10 Four Letter Functional Saviors
Written by: Chris Plekenpol
I first heard the term “functional savior” in a sermon preached by Mark Driscoll. A “functional savior” is what we turn to functionally satisfy our desires, cope with our pain, or escape from reality. If you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead, you should also believe that He is enough to satisfy your deepest hungers, heal your hurts, fill your moments of loneliness, and be sufficient when you are fighting temptation. Unfortunately, as Christians, what we talk on Sunday doesn’t always reflect our walk on Monday. We may simply be ignorant that we are turning to a functional savior instead of Jesus. We rationalize, justify, and end up falling into the hands of the enemy. So wanting to keep it simple, I figured we would go with four letter words that end up being very poor functional saviors.
Many of us have quoted noted the non-Christian, Benjamin Franklin, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants to be happy.” Somehow that phrase has moved from T-shirts to Christian jargon. Clearly when we turn to beer or wine to escape reality and not deal with our problems, we have a functional savior. Beer is a poor functional savior for those wanting to be good husbands/wives/fathers/mothers/leaders. It will only lead you to your own destruction. Instead of turning to beer, be filled with the Spirit.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
This one is tough. You have to eat to survive. However, once food stops becoming something you need to fuel yourself and an end unto itself, it becomes a functional savior. American culture flashes two things at us constantly: great food and super skinny bodies. Food is a tool we use to create an illusion of control in our lives. We either eat too much as a way to numb our pain and become gluttonous, or we intentionally do not eat enough as we need in order to feel “in control.” When Jesus was tempted with food by Satan, His response was, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” A healthy view of food is to substitute the control and comfort you believe you will obtain from food for the Word of God.
Netflix binging has become more prevalent and a deeper escape than beer, wine, or food. People can get lost into a character and not have to endure commercials or even the time lapse of a week between shows. This escape can never end, especially if starting on the first season of 24 and watching Jack Bauer save the world in 24 hours. There is also a feeling of accomplishment when you complete a season, but binging on Netflix or Redbox is a great way to kill time, productivity, and one’s spiritual life. Paul wrote to Ephesians not to binge on Netflix saying, “[Make] the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” It’s tough to know the will of the Lord when you have gotten sucked into an alternate reality where the creator is an atheist screenwriter.
Some of us are news junkies of CNN, Fox, NBC and other news channels. There is something addicting about scouring the Internet for the latest conspiracy and then forwarding every piece of information across the Internet to friends, family, and acquaintances. Then there is the “newsfeed” functional savior of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms. You experience comparison of how some girl from your high school is now skinnier than you, judgment toward a couple’s sappy engagement pictures, or just plain curiosity about that guy at church you have met two times. It becomes normal to have a conversation with your spouse over dinner while both of you are staring at your phones. Very romantic. Both News junkies and News feed followers have postponed their reality and jumped into someone else’s world where neglecting the responsibilities that should be valued most. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The rest of the word is fixated on what others are doing. Let’s fixate on Jesus and the responsibilities he has called us to.
Video Games and Role-playing games have taken our young men and women and kept them as adolescents into their 30s and 40s. Much like the Netflix binge, the Video gamer finds himself locked into another reality where he is the hero. Young men are called to be heroes. Soldiers, Policemen, Firemen, Entrepreneurs, Congressmen, Fathers; but the virtual has imprisoned the real. Paul wrote to his prodigy, Timothy on the subject of raising up church leaders, specifically elders. “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” We need men to step up and lead. Pull your head out of your video game and manage your household, even if it is just you.
It is easy to choose the path of least resistance. And we also choose the path that leads to the applause of people over the applause of heaven. We create kingdoms for ourselves that we hope will never end. But they will. Solomon wrote to his sons on the subject of finding work your work to be your functional savior: “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.” No matter how hard you work, your kingdom will fade and it won’t fit in your coffin or urn, ”which is where we are all going. So when 5:30pm comes and you still want to be at work, a silent alarm should go off that this thing you enjoy has become your God. Go be with your God. Go be with your family. On the other side, there is another four letter word: LAZY. Work hard because God calls you to show off how he has changed your heart through the way you work. Paul wrote to the workers of Colosse, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Don’t be lazy in serving Jesus, even if he is disguised as your worthless boss.
Work can go hand in hand with cash. Cash is amoral, meaning it does not have morals: it can be used to build a church, or it can be used to destroy a life. Cash can be a valuable tool to advance the kingdom of God, but cash makes a terrible functional savior. Cash means power. Cash means control. Cash means security. Cash means you don’t have to trust Jesus. The writer of Proverbs 23 enlightened his reader by saying: “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” Jesus told his followers, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Jesus isn’t holding out on you. When money becomes your functional savior, it clouds your judgment on what is really important and you start to serve the illusion of security or status that money provides.
Or for women, boys. When a crush, relationship, marriage, or the idea of the opposite sex becomes an obsession, that is a functional savior. That obsession, which is rooted in the lie that another person can meet the deepest needs of your soul, will never be able satisfy the places within you that only God is created for. Relationships are good things, and even God Himself said that it is not good for man to be alone, but when that person is elevated to the same position as God, you have created an idol out of them. Your obsession with them will lead you to forsake your purity, faith and community, replacing God.
Lust allows the temporary escape from reality to a place of power and glory reserved only for God. Lust is primarily manifested through fantasy and pornography. Lust engages with someone/something that you cannot have in reality, creating a false illusion where you are seeking your own fulfillment apart from God. Pornography allows its victim to engage with visual stimuli by submitting themselves or allowing themselves to be dominated by another. Lust In either case, the one engaging in porn worships another or allows themselves to be worshiped in their mind and allowing them to have ultimate power. This dishonors God.
For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world.
“Everybody wants to rule the world.” Classic song by Tears for Fears said it all. We all want power. We all want to be in control. We want people to obey and respond in a way that shows their respect and/or fear for us. Lucifer who became Satan cost himself an eternal damnation after being made in perfection when he went against God, You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;[c]
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!