I read a lot of books in the “Christian Living” category and have read Tim Keller’s excellent book on idolatry, Counterfeit Gods (2011). Still, I think Steve Hoppe’s Sipping Saltwater (The Good Book Company, 2017) is the best treatment of idolatry out there. Hoppe combines a love for Jesus with sound theology and an incisive understanding of matters of the heart.
I found two things particularly helpful: First, his use of stories about real people to illustrate the ways we can abuse, reject, or enjoy the gifts God gives us. We can recognize ourselves in many of these stories, which help us see what it might look like to treat God’s gifts the wrong way. Second, Hoppe uses a very helpful three-fold division to show how we can treat these gifts (he deals with several, including sex, food, money, and rest). The three can be described with the terms “God,” “Garbage,” and “Gift.” With the first, we turn the good thing into a god: we invest in it our hopes and look to it for the satisfaction that only God can give. The second describes how we demonize something that in itself is good. For example, the ascetic who sees bodily pleasure or comfort as a threat to his spiritual status and vitality. Or, in the case of rest, the busy person who sees rest as something he cannot afford, which only lazy people enjoy. Finally, “gift” refers to the right treatment of something – as a gift from God to be enjoyed. Throughout, Hoppe asks good questions to help the reader identify what things he may be turning into a god or treating as garbage.
I’m grateful that Steve Hoppe wrote this book. It offers help and, more importantly, points us, in a firm and compelling way, to the one who alone can satisfy our thirst – Jesus Christ. I strongly recommend this book to all, whether Christian and non-Christian.
In her excellent book Discipline: The Glad Surrender (Revelll, 1982), the great, late Elisabeth Elliot (wife of Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed by an indigenous tribe in Ecuador, and author and speaker) offers a terrific, and sweet, example of the kind of worry-free trust in God and his provision that should mark us:
“Things are given by God. We can trust Him to give to us. My little dog, MacDuff, taught me many lessons. How simple life was for him! He trusted me. He lived his life one day at a time, wearing his one ragged black coat, provided by a heavenly Father, appropriate to all occasions, all year round. Supper was there in the dish – Ken L. Ration, Gainesburgers, table scraps, whatever. No decision about the menu troubled him. He owned a house and a tremendous yard and quite a few squirrels and rabbits that he felt responsible to chase and bark at, but he had no taxes or mortgage payments. Everything was taken care of. What he did naturally is a hard lesson we human beings have to work at” (116).
You know that old adage, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who are”? It’s true. In fact, it’s biblical. We imitate our friends, for good and bad; so who are your friends, and do they help you grow in those things that are most important?
If you’re a Christian, this means that it would be wise and beneficial for your walk with God to have other believers as your close friends. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be friends with others who believe differently from us, but that in our social life, other Christians, and members of your church in particular, should be prominent.
In his brief and excellent Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Crossway, 2012), Jonathan Leeman shows how this works – the ways in which our friends influence us. After reading this, ask yourself: who are my close friends, and how do they influence me?
“Churches should be more than social clubs, but they shouldn’t be less. Our friends are the ones we imitate and follow. We spend money where they spend money. We raise our children like they raise their children. We pray like they pray. Our friends form who we become as we imitate one another (see James 4:4; also 1 Cor. 15:33)” (97-98).