Bearing Fruit? Or Fashioning Idols?
Have you ever asked God to show you what you’re really like? Are you ready to see for yourself all that God already sees? I mean all of it – not just the good but also the bad and the ugly?
Can you ask God to show you the real you? After all, 1 John 5:14-15 promises He will give you whatever you ask according to His will, and why wouldn’t it be to let you see what He sees? Are you ready for that?
I’m reminded of the story at Luke 18:9-14 where Jesus contrasts the prayers of a prideful Pharisee and a humble publican. Pharisees in His day were a pious sect of the religious priesthood who enforced the Jewish people’s adherence to the Law of Moses. Publicans were tax collectors, considered traitors because they were Jews working for the detested ruling Roman government. Notice these differences Jesus points out between the two men:
Posture of Prayer: The prideful Pharisee stood. The humble publican stood “afar off” with his eyes looking down, and he beat his breast.
Content of Prayer: The prideful Pharisee boasted, “I’m not a sinner like other men…I fast regularly…I tithe…”. The humble publican first acknowledged that he was a sinner, and then asked for forgiveness and mercy.
Result of Prayer: The prideful Pharisee went home unjustified. The humble publican went home justified.
Jesus concluded (verse 14), Everyone who exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
James 1:22-25 talks about how hearing but not also living by God’s Word is the same as taking a quick glance in a mirror and then immediately forgetting what you really saw, distorting your own perception of yourself.
Don’t we all hold up little compact mirrors to ourselves, just small enough to reflect only what we want to see? It’s easy to focus just on our good parts and then magnify them to ourselves, other people, and even to God. And aren’t the mirrors we hold up to others a lot bigger?
If your good parts are really good, then yes, even God is pleased. But pride makes you think disproportionately more, and more often, about yourself than you deserve. And it shows. You are preoccupied with appearing better than other people, often to the point of magnifying their faults and weaknesses just so you can build up yourself. You also measure your importance by the things of the world, such as popularity or material gain, more than by the things of your Heavenly Father (1 John 2:15-17), such as His unmerited favor.
Mark 7:20-23 reinforces the problem with pride, that the heart of a prideful person is what produces the evils that spoil him and ultimately lead to his shame. That’s why God hates it.
Since we all are tempted by pride to one extent or another and have all been guilty of it at one time or another in one way or another, we need to be like that humble publican and recognize it in ourselves, confess it and work to change it. And to ask your Heavenly Father, “Lord, show me what I’m really like” – now that’s a good hard look in a full-length mirror! God stands ready to do just that – to show you what you’re really like, with His pruning shears in hand!
You see, Jesus is the True Vine, we believers are the branches of that Vine, and the Heavenly Father is the Gardener (John 15:1-8; I encourage you to read this beautiful but sobering passage). Here’s what the True Vine says about our Heavenly Gardener in verse 2: He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
Part of what God wants to reveal and cut down in you are any areas of idolatry taking up space in your heart, mind and life.
In New Testament scripture, an “idol” is “an image, a phantom; an image in the mind, and then, the image of a god” (A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, E.W. Bullinger; Kregel Publications; Grand Rapids, MI; 1908, 1999; p.395). In Webster’s dictionary, “idolatry” is blind or excessive adoration or devotion (www.Merriam-Webster.com).
Hmm. So idols are first formed in the mind, and then nurtured in the heart.
Well, God wants to cut them down. They spoil you and ultimately lead to your shame.
Historic accounts particularly in the Old Testament show that idols were actual symbolic icons of various God-made creatures such as animals or humans, formed out of God-made materials like gold and silver, shaped by the hand of men, originating out of their own imaginative inclinations and not from God who said, You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them… (Exodus 20:3-5a).
With that in mind, when asking God to show you the real you, ask yourself who’s really got a hold of the cutting tool. Is it God using His gardening shears to prune you to better spiritual health so that you can bear more fruit for His glory? Or are there also craftsman’s tools in your own hands, giving more and more idolatrous shape to any selfish or carnal feelings, ideas and ambitions of your own creation, or any popular celebrities, personalities, trends or other worldly distractions?
While God’s trying to prune you, are you also making icons? Are you bearing fruit, or fashioning idols?
You may not worship graven images of false, lifeless gods carved from wood, molded from clay, hewed from stone, or refined from fired gold. But maybe you’ve nurtured your desires, attitudes and habits about things and other people to the point that they’ve become like a god to you – a phantom image fashioned into an idol in your heart and mind, taking up space that should be completely devoted to Jesus Christ.
We all should recognize and then repent from all those ugly things that lurk beyond the surface of what we allow ourselves and others to see in us. Things such as pride, vanity, material gain, personal success, envy, resentment, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness; disproportionate devotion to people, trends or habits; or even pain, shame and sin – all the things we unwittingly build up like idols standing in the way of our devotion to and living for our awesome Heavenly Father.
When you’re ready to ask God to show you what you’re really like, be ready for Him to show you what “idols” He wants to cut down in you. Like an attentive and careful Gardener, His purpose is to improve you and nurture you so that you can truly flourish and bear lots of fruit, to His glory.