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The Stumbling Block of Iniquity
AUTHOR: Wilkerson, David
PUBLISHED ON: March 20, 2003
DOC SOURCE: CCN
PUBLISHED IN: Christian Living
TAGS: deliverance | idols | sin

Times Square Church Pulpit Series
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Stumbling Block of Iniquity!

  By David Wilkerson
  February 24, 1997 

               

    Certain elders of Israel came to the prophet Ezekiel seeking
direction and guidance from the Lord.  These men were not like
many of the Israelites, who openly bowed their knees to idols.
No, you wouldn’t find these elders in some idol temple, offering
sacrifices to the false gods there.  They were leaders of the
people — and they wanted to appear before everyone as godly men.
    But inside, these elders were white as sepulchres!
Outwardly, they had the appearance of men who had a heart for God
and wanted to know his word for their lives.  And that is the
manner in which they approached Ezekiel.
    Yet God revealed to Ezekiel what was in their hearts.  He
said to the prophet, “Son of man, these men have set up idols in
their heart…” (Ezekiel 14:3).  The Lord was saying, “These men
have come to you saying they want to hear a word from me — that
they want to walk in obedience to my commands.  But they are
lying.  They have secret sins in their life!”
    These elders all had a hidden, secret idolatry.  Their
hearts were in bondage to sins they indulged behind closed doors.
No one could tell this by their appearances.  On the contrary,
they came across not as pagans or idol worshipers, but as
respected men of God going about their ministries.
    The idol of one elder might have been different from that of
another.  For some, it might have been a lust for recognition, a
drive for power.  For others, it might have been some secret
pleasure of the flesh.  Others might have clung to a compromising
relationship — an adulterous affair or homosexual sin.  But with
each of them, a war raged in their souls.  They were caught in
two powerful cross-currents: On one side they wanted to hear from
God — and on the other, their hidden idol rose up before their
eyes.

                      A Stumbling Block of
                      Iniquity Is Any Evil
                    Thing That Hinders Your
                      Spiritual Progress —
                      Anything That Stands
                      Between You and God!

    Such a stumbling block is any evil enticement that robs you
of a steadfast walk with God.  It is any besetting sin that
causes you to waver in your faith…any desire that brings shame
to your heart and to the name of Christ…any secret thing that
excites you, giving you false hope…any sin you cling to as you
come to the Lord seeking guidance.  You can come to God’s house,
raise your hands, worship him loudly — and yet still have a
stumbling block of iniquity in your heart!
    “(They) have set up their idols in their heart, and put the
stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face…” (Ezekiel
14:3).  God was telling Ezekiel, “These men have been captivated
in their hearts by a secret sin.  And their sin is before their
very eyes.  It is something known to them.  They know clearly
what has hold of their heart, because I have dealt with them
about it.  I have convicted them by my spirit — and they know
exactly what is hindering their fellowship with me. 
    “These are my chosen people, elders of my church — and they
know better!  They don’t have to have a word from you to figure
it all out.  They know I hate idolatry.  And they know of David’s
warning: ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not
hear me.’  But these men are not ready to forsake their sinful
addiction.  They are not ready to admit they are deceived, and to
face correction.  Yet, still, they expect me to speak to them!”
    The book of Malachi tells us that priests wept in God’s
house night and day, covering the altar with their tears.  But
those men had treachery in their hearts against their wives; they
were divorcing their spouses left and right.  And for that reason
God did not hear their cries.  Beloved, you can cry a river of
tears — but if you hold onto an idol in your heart, the Lord
will not hear you!
    God asked Ezekiel, “…should I be enquired of at all by
them?” (same verse).  In other words: “Do these elders really
believe they can inquire of me, while holding fast to a secret
idol?  Do they expect me to ignore what is in their hearts, and
answer their requests in truth and righteousness?  These
idolaters are not prepared to hear my word.  They’re not ready to
do what I tell them.  Why would I speak to them?”

                  Any Believer Who Clings to
                    a Secret Sin, or Anything
                    Contrary to God’s Word,
                      Cannot Hear the True
                          Voice of God!

