An old message I read a few years ago was on my mind today. Thomas Chalmers, a Puritan pastor, preached this famous sermon, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection (click here to read it’s entirety). I don’t want to write a full on summary or explanation of the whole thing here. I just wanted to make note of a couple things briefly which may be of value to consider and even meditate on.
First, Chalmers rightly grounds our sin and need for redemption far deeper than our behaviors, all the way down at the level of our desires. Of course this isn’t his idea, it’s a thoroughly biblical idea which originates from God’s wisdom and revelation in the Scriptures. And the bottom line is that behaviors are merely symptoms which point to the disease or condition of sin. At it’s core, sin is simply misplaced desires within the human heart. They may be desires for wicked things or they may be inordinate or controlling desires for even good things.
The biblical word for behavior-shaping desires is “worship.” Worship is literally be shaped by the worth of something. Chalmers is essentially says that we are all worshippers all the time, because we are always being shaped by the worth of something. When that something shaping our lives is anything other than the surpassing worth of Christ Jesus, this is what the Scriptures call “idolatry” - the worship of a false god, or the overvaluing of anything other than God above God.
Chalmers’ sermon is on the passage in 1 John 2:15, which says “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The obvious but overlooked reality which Chalmers expounds on is that desires for God and desires for sin cannot coexist in the human heart. They are two opposing forces; two competing affections, and one will always push out the other.
Chalmers says, therefore, that “the only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection [or sinful one], is by the expulsive power of a new affection.” Or as Tim Keller says, “idols can’t be removed, they must be replaced.” In other words, you can’t just “stop sinning.” You can’t just “knock it off.” Why? Because sin is always beyond the outward behavior. The observable patterns of sin in our lives only exist because of the root system that’s tangled up our affections. The issue is what we desire, love and worship.
Whatever struggle you are living in the midst of today; whether anxiety has gripped your heart, anger is controlling your attitude, lust has highjacked your thoughts or pride has kept you hardened toward God and distant from people, the reality is that you have a worship problem. Brothers and sisters, we worship our way into these places, which may be discouraging or difficult to accept. But the good news is, by God’s grace, we can worship our way out.
If we want to stop sinning, we need to start worshipping.