“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.””— Exodus 32:1 (ESV)
Have you heard about the ‘Devil’s Trinity’? I first heard the phrase from Dr. Steve Brown when he was teaching through Romans 5, as part of his series “The Roman Road to Grace” about two years ago. The Devil’s Trinity is: fear, guilt and shame. Those are the three bullets in his gun.
Let me tease this out for you: guilt happens internally, inside one’s heart. When that guilt flows from inside us and out into community, it becomes shame. Shame in the eyes of others will then breed fear. Then out of fear, we will devise a self-salvation project to ‘conquer’ this fear.
That is how addictions are born. Because at the heart of every addiction is a deeper addiction to self-salvation. We do what Sports Company Nikesays, “Just do it!” An addiction is when we take matters into our own hands in order to atone for our sin by doing more, trying harder or getting better.
The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther once wrote:
“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.”
We need not go far. Let us look at the simple things like the need for respect. Gerhard is my guy, for the first time, he goes to bible study on Tuesday evening. He sees some great sports cars in the parking lot. Since he doesn’t have one, guilt sets in and Gerhard starts feeling inferior to everyone else.
He will then in the coming weeks look at his not having a sports car as shame. He will conceive in his head thoughts of being belittled, thinking that everyone in the bible study group is talking about him and his lack of a sports car. When he sees a group of three men having a chat and laughing, he thinks they are laughing about his ‘situation’.
Now in order to save his skin, Gerhard will get to work. He will do more, try harder and even try to get better. He will put in some extra hours at work, get to work before anyone else, stay up late or even get a night part-time job.
What is driving Gerhard is not the sports car, don’t be fooled. It is his craving for respect and approval in his bible study class. He is addicted to respect and approval that he will do anything to earn it by his sweat, blood and tears. And we can now officially call Gerhard an addict. At least am not alone, phew!
Addictions are deeper than we can dare imagine. There is no such thing as addiction to money, you are only addicted to what that money can get you: power, control, honour, identity, approval etcetera. There is no such thing as addiction to sex, you are only addicted to what the sex can get you: it may be a sense of fulfillment or something else, I don’t know.
Satan is not a fool. He is the master of cover-ups. He knows, just like God, that we are since Adam a generation of do-it-yourselfers. He knows that we will try to fix our addictions with therapy and life coaching or self-help, so he hides our addictions beneath layers and layers of even stronger addictions.
Our past sins haunt us. But the thought of those sins being brought to light even drives us bananas. Yet, every soul under the sun longs for justification—and the forgiveness of sins. Regardless of where we go to find that justification, everyone longs for it.
Someone, I don’t know who, has said that when a man knocks at the door of a harlot, they are looking for God. And it’s true, because what they are looking for in the golden calf—in this case the harlot—only God can provide.
Our hearts deep down shout “Maranatha”—come back Lord and put things back in order (Romans 8:22-23). Every one of us.
The gospel is the announcement of Good News. A huge banner stands over the hill, against the hurling winds, reading: “It is finished”, and inviting everyone to rest under that very banner. You are loved, forgiven (even your sin of endlessly curving gods of just about anything), justified, approved of and accepted by God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for you.
It is an announcement that God has taken matters into His own hands and dealt with the Devil on your behalf (Col. 2:15). That you don’t have to look for justification and atonement for your sin in mere created things which can’t guarantee life. That your forgiveness can’t be bettered by rightdoing, spoilt by wrongdoing or taken away by stains of sin. You are in forever! (Romans 8:38-39).
God now bids you take the gift of free salvation. Open it and gaze on it daily as you are reminded that everything you need, in Christ Jesus alone you already have. The pressure is off, let the rest set in. IT IS FINISHED.
That is your Lifeline, AMEN.