High on an ancient hill away from the village and their spouses, a couple are engaged in the ritual sex of a fertility cult. They are not husband and wife, but have embraced this incest and adultery as a spiritual act to appease the gods. He is playing the part of Baal[1] and she the part of Baal’s mother, Asherah. She is both the mother and mistress of her powerful lover.

In this union the storms of the sea are prevented and the rain will come for the growing season. A sheep or bull is offered in sacrifice to the gods. If there has been an especially difficult season of draught, the man may have brought his firstborn child to be executed by sacrifice.

God detested the worship of idols. Everything associated with idolatry perverted the best qualities in humanity. Idolatry erodes the walls of faithfulness, respect and protection of the vulnerable. The idolatry sets up an imaginary system of sympathetic magic. The object is believed to possess powers that we need to benefit ourselves with.  

Even if a Baal worshipper didn’t really believe, the ritual sex was very enticing. There would likely be Baal agnostics who stayed in it because of the revelry. At the heart of our modern lusts, drunkenness and selfish pursuits you will find an idol-worshipping heart.

Idolatry is especially prominent in the Old Testament, but less so in the New Testament. This does not mean that idolatry became less of a problem in more modern times; instead, the Old Testament theme of idolatry passed the baton to the New Testament themes of lust and sinful desire. This is in keeping with the New Testament’s emphasis on the hidden commitments of the heart rather than the external objects of our affection.[2]

The New Testament church had many converts with a history of cultic practices with other gods. Temple prostitution, orgies, wild partying and offering sacrifice to heathen deities still held powerful sway for many of the early Christ followers.

The New Testament writers and apostles were far from naïve or prudish. They lived with TMI – too much information about the violence, excessive behaviour and destructive tendencies of the human heart.

They followed Jesus because they needed a new way of living that oppressive religion did not provide. They needed hope and they needed help. How would they be able to gain self-control after a life of secret practices and participation in culturally tolerated idolatrous behaviour?

If they were law-abiding Jews and had lived free of the surrounding corruption, how could they get free of the crippling shame of their own failure to keep the Law fully? How could they live with the man or woman in the mirror who was never quite good enough and had their own private world of sinful discovery?

The followers of Jesus needed a way of living free from the laws of sin and death. They found this way modelled in Jesus and received the help that only he could provide. So here it is---

The key to self-control is not inward, but upward.[3]

It’s not what you can do yourself, but where your help comes from. In the Kingdom of God there is an eco-system of the Spirit where all the good things grow together in response to Divine Love. The growth potential is limitless and sustainable. Life begets life.

So, how do we grow into the very nature of Jesus? How is this eco-system set up within us? What do we have to do? What will control our inner world?

Galatians 5:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.