The Root of Sin: Usurpation, Not Imitation

wood-nature-sunny-forestLast Wednesday night, a student asked, “What is sin?” The question sounds simple, but the idea and reality of sin is anything but simple. It is much more and much worse than just doing bad things. Sin is an enemy, a condition, a slave driver, and a poison that causes us to rot from the inside out. When we only view sin in terms of bad things we do, we will never be able to see the root of the problem and then fully appreciate the only solution to sin—the gospel.

At the heart of every sin is a desire to be God. This is completely different than wanting to be like God. When we desire to be like God, we honor him as supreme and superior. God is glorified by a desire to be like him in the same way Michael Jordan was glorified when every kid in America wanted to “Be Like Mike.” But a desire to be God is the sinister root of every sin.

Every act of disobedience and distrust begins with a desire for personal glory in the place of God. We naturally want to call the shots, set the rules, and make the plans. We think we know what is best and if what God says is best is different from that we reject God and his ways.

In its most basic form, sin is idolatry. It is worshiping the created things in the place of the creator. Sin is a foolish exchange of glory and a refusal to be grateful. Even though all people receive general knowledge about God through creation, many do not “honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). A failure to give thanks to God results from a prideful heart that desires glory and honor for itself.

In order to give thanks to God, we must look to God as an abundant fountain of goodness and grace. But this means we must look to ourselves as debased, depraved, and dependent on him for life and blessing. Left to ourselves, we will try to be God. We will seek our own glory in the place of his. We will exchange truth about God for a lie. We will claim to be wise and become fools.

The worst thing that can happen to a person is for God to look at him and say, “Your will be done.” We cannot be God, so our desire to take his place will only result in a downward spiral until we look more like animals than God. We desperately need God in the gospel. We need him to change our hearts and give us a desire to be like him, to honor him as God and to give thanks to him. We need him to replace our hearts, so the only exchange we experience is Christ’s righteousness for our sin, instead of God’s glory for idolatry.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

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Morning Mashup 09/28

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Injury Interrupted My Idolatry – From time to time, Desiring God will feature an article written by a professional athlete. They are always profound for me. This piece from NBA player Landry Fields is no different. Fantastic perspective.

3 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Pray for the Persecuted Church – Great post from Ruth Ripken on how to get your kids thinking and praying about persecuted believers.

Sex Belongs to Believers – John Piper: “The pleasures of sex are meant for believers. They are designed for their greatest expression by the children of God. He saves his richest gifts for his children. And as we enjoy his gift of sex, we say, by our covenant faithfulness to our spouse, that God is greater than sex.”

Springtime for Liberal Christianity – Typical excellent cultural and religious analysis from Ross Douthat.

The Cosby Conversation We’re Still Not Having – Thabiti Anyabwile: “What we are not discussing is how to prevent the many Cosbys in our homes, families, friendship networks, schools and churches from preying upon our daughters, sisters, and mothers.”

Don’t Hide Behind “The Gospel” – Barnabas Piper: “Only when we can make the connection between the gospel and the centuries of racial inequality in the United States, the lasting impact on our government and social structures, and the insidious and subtle effects on our own minds and hearts is it a solution.”

The Eight Kinds of Commenters in the Christian Blogosphere – Excellent analysis of commenters on Christian blogs. I’ve experienced each of these. My favorite is the “heresy hunter.” They are so pleasant.

Why I Am a Complementarian – “It seems to me that on a very base level the problem of the feminist movement and the patriarchy movement, and indeed sin itself, is principally a lack of trust. We have, from the very beginning, been attempting to wrench what was not given in the search of what was labeled off limits.”

Why Students Hate School Lunches – Just one of many stellar pieces in the Sunday Review section of the NY Times this week. I love this line: “Consider that in France, where the childhood obesity rate is the lowest in the Western world, a typical four-course school lunch (cucumber salad with vinaigrette, salmon lasagna with spinach, fondue with baguette for dipping and fruit compote for dessert) would probably not pass muster under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, because of the refined grains, fat, salt and calories. Nor would the weekly piece of dark chocolate cake.”

Papelbon, Harper Fight Highlights Nationals’ Deep Problems – The dugout fight between Nationals teammates Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper has sparked much debate in the sports world. Personally, I agree with Papelbon’s principle, but not with his methods. Harper may be a NL MVP frontrunner, but he has a lot to learn.

The Art of Conversation – Tips for how men should engage in conversation.

42 Things We Learned from Week 3 – It usually takes a few weeks to gauge how the NFL season will go. Here is what we know after three weeks.

Spieth’s Stellar PGA Season – Young Jordan Spieth’s spectacular season broken down. I don’t think he’s the next Tiger, but the dude can play.


For us to be in love with ourselves is idolatry. For God not to be in love with himself is idolatry. –Zane Pratt

Morning Mashup 09/10

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The Church and Violence Against Women – Russell Moore: “Male violence against women is a real problem in our culture, one the church must address. Our responsibility here is not simply at the level of social justice but at the level of ecclesical justice as well.”

A Sobering Reminder from the Ray Rice Situation – Garrett Kell: “The TMZ video release is actually a great act of mercy from God. How? Because it serves as a reminder to Mr. Rice and to all of us that there is a day coming when all that is done in the dark will be brought into the light.”

Three Questions to Help Diagnose Possible Football Idolatry – According to Kevin DeYoung, watching football or being a fan of football is not automatically idolatrous. But he warns, “Wherever there is a consuming passion for anything that is not God there is the danger of idolatry.” Then he offers three questions for self-evaluation.

Illustrate to Help Rather than Impress – Gavin Ortlund interviews Bryan Chapell to find answers to the questions: “How can preachers use sermon illustrations today in way that reflects the example of Christ? Is it possible for illustrations to actually enhance, rather than dilute, biblical exposition?”

Advice to Young Pastors – Fellow younger guys in the ministry, take heed to these words from Sam Storms, David Wells (not the baseball player), and Wayne Grudem.

New Resource from Secret Church – Secret Church study guides have now been broken down into 6-week studies. I have always thought this would be a good idea. I look forward to making use of this great resource.

10 Ways to Execute Christlike Headship – Owen Strachan suggests ten ways by which godly husbands can practice Christlike headship in their home.

Status Quo and 2 Billion to Go – J.D. Payne: “Innovating upon the status quo is a good thing–being locked into the existing state of affairs is bad.”

The only logical response to inerrant Scripture is to preach it expositionally. –John MacArthur