Idol Swapping – I Stopped One Sin and Gained 30 Pounds

All external, behavioral idols have the same insidious root cause. If you don’t deal with the heart problem, you could easily stop one sin while switching to a different idol.

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You ever played “whack-a-mole” at an amusement center? It’s one of those games where plastic moles randomly pop-up while you try to whack them with a rubber mallet before they retreat into their holes.

You never know when or where one will pop up. As soon as you knock one down, another one jumps up. It’s a picture of our hearts. When you beat one idol down, another one pops up to take its place.

John Calvin supposedly said that our hearts are like idol factories. My friend, Biff, would agree. He had a secret porn addiction for nearly three decades.

Through a series of providential circumstances, his sin was found out by his boss. Biff was humbled by being exposed, and he repented of his addiction. Mercifully, his boss decided not to fire him.

He did appeal to Biff to let his wife and pastor know what went down. Biff followed through with his request. After speaking with his pastor, Biff decided to seek counseling, which he also followed through my attending bi-weekly sessions.

During the counseling, Biff continued to show evidence of repentance. He put Covenant Eyes on his computer, as well as his other devices. He gave his wife all his passwords and full access to all his tech endeavors. He joined a men’s group at his church.

Biff was hitting all the right marks, and his porn addiction began to wane. After about six weeks of counseling, Biff shared how he was gaining weight. His counselor had already observed this but did not bring it to Biff’s attention.

Looking At the Idol Factory

Biff’s admission did open a door for the counselor to have a more in-depth conversation about matters of the heart. He began by encouraging him about the behavioral changes he had made (Matthew 5:30) but did note how his repentance was not complete.

With great care and accountability, Biff was freeing himself from the behavioral addiction to porn. The more in-depth issue was him not addressing the root cause of porn addiction.

His counselor had been hoping to get into this discussion because he knew if Biff did not deal with his heart that he would do one of two things:

  • He would revert back to looking at porn in the future.
  • He would seek to satisfy his secret desires through other means.

Satisfying his rogue desires through other means is what was going on in Biff’s life. He had essentially swapped his external idol–porn–for food. What Biff did not understand was how this hidden idol of the heart was still alive and affecting him.

External idols like porn, eating, alcohol, watching too much TV, shopping, or exercise can have the same insidious root cause. They can be God substitutes, designed to bring relief to a person whose heart is not finely tuned by the Lord.

This is one reason we should not be too condemning of our friends who are stuck in sins like porn. The lady who sinfully seeks comfort through shopping, spending, or eating can be ruled by a similar heart idolatry.

Though our outer lives can be vastly different and even somewhat unique by the things we enjoy and do, we still come from the same “Adamic cloth.” We all came from Adam, and we have his sinful tendencies (Romans 5:12).

At the fundamental core of Biff’s heart, he had not changed. He merely swapped his idol of choice from porn to food. If not for the weight gain, it could have been possible never to realize his idol swapping.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9

While you don’t want to micro-manage a person’s soul, you do want to be discerning enough to regard the deceitfulness of the heart. The goal is never to condemn or overly scrutinize a person, but always to serve and love them through wise soul-care.

God has given us discernment, and we should use this Spirit gift for His glory and the good of others. We can and should think deeper than how our world thinks (John 2:24-25). We should be able to make sound biblical assessments, which takes our care of people to greater depths.

Understanding biblical psychology–the study of the soul–permits the Christian to do what no other people group in the world can do (Genesis 2:7; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We can address the fruit and the root of our problems.

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Self-Reliant Worship Structure

Idol Swapping

Idol swapping should be a biblical assumption when counseling a person habituated in a long-term sin pattern (Galatians 6:1). Putting away a former manner of life (Ephesians 4:22) that has characterized a person for 30 years cannot come without a fight (1 Peter 5:8).

Sin is a chaos of the soul, and it takes many months for God to fully restore order inside of a person who has been habituated in a pattern of thinking and behaving for most of his life. This truth is where we have an advantage in soul care.

We understand how habituation in external sin is more than what a person can see. Though you want to applaud Biff for cutting the sin of porn out of his life (Matthew 5:30) you also want to make sure he has sufficiently put to death the heart sin that fed the porn addiction (Romans 8:13).

Fruit trees begin the growth process while beneath the soil. Long before the fruit manifests, there is a lot of activity out of the purview of the human eye. This illustration is also how sin works.

Cutting a tree down does not kill the tree. There is still life because the root system is mostly undisturbed. You could unwisely assume the tree is dead. It’s only a season or two later when you realize that you did not complete the job.

Biff had been doing an excellent job cutting the rotten fruit out of his life. He also trimmed back a few limbs. He was noticeably different according to many of his friends. Some of his contexts had changed, and a spiritual revival seemed to be taking place.

From a cursory perspective, he appeared to be okay. It was when you spent discerning time with him that you noticed how some things under the surface of his life had not changed.

