The Success Trap: Imitation and Idolatry

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Editor’s note: At the end of January 2020, believers from around the world gathered at KL2020, a gospel conference in Malaysia. We are pleased to share on our blog the voice of those who spoke at KL2020. Here, a Chinese pastor answers an audience question about the temptation to pursue and worship a successful life, a common idolatry trap for urban Christians in China.


Moderator: Urban people aspire to and actively pursue a certain model of life that they see as successful. Even Christians inevitably move towards this idealized life, and consequently form idols in their hearts. How can we avoid or identify such idolatry traps?

Wang Jianguo: In Genesis, God created man to imitate. After he created Adam and Eve to subdue the earth, he told them to rest. As God rests, so we also rest in him. At the time of creation, we were God’s children, so we imitated God and followed him in resting. God himself does not need rest, so when he rested, God was actually stopping his work of creation and beginning his works of providence. He calls his children to worship and have satisfaction in him.

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“Idol worship happens because we have a wrong view of God or because we follow an antichrist…You can avoid the trap of idolatry through the process of sanctification. If you are practicing the right way of worship, you will naturally have a very keen sense of discernment.

We are imitators. People can build a successful life in many ways; by mimicking the well-regarded elements of dominant culture, or by imitating less popular elements of this same culture. When they see possibilities for success, people are then easily influenced. The elements of this culture produce an effect wherever they are implanted.

The world manufactures and neatly packages success stories. We then naturally consume and believe these stories, because our dissatisfaction comes from our separation from God. Preachers will never lose their jobs, since people will never be satisfied. Most people aren’t clear about what to do with their lives, so they just follow cultural trends and define success according to these trends. Both the church and the world have their own versions of success. You need to carefully identify which one is your God.


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We Are Deceived by Our Own Desires

An author once said, “When a man knocks at the door of a prostitute, he is ultimately searching for God.” This may seem quite a stretch. How could a man’s search for a prostitute become a search for God? The underlying reason for this man’s search is his dissatisfaction. You and I can both be deceived by idols. The Bible speaks directly as to how we can avoid this.

For example, Paul says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We cannot understand why John emphasizes not loving “the world or the things in the world” unless we truly understand the “desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” of this present generation. We must also understand our three deepest enemies: the world, the devil, and our own sins. Every single person is an imitator, naturally created to follow what they love. Humans often involuntarily follow something without having any understanding of the reasons they do certain things. 

For example, when you drive home, you can do so without even thinking. If your wife has not asked you to stop, then you automatically turn on your music and drive on autopilot. Home is your destination; your wife’s requested stop is an interruption. In a similar way, we naturally gravitate toward our own wants and desires unless our hearts and minds are interrupted by the renewal of the gospel.

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“People today are imitators: we imitate and unknowingly follow the trends of the world. You must do the opposite, and have a life of reflection.

Avoid Idolatry by Right Worship

Asking how to avoid idolatry traps is almost like asking how to interpret 1 John. At the end this letter, John says: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Many people think this exhortation is disconnected from the two topics John addressed earlier in the letter: his exhortation to the church regarding love for God, and the necessity to recognize heresies. However, this final exhortation to keep oneself from idols is related to the previous points. Idol worship happens because we have a wrong view of God or because we follow an antichrist. When the antichrist comes, he will deny the incarnate Christ. Consequently, false doctrines, the ideologies of this world, and then the devil all come and form an invisible battle line. You can avoid the trap of idolatry through the process of sanctification. If you are practicing the right way of worship, you will naturally have a very keen sense of discernment. 

But if you are dissatisfied or don’t live in a posture of worship, and you don’t see the evil of this generation in the last days, then you may waste your time online. You may not be watching pornography, but it is quite easy to waste two hours on the Internet. You are killing time, not redeeming it; many things you see online are actually corruptions of our culture. 

How do you rest?  It is very important for Christians to find their daily renewal in reading Scripture and in prayer. Second, you should set aside a half-day every week or month to be quiet and reflect. This is what the Puritans and many pastors teach. There is also a need to be quiet. People today are imitators: we imitate and unknowingly follow the trends of the world. You must do the opposite, and have a life of reflection.


FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Christians in China to imitate Christ, not the world.

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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Nanjing: A Welcoming City of Newcomers
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Nanjing: A Relational Gospel
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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