Today's post deals with a fundamental biblical truth that is essential for application. That truth can be summarized as follows:
We resemble what we worship, whether for ruin or restoration.
Think about it for a minute. Every kid growing up imitates someone they look up to. My kids love sports, so I constantly hear them say things like "Rondo goes behind the back, lays it up and in! What a shot by Rondo!" or "Pryor, sidesteps the rush, throws downfield to Posey, TOUCHDOWN!" The impulse to imitate does not stop once we reach adulthood. Have you ever noticed we tend to speak and act like the people we admire? People spend large sums of money to even dress like those whom they admire.
The reason for this pattern is that God has made us this way. By creating Adam and Eve in his image, God intended mankind to reflect his character in thought, word and deed (Genesis 1:26-31). By beholding God in submissive worship they would reflect his glory. But when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they usurped the rightful place of God as the sovereign King and placed themselves at the center of the universe (Genesis 3). In other words, they committed idolatry (cp. Romans 1:21-23). This act of rebellion, however, did not change the fact that man resembles what we worship. Notice, for example, what Psalms 115:3-8 (ESV) says:
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. 8 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
The psalmist warns against the worship of idols because inevitably those who worship them become like them. Because idols are spiritually blind, deaf and dumb, so those who worship them become spiritually blind, deaf and dumb. (See additionally passages like Psalms 135:15-18;Isaiah 6; Isaiah 44:1-20).
But there is a flipside to this reality. As we worship the one true God in Jesus Christ, we become like him. Although there are many texts that point in this direction, we will focus on just two. The first is 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV):
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Notice the progression. We as believers behold the glory of God himself in the face of Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 4:6), and as we behold that glory we are transformed so that we more fully reflect the very glory of Christ himself. The apostle John says something very similar in 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV):
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Notice the progression here. When Christ appears, we as his people will be like him, because we will see him as he truly he is. In other words, the vision of Christ is what will complete the transformation to complete Christlikeness. In light of this eschatological hope, in the present believers purify themselves just as Jesus is pure.
Thus at the heart of application is the fundamental truth that we resemble what we worship. As a result, application is first and foremost a reorientation of our whole lives to Christ, a commitment to see him for all his beauty and experience the transformation that comes from seeing his glory. It is not first and foremost a list of things to do or not do.
In the next post we will look at the necessity of recognizing "fallen condition" in the biblical text and identifying how that fallen condition shows up in our own lives.
POSTCRIPT: I wanted to point out two books that have been very helpful in my own thinking on this particular subject. While at Wheaton I had the privilege of learning from G.K. Beale, whose work in the area of the use of the OT in the NT is superb. As part of my Ph.D. program I was first exposed to this concept that we resemble what we worship. In fact, the wording of the quote at the beginning of this post is taken straight from him. A couple of years after I finished my degree at Wheaton, Beale published the book... entitled We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Worship. In this book, Beale walks through in extensive detail this biblical-theological thread from Genesis to Revelation and all points in between. To make this case Beale does detailed work in the Hebrew Old Testament, Greek Septuagint, Second Temple Jewish literature and the Greek New Testament. As a result, it is not something that is easily readable, although those who make the effort are richly rewarded with a firm biblical foundation.
For those who want a much more accessible and readable book that deals with this same subject, the place to look is the book by Tim Keller entitled Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. As the title makes clear, Keller singles out three particular forms of idolatry that are prevalent in our culture. With his characteristically clear and engaging writing style, Keller sheds light on how these forms of idolatry surface in our lives and offers Christ as the one who will truly satisfy. This is a book that I would not hesitate to hand to just about anybody, even those who are not naturally drawn to reading.