Saturday, November 22, 2014

Familial Idolatry and Christian Hedonism. What Are They and How Do They Relate?

Jesus's Call To Action

The world we live in today is wreaking of biblically selfish, destructive behavior that passes itself off as tolerant and loving.  Whether it be justifying separation and divorce or lobbying for toleration regarding homosexuality and gay marriage, all are being excepted as the norm.  Many in Christian circles dare not even speak to these things as it might be considered unloving.

People have struggles and are already down.  How dare we call out sin and challenge people to overcome it.  How dare we call people to biblical discipleship, if they consider themselves to be Christians.  And heaven forbid anyone should call us to account for our sin.  Oh no, "ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME", many will say.

Well I say that, even as so many are calling for love and toleration and are using Jesus's "red letter's" as their justification for it, that Jesus actually drew a harder line of expectation for sacrifice and obedience than most want to consider.  Let's see what He says.

  • Matthew 10:34-39 says:  Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  An a person's enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will loose it and whoever looses his life for my sake will find it.
  • Luke 14:26 says: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

Now why do I bring this up?  What does this have to do with Familial Idolatry and Christian Hedonism, which is what I titled this post?  "I don't even know what those words mean", you might say.  This is important because the joy and deliverance that is needed for so many is found in dealing with these very ideas.  Idolatry is actually at the root of many of the relational failures that we see in our day.  Looking for joy and satisfaction in all the wrong places is at the root of this idolatry.  It was for me.

I would ask that you stay with me and see where I go with this.  It may shed light on your situation.

What is idolatry?

Pastor John Piper, as part of the ministry of Desiring God, contributes to an app called "Ask Pastor John".  In this ministry people write or call in with question and he tries to answer them in usually 5-8 minutes.  He answers this question pretty effectively here.  I would encourage you to check it out, but in essence he uses Colossians 3:5-6 to flesh out the idea that idolatry is bound up in our most fleshly desires which kind of culminate in covetousness.  The gist is that God hates all the things listed in this passage and will pour out His wrath on these things.  Why?  The reason is essentially because He is a lovingly and righteously jealous God according to Exodus 20.  Jealous both for His greatest glory, as well as our greatest pleasure.

Anything that is prioritized above Him or steals from our ability to be entirely satisfied by Him is idolatry.

Familial Idolatry Steals God's Glory

Now, the reason that I started the way I did is to point out Jesus' stance on putting anyone in the family in a higher status of relationship than God.  Why is this important?

Often times we hear this thought process used in the name of not allowing love of family to supplant obedience to God regarding ministry, missions, church attendance, giving, serving others, etc.   And there is certainly a place for that.  I have certainly recognized that my own disobedience to God over the years has often come from that very inappropriate prioritization.

This would be the part of God's jealousy regarding idolatry that steals glory from Him.  For certain, there is a balance.  The whole of scripture puts great emphasis on love, respect, and selflessness within the family unit.  We are to minister to each other's needs and serve within the appropriate roles that are given us within the family.  We should all be sensitive to, not only whether we are loving God more than each other, but also in considering whether we are influencing another person's disobedience in the same way.

No matter how much we care for our loved ones, it must never trump our love and obedience to God. If this happens, we are then guilty of familial idolatry.

Familial Idolatry Steals Our Greatest Pleasure

It is John Piper who coined the phrase that is the summation of Christian Hedonism.  It goes like this,
"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."
Hedonism in and of itself is all about maximizing net pleasure in life.  It essentially makes an idol out of pleasure, causing it to be the end goal of much of our efforts.  Hedonism underlies most of what America is about, i.e. "the pursuit of happiness".  Happiness and pleasure are lumped together in this.

Christian Hedonism is all about pursuing our ultimate pleasure in God's glory.  Learning to be satisfied in Him when all else fails us.  The challenge is that we can still make that concept all about us.  The prosperity gospel twists this idea by making obedience all about the blessing.  It makes it all about what we are getting out of it.  At some point that comes up short because our goal is still too shallow and it puts the focus on our pleasure rather than on God's glory.

What really makes the idea of Christian Hedonism work comes when you gain an appreciation for all that God has done for you in Christ Jesus; and you become jealous for His name to be made glorious in your own life.  You decide, no matter what challenge you are facing and no matter how it works out, that you are going to pursue satisfaction in whatever give's God the most glory based on His word.  Even if it is not what you "think" you want.

If we are putting faith into action by striving to obey God's word and seek His glory, then that desire will inevitably drive our actions.  Let's take two examples:  marriage and parenting.


