Good ReplacementsBy Nathan Mates
Merriam Webster's online dictionary defines growth as "to spring up and develop to maturity." In many areas, growth is a good thing-- you want the economy to grow, not shrink, so your odds of finding a job will be better. One would like one's savings to grow, not shrink. Emotionally and spiritually, being able to grow is also a good thing.
There are some things you'd rather not grow-- cancer is one thing that you'd rather see shrink. Whether growth is good or not depends on whether what is growing is beneficial or harmful. As Christians, we are called to grow in areas that bring us closer to God: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." [2 Peter 3:18a] While that sounds fine in the abstract, consider what Paul says about the results of such growth: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." [2 Corinthians 3:18]
This side of heaven, we'll always have our sinful natures weighing us down, never being able to be fully transformed into his likeness. Once we get to heaven, that will be gone, and we'll be in much greater shape. But, that doesn't mean we can slack off in the meantime. The author of Hebrews exhorts us to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." [Hebrews 12:1] In other words, we need to get rid of the things that actively oppose our coming closer to God-- the sin in our lives-- and that which passively opposes it, any deadweight in our lives.
So, getting rid of things that hinder us is a good thing. But, as usual, there's a bit of a catch: what are you replacing them with? The old phrase "nature abhors a vacuum" may well be applicable to our spiritual, emotional, and physical lives. Jesus himself spoke some words on this subject:
This passage is, in context, related to spiritual warfare and driving out evil spirits, if you read starting at verse 14. But, Jesus's point is that it is not just enough to kick out an evil spirit, because it'll try and return. It seems that vacuums are abhorred by evil spirits as well. You need to fill the space it left with something else, better and stronger-- the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, in our lives, we are built to worship something-- originally God (and God only), but sin has caused us to lose focus. The desire and inclination to worship has not changed, and will not. So, what do humans worship instead? Some worship money, power, success, beauty, good grades, a good career, a family, and thousands more things that can get in the way of our worship of God. Even Christians can have our focus distracted at times, where we temporarily look away from God to another object. When we realize this, we need to put away that idol from our lives. Simply putting that idol out of our thoughts isn't enough. Another idol can simply take its place if we're not careful to focus on God instead.
While this may seem like adding another condition, another rule, another burden to what we need to do in our Christian walk, considering how we replace things is a good thing, like a seatbelt. Both protect you from future harm, even though you may not see it at the present. We have gaps in our personalities that need to be filled, and kicking out one problem can make room for another. We need to make sure that we're filling the void just emptied with something better, more Godly. That'll help us more in the long run.