The Idol of Self Will


Continuing our series on the high places we put into our hearts. Our previous lessons might have been easy for us to go through — physical idols, the high places of past times, and the problems with false teachers. Those are easy for most of us to look at and say we have little attraction to those. This week, we’re going to look at something a little more personal and one we might have a hard time admitting — the idol of self.

Recognizing Our High Places

Of the better kings of Judah, we can find many that did pretty well in the Lord’s sight, but they failed to take down the high places. We too can be a Christian for years and years, and we can keep our high places. When there is something wrong in our lives that we simply cannot let go, we are failing to truly worship God in our lives. We may be doing many things right, but we may still have high places hidden in our hearts.

These can be the type of entertainment we choose when we’re away from worship. The way we speak, the addictions we allow, the desires we give in to, hatreds we continue to hold, possessions we prioritize — these and more speak to our challenges in truly denying self and putting God in the highest place in our lives. We can’t be acceptable to God on our terms; we have to live by His.

Distractions from God

Back in the Old Testament, we can read about Hezekiah tearing down places of ungodly worship. King Josiah did the same, and these two kings are spoken of more highly than any others. It’s because they took that extra step. Not only did they restore Jehovah worship, but they removed those other gods that distracted from the Lord.

What distracts you from God? What do you hold so dearly in your heart that it can take precedence over God in how you conduct yourself? Getting rid of these things begins and ends with self denial. Being a Christian is not a token effort; it is a commitment that redefines everything about us. This means we give up things that were once important. It may even damage relationships, but none of those things can come before God.

Everyday Choices

We make the choice every day. Think about what Joshua says to the children of Israel in Joshua 24:15. He calls on them to choose. Choose this day who you will serve. Stop waiting for some indeterminate day in the future to make that choice. Choose now to put God first on all things, and then let that choice change you. Let it move you to completely tear down your idols, deny self, and follow Him.

Deuteronomy 30:15 records Moses telling the people how serious this choice is. It is a choice between spiritual life and spiritual death. We may never see the consequences of our choices in this life, but this life will affect the next. Because Moses put himself first when he and the people were wandering in the wilderness, he missed out on a physical promise. Putting ourselves first in this life can cause us to miss something bigger than Moses was working toward.

Will we let addictions keep us from God — whether they are as obvious as drugs and alcohol or less overt things like hatred, social media, or lust? Do we let our physical appearance consume our interests? What about the forms of entertainment we pursue or the language we allow ourselves to use? Does our job or our financial future distract us? No matter the justifications we make, the fact is that we are putting self before God in many of these situations.

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. When we make those everyday choices about how we spend our time and resources, we decide who and what we are serving. Let’s be self aware, so we can practice true self denial and remove the high places that continually distract us from God. It begins with recognizing the role we play in distracting ourselves from God, and then it takes effort and sacrifice to completely deny self to put Him in the highest place.

lesson by Steve Jones

Picture Scripture: James 4:7


Today’s passage is from James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

In our spiritual struggle, our greatest defense is simple solidarity. Submit to God, push back against temptation, and our adversary will eventually relent. The most damaging thing we can do to the devil is to say, “No.”

What makes this such a difficult solution is that saying “no” to temptation sometimes means saying “no” to self. And we don’t like doing that. If we are truly submitting to God, however, we have died to self and to sin. Self-control and self-denial are parts of that.

The simplest solution can sometimes be the hardest. Let’s practice standing firm, saying “no” to sin, and the devil will lose his influence over our lives.

Resisting the Spirit

girl sitting in the sunset

We’ve spent several lessons talking about letting the Holy Spirit rule our lives, and what the fruit of the Spirit looks like in action. We’ve talked about yielding to the Spirit and giving control over to our God. The truth is, though, that we so easily resist the Spirit and try to do things our way. We want to live by the flesh as outlines in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Resisting the Spirit – The Challenge

Academically, we all know that living by the flesh makes it impossible to please God, as Paul points out in Romans 8:6-8. The problem is that, in the moment, the satisfaction that can come from fleshly living can be a more powerful motivator than Spirit living. We know when we are walking into a bad situation and choosing to sin, but the immediate payoff is strong. We are lying to ourselves if we deny that a life of sin can look more compelling at a glance.

Resisting the Spirit can help us succeed financially. We don’t feel so beholden to such strong ethics on how we make money, nor will we be spending time at church when we could be working. We can talk ourselves into ignoring the guilt sinful behavior should bring, and such living can simply seem more fun. We’re gaining instant gratification for whatever passions we choose. The temptation to simply give up self-control makes Spirit living a challenge.

Resisting the Spirit – The Results

Unfortunately, living with less control can lead to consequences in this life. While there may be immediate gratification for giving in to temptation, it can also lead to pain in the long run. How many marriages break up because one partner or the other fails to exercise self-control? How many relationships are in ruin because one partner or the other simply will not put others before self? Lack of contentment and self-control can also lead to debt and financial ruin.

We can talk about statistics surrounding unplanned pregnancies, broken homes, prison recidivism rates and other crime statistics. We can point to anecdote after anecdote of the effects sin has on lives and homes, but the biggest problem is that such living separates us from God. And the farther we get from God, the harder it can be for us to return. By no means does such sin make it difficult for God to restore us. He can restore anyone who is guilty of anything. Where it gets difficult is within our own hearts.

A Father Who Forgives

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

– Romans 8:12-17

Our hope in the Spirit is this: we have a God who loves us as children and wants to restore us to Him when we fall. He has made the way open to us to live like Him, we have but to let the Spirit into our lives through His word. If we live by the Spirit, we will bear fruit that will enrich our lives and the lives of those around us, and every day brings us closer to our God.

lesson by Aaron Kadel