I believe that one of the greatest reasons for strife and ultimately divorce in marital relationships is this covetous idolatry and a lack of satisfaction in Christ when we are not getting our way in this covenant union.

James 4:1-2 says, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel."

One of the most common reasons quoted for divorce in this country is "irreconcilable differences".   One lawfirm suggests that 60 percent of divorces are for this reason.  They define most irreconcilable differences as, "any conflict that the couple cannot or does not want to resolve in order to save their marriage".

The root of this problem is two fold.  One, a given spouse elevates the other spouse to a place of need that they were not intended to meet.  They have often placed them on a pedestal.  Once that spouse drops the ball, then the offended spouse places all the blame on them for their own dissatisfaction and unhappiness.  This is where the idolatry becomes apparent.  The second problem is found in the misunderstanding of where ultimate joy, satisfaction and purpose must come from.

Granted, scripture teaches that marriage is a union and that we are expected to compliment each other through emotional and spiritual support and stability.  We are to provide some degree of satisfaction and met needs emotionally, physically and spiritually.  Because of sin these things are always in flux and there are times when needs are not met sufficiently.

Consequently, the spouse whose needs are not being met in any given area becomes frustrated and often embittered.  This is because that spouse is coveting satisfaction and often self-esteem in their spouse beyond what they were intended to provide.  They have placed far too much emphasis on a sinful individual for their total needs to be met rather than finding their identity and ultimate satisfaction in Christ.  On some level their purposes have been misdirected toward serving or being served from a man-centered perspective, rather than serving or being served from a Christ-centered perspective.

They then begin disobeying God in the way that they respond to their spouse's mistakes. They have idolized their spouse.  Because their spouse was the ultimate source of their joy instead of God, they begin feeling resentment, jealousy, bitterness, and anger.  However, because idolatry and covetousness corrupts slowly, we are often not aware of it.  We are blind to our own sinfulness and busy blaming our spouse for all of our problems.  Quite often, this leads to us responding in whatever way we feel serves us best, rather than considering what response best represents the gospel.


Similar challenges come with parenting.  Here, we are the authority.  Here, we have incredible amounts of affection, dependence and forgiveness being demonstrated toward us by our children. Then they begin to grow.  As they do, their own sinfulness becomes more and more apparent.  If we are not careful, we become embittered by their sinful behavior and we forget our own sinful behavior.

We idolize them because we get accustomed to their unconditional love and innocence when they are small.  Then as they get older and dare to begin being truly defiant toward our authority, we find ourselves not only challenged but feeling hurt as well.

We will find ourselves justifying what are truly impatient and unloving actions or words because we are the bosses.  We are the authority figures and we expect to be respected as such.  However, we are far to harsh and unkind far to often.

Must we discipline and correct?  Of course, but we must remember the loving kindness and patience that our Heavenly Father shows us as he guides and corrects us.  He continually reminds us of our need for Him and of the grace that He poured out on us through His Son Jesus Christ.

This is the example that we must set for our children.  We must help them to be aware, not only of their own sinfulness, but of ours as well.  We must teach them that we have the same tendencies to disobey our Heavenly Father as they do to disobey us.

We must make parenting about teaching them to depend on God's grace for their own obedience just as we must. We must teach them that, no matter how often they fail, we love them and so does God.  We must teach them that their eternal security does not depend on their righteousness, but on Christ's.  We must point them to prayer and the study of God's word for their success in obedience.  We must teach them to desire God's glory to be made manifest in their own lives, that their joy may be made complete in Him(John 15:10-11).

A Firm Foundation

In reality, the problem in both of these relational situations is that we forget whom the ultimate object of our affection and satisfaction should be.  We forget from whom our purpose flows.  It does not matter if it is a spouse, child, Mom, Dad or anyone else of significance in our lives.  Everyone in our lives will fail us because everyone in our lives is a sinner.  

The only perfect person was Jesus Christ and He is the only one whom we should be looking to.  If we do that, then no matter what else happens, our world only comes crashing down so far because our foundation is built on Christ.  He is the only one who has died for our sins. He is the only who has never forsaken us.  


If we allow any action of a family member to affect our obedience to God, they have become an idol. If we allow disappointment or frustration with a family member to rob us of our ability to find sustaining joy in our Savior, they have become an idol. 

If you seek God' s glory first and foremost, even over your own satisfaction, then you will crucify your emotional, physical, and psychological turmoil and you will obey the word in spite of the trial. Ultimately you will find your situation being rescued because you kept God in the drivers seat rather than taking matters into you own hands.

"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!"

I pray your joy is made completed in your obedience to Christ.


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