Sin has ugly consequences that we often don’t experience until we begin to fight them. Sin is the fruit of some underlying idol. This has always been the case. God created Adam and Eve to worship and serve him, as well as to rule over creation (Gen. 1:26-28). But the consequence of the fall was to reverse the created order. Rather than serve God, men served themselves. Tim Keller says,
Instead of being God’s vice-regents, ruling over creation, now creation masters us. We are now subject to decay and disease and disaster. The final proof of this is death itself. We live for our own glory by toiling in the dust, but eventually we return to the dust—the dust “wins” (Gen 3:17–19).
We also need to recognize that we are always worshiping something. If we are not worshiping God, we are worshiping ourselves, someone else, or something else. We are created to worship God, but sin causes us to worship everything except God.
Since we must worship something we create miniature gods (idols) for ourselves to worship. Something else Keller points out is that worship is always connected to service. We cannot worship something without also serving it. We begin to devote ourselves to the object of our worship.
The idol occupies our thoughts when we lie down and when we wake up. When we worship our career, spouse, or reputation those pursuits start to define who we are. We give all of ourselves to the pursuit of our idols. They become precious to us.
This also works with our worship of God. When we worship God we become more like him. We cannot define ourselves apart from him and a progressive change begins to take place.
One of my favorite pictures of all of this is found in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis. Eustace, who is Lucy and Edmund’s cousin, is a spoiled and greedy boy who continually complains. He finds himself in Narnia aboard the Dawn Treader along with the normal crew.
At one of several stops made by the ship, Eustace wanders away from everyone else and finds a cave where he sees a dragon die. When Eustace enters the cave he realizes he is surrounded by treasure. He immediately begins contemplating how he can get all of this treasure onto the ship without anyone else noticing (as he has no intention of sharing).
However, upon getting lost in his thoughts, Eustace falls asleep laying down on top of his treasure. When he wakes up, he discovers that he has turned into a dragon. He has his treasure, but he’s completely alone and miserable.
Later on, at a time when Eustace is particularly vulnerable, Aslan (Christ) appears and leads Eustace to a well with marble steps. Eustace describes the experience:
The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
The the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty moldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – (with his paws?) – Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.
Eustace had become what he worshiped. When greed and selfishness had overcome him, he turned into a greedy monstrous dragon. It took the miraculous work of Aslan to restore him. Aslan alone could change him. Although Eustace was a new person, he continued to struggle with sin. The remembrance of his dragon suit would not go away. The struggle with greed and selfishness remained.
But here’s the difference. Aslan had defeated the dragon. Eustace was no longer a slave to greed, he was no longer bound by selfish ambitions. Eustace was no longer defined by dragon-like descriptions. And whenever he reverted back to those traits, all he needed to do was remember what Aslan had done for him. He had been rescued from the misery and isolation that his sin had caused.
No idol comes to our rescue. God alone rescues us like only he can. The only way any of us can overcome our idols is to be overcome by the gospel. That’s how believers are changed!