Though we can tweak our physical, behavioral lives into something that may resemble Jesus, we can’t do the same thing for the hidden man of the heart. This kind of internal change is a gift and mercy from the Lord (2 Timothy 2:25). It’s a cooperative effort: God grants repentance, and we obediently respond to His kindness.

Biff had not honestly dealt with his underlying motives, cravings, and fears. He was not blatantly deceitful. He did not know any better. He was like many Christians who have not been discipled to where they can shepherd their hearts.

Biff was doing what he knew to do. He was in porn. He knew it was wrong, so he stopped. His problem was he did not know what else was wrong with him. He had a worship disorder of the heart.

When you pulled back the lid that covered his heart and looked down into his idol factory you could see some of the mechanisms that had been in play for many years. Four critical idols were cooperating to feed his porn addiction.

The Idol of Control

The first thing you saw in Biff’s heart was the idol of control. He liked to be in control of things. He was what the world calls a “Type A” personality, which is not a compliment, but a liability to the biblically uncalibrated heart.

Biff did not fully trust the Lord, which motivated him to take matters into his hands. This reaction is why being a controller was such a big deal to him. Of course being in control is not possible for the human race, and this problem created internal unrest.

This juncture is where porn came into play. The soul not at rest needs an occasional escape. It’s the “you need a break today” syndrome. Porn became a quickie pit stop for Biff to escape from the pressures of running his world without God.

The Idol of Comfort

If you look a little farther down into his “idol factory,” you would bump into his idol of comfort. The heart not correctly and entirely governed by God will seek solace in something other than God.

If you reject God as your source of comfort, rest, peace, and security, you must be comforted in some other way. This craving for comfort motivated him to find a different comfort zone.

Biff did get in the zone, and he maintained absolute control of it because he did not want to lose his comfort. This result is how his idols of “comfort and control” interplay with each other.

The Idol of Fear

As we go deeper into his idol factory, we find low-level fear running amuck in his heart. Biff always had this more profound sense of masked fear, which was not perceptible from ground-level.

People who knew Biff would not categorize him as a fearful person, but he was insecure in several ways. This low-grade insecurity is what motivated him to find comfort (or security).

When he found his niche, he maintained absolute control of it. Of course, as I’ve already noted, it’s hard to be a god. You must take breaks from running your universe. Porn became a quick, easy, and private escape for him.

The Idol of Unbelief

The biggest idol of them all and the one that fed his fears, which motivated him to crave comfort, and that convinced him to seize control of his world was unbelief. Though Biff was a believer from a salvation perspective, he was not a believer from a sanctification perspective.

He had a strained relationship with God. There were many reasons for this. His dad was not a great guy. He grew up in a fear-based, fundamentalist culture. He was personally depraved. He had an unhealthy fear of God–he did not feel God was safe. He also experienced a few disappointments in life, which he unwittingly attributed to God.

All these things worked together for bad in his life (Romans 8:28). Though he never decided to walk away from God, his heart began to drift from the Lord. Like a man falling asleep on a boat, he awoke miles from where he went to sleep.

Biff had been in a spiritual slumber for many years. He slowly habituated himself in porn, and the hardening of his heart blinded him to where he could not see anymore (Hebrews 3:7).

It was only because of the mercy of the Lord the scales were removed from his eyes. This kindness happened after his boss busted him for porn. He gained enough clarity to stop using porn but still could not see the hidden idolatry in the factory of his heart.

Taste and See the Lord

As the counselor addressed these idols, Biff began to see the corruptness of his soul and how he had privately defamed the Lord all these years. He started to renew his mind (Ephesians 4:23) about the true and living God.

He began to learn about the gospel and how the Lord went to incredible lengths to rescue him from hell and from himself. In time, Biff slowing evolved into a “believing believer.”

He learned the Lord is not like his dad and how true religion is not fear-based. He also learned even though God is not safe, He is good and will challenge him in many ways, but will never harm him (Hebrews 12:6).

A distaste began to form in Biff’s heart for these cravings for personal comfort and control of his life. He became “biblically risky” in the Lord. He embraced the idea of putting his self-reliance to death by trusting God in ways he could never do before.

His most significant tests came when the stress and busyness of life motivated him to “take a break.” In the past, he would find his escapes through porn and food. Now he seeks refuge through prayer, Bible reading, honest conversations with his wife and friends.

And the Lord has given him a servant’s heart. Instead of selfishly heaping pleasure on himself through porn and food, he has a passion for spreading the love of Christ to others by serving them in tangible ways.

The transformation of Biff became complete. He not only stopped the external manifestation of idolatry–porn and food, but he attacked the idols of his heart, which fed his behaviors.

How about you? Are you finding refuge in other things? Is there something about the Lord that has not been worked out in your heart, to where He is not your first and satisfying choice?

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