Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

The Grand Illusion

Back in the seventies Styx recorded “The Grand Illusion.” In the title track by that name, the lyrics portray the pursuits of this world and the promises offered thereby as a grand illusion. According to the song, as all of us follow the world’s siren call it seems as if we’re under a spell and we really cannot figure out who we are. Oddly enough, the message has merit as far as it goes and should be pondered by each one of us.

The world constantly exerts varying pressures upon us to which we respond in such a way that we are constantly conformed to it. In the face of that reality, the apostle John gives us a sobering warning: “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 (1 Jn. 2:15).”

Not long ago, a major evangelical pastor declared: “Christianity as a set of beliefs doesn't work for me. At the same time, I acknowledge the need for ritual and celebration in my life and find fulfillment and joy in many traditional practices. I light candles and ask for the prayers of the saints…These disciplines...do not require me to believe literally in angels and the Virgin Birth.”

A statement like that should be understood in light of what the Bible says. This pastor talks about celebration, fulfillment, and joy. But those things in his life come from religion. He loves religion but not Christ and those are two very different things. His affections are on this world and not on Christ. The problem is that we can love the world in so many ways that cause us to reject not only salvation but the true joy and peace to be had in a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Love for the world can be obvious or subtle and we must be very careful to examine our hearts in this regard on a regular basis. How subtly we can be taken in by the grand illusion that the world has what we need in whatever it’s form.

We battle Satan, our own flesh, and the world. Note John’s further words: “For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world (2:16).” We are deceived into thinking that something is from God when it is not. This is an especially rampant problem in the American church as our culture propagates “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” as good in so many ways and venues.

In his book Everyday Talk: Talking Free and Naturally About God with Your Children, Jay Younts points out that the world is hostile but presents itself as wonderful source of pleasure and fulfillment. It is not what appears to be. Satan is its ruler (under the sovereignty of God) and those who don’t know Christ have no idea they are ruled by Satan. They feel as if they are directing their own lives and that they do as they please. Because of this deception, the world is attractive to them.

The truth is that we must be on our guard because the enemy is aggressively out to deceive us. This issue becomes all the more important when we consider our children and the reality that the enemy wants to deceive them as well. Satan’s attacks are subtle. For example, what some consider to be benign entertainment is no such thing. Every thing we see or hear comes from one of two worldviews: a Christian worldview or a non-Christian worldview. Too often Christians miss this reality. Equally problematic is the fact that those who understand such a dynamic often feel that filling one’s mind with such things has no effect upon them or that they can counteract the effect with a heavy dose of God somehow.

These notions are both ignorant and arrogant and are part of the grand illusion. The battlefield on which we as Christians wage war is the mind/heart. We are constantly told to “renew our minds” as Satan, the world, and our own flesh war against our souls. If we do not see our lives as a battle nor understand where the battlefield is, we have lost already. Our minds are corrupted daily with the constant onslaught of ideas contrary to God. Without a constant renewal of our minds we are unable to put-off the sin that so easily entangles us and put on righteousness.

This grand illusion is propagated in so many ways. Again, Younts points out that the world says that personal peace can be found with financial security, that sexual activity should not be restricted to marriage, and that the most important thing in life is to feel good about oneself. The world says to our children that the object of faith it not important but what is important is that we simply have faith. Such a subtle nuance is more often missed than not in the minds and hearts of young people (and adults as well).

Christians must remember that we have a different allegiance because we are subjects of a different kingdom. God’s kingdom and Satan’s are opposed to one another. We are in a cosmic battle. For us at a personal level, that battle comes down to one of loves. What do we love: Christ or the world? Do you love the things of God or the things of the world? Remember John’s words and be sober minded here. Do not be deceived.

What about our children? If I walk into my son’s bedroom and all I see on the wall are posters of worldly things and worldly people, the tone of his claim to love Christ should ring hollow at that point. It is not that I can judge his heart. But, it is time to have a talk. What is it that he really loves?  The true believer increasingly hates the things God hates and loves the things God loves.

Too often we reject the truth for fear of being equated with some form of legalism. There is no doubt that legalism kills and we must reject it as much as we must reject libertinism. But, it is not legalistic to say that filling one’s mind with images contrary to God is not only sin but destructive. Because of our flesh, we do not have the ability to fight off the resulting influence of such a steady barrage of the mind. In fact, our flesh loves such. And even if we could regularly take such a barrage unscathed, who among us is willing to say that God is ambivalent about the issue? These are the very things God hates. These are the very things that put Christ on the cross. These are the very things for which Hell exists.

So, what must we do? What if you know you are not supposed to love the world and you do not want to but you have a heart that is divided? Scripture sets forth the solution: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2a).” The sense of what Paul is saying could be better rendered: “stop being conformed to this world.” We are constantly being conformed to this world. Paul says stop. How? “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In other words, don’t buy into the grand illusion that the world is where our joy is. The only way not to be deceived is to find one’s joy in Christ and that comes by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit as we renew our minds through a constant examination of our heart and worldview as we place them under the microscope of Scripture.

In the end, contrary to the lyrics penned by Styx, we won’t have to wonder who we are because we will have realized that we cannot make the grade on our own and that the world’s grade is not what we’re after anyway. It is Christ who has made the grade for us and we know who we are as we pursue Him by grace. We will have overcome the grand illusion in Him.

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