Maybe you think you can’t relate to the Israelites when they fashioned a golden calf to worship. Moses, you may recall, was delayed in his meeting with God on the mountain, so Israel threw their jewelry together and—voila—created an idol. Their worship of this distorted god lasted less than a day before they were involved in a full-scale orgy (Exodus 32:6). Surely we’re not like that … right?
But the prophet Jeremiah tells us that this is actually a picture of what happens to all of us when we worship a false God. We become like what we worship: Israel “strayed so far from me …. They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (Jeremiah 2:5 NIV).
The counterfeit gods we create in our minds or for our hands distort the real God, which in turn distort us.
Moses’ absence made the Israelites nervous, and God’s past grace to them was not evidence enough of future grace. They tried to reduce God down to a single attribute, the one they felt like they needed at the moment: his strength.
But God can’t be reduced to a single attribute. His perfection is found in the totality and harmony of all of his attributes. He is infinite in strength and love and knowledge. And that means that just because he doesn’t do things on our timetable doesn’t mean he’s not working a good plan. He is infinitely compassionate but infinitely holy, which means he takes sin seriously even while making a way of escape.
Real, healthy spiritual growth comes from seeing and knowing God—all of him, not just part of him. When you focus on only one dimension of God—your favorite part—then you’ll grow in a deformed way.
For example: If your god is holy and just but not compassionate and gracious, then you will be judgmental and a mean religious person. But if your god is compassionate and gracious but not holy and just, then you’ll find yourself always going along with whatever culture finds acceptable, and you’ll call tolerable what God calls abominable.
If your god is not fully sovereign, then when something goes wrong, you’ll find yourself panicked. If your god is the sovereign ruler but not beautiful and all-satisfying in himself, then you’ll always find yourself yearning after sin and envious of what people outside the Christian faith “get to” enjoy.
If your god is the judge of sin but not the faithful, redeeming Father of the cross, then you won’t be able to shake the feeling that you’re condemned and need to prove yourself.
Real, healthy spiritual growth comes from seeing and knowing God—all of him, not just part of him.
A distorted view of God leads to a distorted spiritual life, which is why I say a lot in my book, Not God Enough, that nearly all our spiritual problems go back to a view of God that is too small.
St. Augustine said you can identify your wrong views of God by simply tracing worry, stress, and dissatisfaction in your life like smoke that will lead you back to whatever fire you built at the altar of the false god you’re worshipping.
So, I challenge you to do just that: Find the places of stress, anxiety, bitterness, or unrest in your life—the places where you are most tempted to sin—and trace them back to their source. I guarantee you they’ll come from a distorted view of God.
Do you feel insecure? Embrace the promises that Christ has chosen you and promised to make you sufficient for whatever task he assigns you.
Do you find yourself being judgmental? Embrace what the cross teaches you about how sinful you were when God saved you.
Are you not naturally generous? Think about the generosity God poured out on you when he saved you.
Are you materialistic? Think about how rich a treasure we possess in him and how little life’s treasures matter in light of that.
Paul Tripp says that you worship your way into sin, so you’ve got to worship your way out of it. This is why we encourage our church to start their prayer time with adoration: As you adore God, you are breaking the power of sin in your life and releasing in yourself a power for holiness. Out of adoration comes a maturation in the faith.
If you want to grow in the faith, quit fooling around with counterfeit gods that look like you. Embrace the God who is more compassionate, more righteous, more sovereign, and more beautiful than you could ever imagine.
And watch your faith soar.