Craving is where I live, but perfect food is what I long for.
The new birth brings with it a new appetite for Christ and the incredible gospel of his finished work for us. Many brand new believers experience an insatiable hunger for the Bible, a book that had previously been deadly dull or incomprehensible to them. The image of a baby wailing for milk at regular intervals fits this stage perfectly.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up in salvation…” (1 Peter 2:2).
But after a while we become as fickle as teenagers, craving junk food until it replaces the whole food goodness of the gospel. During Bible study our discussion took off as we shared our various guilty pleasures:
- binge watching Netflix
- getting a daily “people’s approval” fix
- trolling Face Book
- bargain hunting online or around town
We crave the wrong soul food and then hate ourselves for it. This sad reality affects us in several ways. It brings:
- confusion–how is this possible? I thought I was a new creation.
- discouragement–why does this keep happening? I feel so weak.
- despair–is there anything I can do about it? I’m literally paralyzed.
Can you relate?
Craving’s Hidden Benefit
Our struggle makes us want to hide in the closet. But we don’t need to. God already knows about this problem and has told us so through the apostle Peter. If we back up one verse from the “infants craving milk” verse, we find that Peter is not surprised by the problem of a spoiled appetite. He understands what causes it:
“Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).
No wonder we don’t long for milk. Have you ever tried to read your Bible while in the grip of envy? It’s tough to focus when you’re busy comparing yourself to a rival and coming up with schemes for self-improvement. Malice. Deceit. Hypocrisy. Slander. They’re all spoilers that make God’s word taste bland or bitter.
When Peter tells us to put them away, he gives us hope. He calls us to fight these cravings by the word of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. When we do, we begin to see the benefits of this messy struggle (Hungry, p. 103-104):
- It keeps us dependent.
- The struggle unites us with each other.
- It reminds us that God is our only Savior.
- The struggle dignifies us by calling us to participate in the fight.
Which one of these benefits encourages you right now?
Craving Reveals Idolatry
But just when we’re feeling a little bit encouraged, the news gets worse. Our cravings aren’t the whole problem. They point to a serious underlying cause–idolatry. The fact is I crave what I love, and at the moment of temptation, I love it so much that it rules me.
What I love at any given moment is my functional god. My theology might not have changed, but my life shows that another god is on the throne, ruling my will by stealing my love away from the true God who deserves it.
“The problem of idolatry is always a problem of love.” (Hungry, p. 107).
That truth is helpful. But the help only goes so far. It leaves us asking how can I change? What can I possibly do to restore my love for the right thing?
The Good News for Idolaters
Now is the time not to fight but to flee. Flee to Jesus. We did this at our evening study by turning to Mark 10:17-22.
This incident shows us a man–a rich, young ruler– who ran up to Jesus and knelt at his feet with a burning question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus directed him first to the Law of God. The man assured Jesus he had been a law keeper from his earliest days. But he didn’t know himself, did he? There was a powerful, disordered love hidden under his respectable exterior.
However Jesus saw the hidden idol. He knew the man’s heart, that he loved his wealth more than his God. What did Jesus do with that knowledge? Expose him and judge him? Hurl prophetic warnings against him? No.
“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me'” (Mark 10:22).
He loved him. He loved him when he diagnosed his idolatry. And when he prescribed the painful remedy. He loved him when he promised treasure in heaven. And when he invited him to come and follow.
That day the man went away sad. He didn’t do what Love asked. But Jesus died for him anyway. Who knows, perhaps the man did come up to Jerusalem that spring for Passover and end up at the foot of the cross. If he did, he would have seen Love die for him, an idolater. But it wasn’t “his sin that held him there” as one song says, it was “his love that held him there” until it was finished.
This love melts my idolatrous heart and restores Jesus to his rightful place as my first love.
I can’t change what I love, but the love of God in the face of Jesus Christ can.