    Anyone who holds fast to a sin will never accept truth when
he hears it.  Why?  It is because every idol carries with it a
lie that will be accepted as truth!
    When the Holy Spirit convicts a believer of a particular sin
or habit, he comes again and again with loving warnings.  God’s
Spirit is tender, patient, loving — and he will wait for a
believer to respond before he brings discipline.  He will
continually hammer that person’s compromise with his convicting
word.
    But when all the wooings and warnings of the Spirit are
ignored and sin takes root, the penalty is chastising, and
finally judgment.  God will allow a blinding of the eyes and a
hardness of the heart.  And at that point, it becomes impossible
for the habitual sinner to see his own depravity.  Eventually, if
these awful judgments are not received, the hardness of heart
becomes impenetrable.
    Saul’s heart was under the dominion of the idols of pride
and jealousy.  Pride continually rose up in this man, making him
jealous of David and anyone else who walked in holiness.  Saul’s
heart was overcome with his idolatry.
    The Bible tells us Saul went to the Lord time after time to
inquire of him, but God refused to speak to him.  The Lord might
have said to Saul what he said to the elders who came to Ezekiel:
“Shall I be inquired of by one whose heart is blinded by pride
and overt rebellion?”
    Here is the sad testimony of this idolatrous king: “…And
Saul answered, I am sore distressed…God is departed from me,
and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams…”
(1 Samuel 28:15).  Saul could weep, he could seek out prophets,
he could pray for dreams — but the Lord answered, “No, Saul.
I’m not talking to you anymore — because your heart is
captivated by an idol!”
    God didn’t speak to Saul again for the rest of his life.  At
one point, the distraught king consorted with a witch to try to
find a clear word.  In the end, he died in utter terror.
    The book of Jeremiah tells us that Ephraim fell under the
Lord’s severe chastisements because of sin.  But Ephraim
repented, turning away from his idols and smashing them.  Here is
that man’s testimony: “Surely after that I was turned, I
repented; and after that I was instructed…” (Jeremiah 31:19).
    Do you understand what Ephraim is saying here?  In essence,
it is this: “When I had idols in my heart, I went to the Lord for
instructions.  But I couldn’t get a word from heaven.  I didn’t
hear anything from God — until I repented and smashed my idols
to bits.  Then I got clear instructions!”
    Only by turning away from your idol in wholehearted
repentance can you hear the true word of the Lord — receiving
clear, divine guidance.  You see, when you repent, the first
thing that returns to you is your discernment, the very wisdom of
God.  And the farther behind you leave your sin, the clearer you
will see and hear.  God’s voice will become distinct, sure, with
the authority of truth.
    But Christians who seek God while clinging to an idol will
never hear any voice — except the voice of their own heart!
Indeed, their own desire will take on a voice — and eventually
those believers will begin to believe it is the voice of God.
    Beloved, if you refuse to forsake a bosom sin, you need not
try to fast.  Your efforts will all be in vain.  God says,
“(Your) iniquities testify against (you)…When they fast, I will
not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an
oblation, I will not accept them…” (14:7, 12). 
    Worse yet is this word: If you come to the Lord while
coddling a stumbling block of iniquity, God will not refuse you.
He will answer your prayer.  But the word you receive will be
alarming, fearful: “…I the Lord will answer him that cometh
according to the multitude of his idols” (Ezekiel 14:4).
    For example: Israel came to God clamoring for a king.  Their
hearts were filled with a lust to be like other nations, and that
became their idol.  So, God answered them according to their
lust: “I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my
wrath” (Hosea 13:11).
    God said, “Yes, I will answer your prayer.  But I know the
lust that has captivated your heart.  I know you won’t listen to
any word I give you.  So I’m going to answer you according to
your heart’s desire.  I’m going to give you what you want —
until you are sick of it!”
    When the people crowned Saul king, they thought, “God has
heard us.  He has answered our prayers.  Isn’t it wonderful?  The
Lord is with us!”  But God had answered them in his anger —
according to their idolatrous hearts!

