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.
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.
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.