than the surrounding culture? To what extent have we been compromised?

More than we know, I think.

What frightens me is how God may deal with us. He loves us so deeply that He will not allow us to pay homage to the idols of the surrounding society. I love the United States, but it is extremely important for us Christians to know that government is not the answer for our national problems. No matter how many laws we pass, programs we launch, or foreign alliances we make, such solutions are not the remedy. If we think these things are the answers, we will be like God’s people in the Old Testament who trusted in political and national powers, rather than in God. He will deal with us as severely as He dealt with them.

We must endeavor to make knowing, serving, and loving God the ultimate goal of our lives, more than our families, more than our wealth, safety, and security.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38).

We are commanded to love Jesus more than we love our own lives and everything else in this dark, present world. There is only one way to get this kind of love because we cannot muster it up in ourselves by our own strength—we must ask for it.

This process of the loving denial of all that is worldly will take all our lives long. That’s okay. He is forming Himself in us by His grace and mercy. That wonderful work takes time.

1Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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