Is there anything I can’t do in a daydream or fantasy about myself? Score the winning touchdown? Beat up a gang of thugs and rescue the damsel in distress? Make the rousing speech and draw the adulation of thousands?
I hate to admit this about myself, but more often than not, as far back as I can remember, I was the hero of my dreams.
I think it’s fair to say that the human tendency is to be the star of our own thoughts and dreams. Ego and the all too familiar pride that come with self-centeredness are terrible monsters that are like zombies on steroids. Kill ’em and they simply come back. Over and over and over again.
Isn’t this true of us all? (Of course, if the rest of you refuse to admit this and leave me hanging, this is going to be a very embarrassing post.) It is said about people that if I am handed a photo of a group that includes me, the first person I look for is myself. How do I look? Do I look good? (Increasingly: Do I look fat?)
That is the nature of self-centeredness. Surely this is a type of idolatry. Surely humans struggle against the temptation of idolatry in all its terrible forms. John Calvin famously stated that “man’s nature … is a perpetual factory of idols.”
But as Stephen Altrogge noted last fall, Calvin was referring to the unregenerate, not the Christian. Altrogge said even though the history of Israel was filled with idolatry, God promised (under the New Covenant) to cleanse the hearts of His people from this filthy habit:
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27, NASB).
So are we still subject to this pitfall of idolatry or not?
Yes and no. We are set free from the power of idolatry, as God promised in Ezekiel 36. In fact, the New Testament declares us to be free from the power of all sin (Rom. 6:1-14). So we should avoid the trap of believing that we are still under the power of sin and the oppressor. By faith I am free, and by the power of the Holy Spirit I am increasingly learning to walk in that freedom (Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:16).
But there is the opposite and very real trap of assuming that my freedom in Christ means no powers remain that can re-enslave me. Galatians 5:17 states that the flesh “sets its desire against the Spirit.” There is real opposition between the two, and the resulting spiritual war can be confusing and frustrating for the Christian.
In his list of the deeds of the flesh in Galatians 5, Paul mentions “idolatry” (vs. 20) as a possible symptom of a life lived serving the flesh rather than the Spirit. It doesn’t end well; Paul says “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” (vs. 21).
Perhaps the final idol against which I will war is the most difficult to defeat, because it is the face in the mirror.
Yet as I grow in my Christian walk, I see more and more clearly another face in that glass. His image becomes more real. It is Christ my Savior and Lord, and He becomes more and more beautiful to me every day.
Surely the war goes on. But I long for the day when His face is the only one I long to see when I look. Finally, one day, He will be the hero of all my dreams.