Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair” by David Powlison presents fundamental ideas in how Christians understand sin and sanctification. As a theologian, psychologist, and Christian, Powlison merges the functions of pastoring and counseling.
While there does need to be a healthy awareness among pastors of issues they can and cannot handle, there should also be an emphasis among pastors of guiding and giving spiritual direction and counsel. The question then becomes, “How does the gospel impact my everyday life and how can I effectively battle sin?” This is the work of counseling. (For more on this, see Powlison’s book The Pastor as Counselor).
In his article, Powlison begins with the question, “How is sin more than just bad behavior?” He references 1 John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Scripture refers to sin as idolatry and this is the greatest problem that Scripture addresses.
Who Or What Rules My Behavior?
Idolatry is more than outward behavior management. Idolatry impacts our hearts and who or what we inwardly worship which is not always outwardly obvious. Yet temptations to sin can come from outward stimulation or inward thoughts and emotions. Sin stems from the belief that God is not enough – that we need something in God’s place to be happy. This is idolatry.
Who am I worshiping in my heart? God? Or a substitute? What are my perceived needs? The answers to these questions will determine who is ruling your heart.
We often think of idols as ways to justify the means to an end. We want something, and we use that means to achieve that goal instead of relying on the providence of God. Is Jesus a means to an end, or is he the end in and of himself?
What Can Christians Offer?
When it comes to heart work, Powlison addresses what Christians can offer others that non-Christians cannot. Non-Christians can only address symptoms. Christians, by the Holy Spirit, can address the underlying heart issues that manifest themselves in outward behaviors and get to the root of sin.
A weed growing in a garden must be pulled out by the root or else the weed will grow back. The same is true of sin and the heart. When the root (heart) issue is not dealt with, that sin issue will continue to grow back.
What Does Change Look Like?
True biblical change is a change in what and who we worship. This comes through beholding the face of God through Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). If the gospel is applied at the deepest heart level, there will be drastic outward change. At the same time, sanctification (the process of change) is a process and will only be completed when we are with Christ in eternity.
For true change, the authentic gospel is the only answer.
Brittany Proffitt lives in Dallas and is a writer and content manager for So We Speak.