Nature Abhors a Vacuum
In my message this past Sunday, I noted that idolatry (or any kind of sin) can’t be uprooted in our hearts merely by good intentions and will power. We all know what that’s like: I really, really, really mean it this time. This time it’s going to stick. God really has my whole heart this time, and I will not fail him. Or, to paraphrase my aphoristic friend, the problem with taking sin off a pedestal is that it likes to slither back on.
Instead, as John Piper has written, “…the most effective way to kill our own sin is by the power of a superior pleasure. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it is more pleasant or less painful than the way of righteousness. So bondage to sin is broken by a stronger attraction — a more compelling joy.”
This is what Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” (https://www.amazon.com/Expulsive-Power-New-Affection/dp/1935626531)
Ever break up with a girl-friend or boy-friend and think it was the end of your world? That feeling goes away when you meet someone new who makes you glad the past is in the past.
Or imagine an glass beaker – empty, that is, except for air. What’s the best way to get rid of the air? You could try to suck it out, even with the most powerful pump in the world, but the vacuum that this would create would just be filled instantly with air to replace it. It’s impossible. Nature abhors a vacuum. (I simply can’t resist this cartoon; okay, I can resist, I just don’t want to.)
The only solution to removing the unwanted air is to replace the space with something else – for example, water. The water places a total claim on the space in the beaker. But you have to take care that the beaker is not broken or tipped over (and here is where the metaphor breaks down). As long as the beaker is full of water, it can’t be replaced by the air. It takes effort, discipline, to do this. This is the “discipline of rejoicing.”
We have to continually repent of the sin and idolatry that want to fill our hearts. We must also continually practice rejoicing – filling our hearts with the compelling joy of Jesus! NOTE: This doesn’t come naturally to us. We have been trained from the beginning of our lives to expect our feelings to take care of everything.
“Rejoicing and repentance must go together. Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair. Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration instead of deep change.”
— Timothy Keller
For the rest of this week, I’m going to reflect on ways to do this. But for today, let’s begin with the realization that this is what God wants for us too. We are partners together in this endeavor. So ask God to teach us, convince us, correct us, and remind us of how good Jesus is. Only he can fill the vacuum.
Bob Jacobs is Pastor of Westminster Church, Rapid City. Check out his personal blog at www.brittlecrazyglass.wordpress.com.