                    In the Wilderness, the
                  Children of Israel Inquired
                    of the Lord, Begging for
                          Flesh to Eat.

    Again, the people’s hearts were full of idolatry and
unbelief.  And again, God answered them according to their lust:
    “And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was
chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and
the Lord smote the people with a very great plague” (Numbers
11:33).
    God did not disappoint them.  He gave them the meat they
desired.  And while the people were gorging on it, they thought,
“God has heard us.  He is pleased with us!”  No — God had only
responded to their idolatry!  And while the meat was still in
their mouths, the people began dying.
    Beloved, God answers us according to our idols!  He warns:
“Yes, you will get what you crave.  Your have pampered your lust.
But it will cost you everything!”
    Balaam was offered a great sum of money, along with great
prestige and honor, by the Midianites — if he would only curse
the children of Israel.  When Balaam sought God about the matter,
the Lord gave him an emphatic “No.”
    So the ambassadors of Midian came back with a better offer
of even greater enticements.  Again, Balaam went to the Lord,
asking, “God, you heard the offer.  Shall I go?”  But this time
Balaam inquired with a heart that was aflame with desire.  He had
a lust for power, for financial gain, for recognition.  He would
not lay down his idol of covetousness — and it became a
stumbling block of iniquity in his heart!
    What was God’s answer to Balaam?  “Rise up and go with
them!”  The Lord answered Balaam according to the desire that had
captured his heart.  You see, Balaam didn’t want God’s will; he
didn’t want to walk in purity.  He wanted his own will — which
was personal gain.  Yet as he rode along, he thought, “I have the
mind of God on this.”
    No!  Balaam was tragically mistaken.  He had become the
object of God’s anger, because he’d sold out to the power of
lust.  And it became a curse to him: Balaam was destroyed with
the rest of God’s enemies.
    Not long ago, a Christian husband came to me to inform me he
was leaving his wife.  He said, in essence, “Our marriage is
hopeless.  It has brought me only misery.  So now I’m getting
out. 
    “I know you’ll tell me I’m wrong — that this is
unscriptural.  But I’ve really prayed about it.  And the Lord has
told me he doesn’t expect me to live with that kind of hurt.  He
told me leaving is the right thing under the circumstances.  So,
I don’t care what you say — because I’m at peace about it.”
    Did this man hear from God?  Oh, yes — God answered his
prayer, all right.  He answered him according to the idols in his
heart.  God allowed the desire in his heart to take on a voice!
    Years ago, a young minister came to me weeping.  He
confessed to me that he had been carrying on an affair for five
years with a young woman in his church.  He explained it this
way: “My marriage was difficult, because my wife misunderstood
me.  But this other sister was very spiritual.  We built each
other up in the Lord.  That’s how it all started.
    “At first, I wept as I had never wept in my life.  God
really dealt with me.  But then it began to feel all right.
Suddenly, I was preaching better than ever.  And the church began
to grow.  Whenever I prayed about my relationship with this
woman, all I heard in response was, ‘God understands.  He knows
how hurt you are.  It’s all right — because one day she’ll be
your wife.'”
    God answered the man’s prayer — by answering his idol!
That young preacher heard what he wanted to hear.  But then God
suddenly exposed the lie of it all — and the cost was almost
unbearable for him. 
    Any idol that is harbored becomes a stumbling block of
iniquity in the heart.  You may say you’re close to Jesus, that
you have communion with him.  But if you are clinging to an idol,
there can be no such communion.  As God told Ezekiel, “These
elders are estranged, separated from me, because of their
idolatry.  Their idols have blocked all communion with me!”
    “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord
God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away
your faces from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6).  In
Hebrew, the word for “abomination” means “your disgusting things”
— that is, all those things that disgust the Holy Spirit. 
    God is saying, in short: “Do you want to inquire of me and
receive a true word?  I’ve had enough of your phony tears, your
fake repentance.  Turn away from your idols.  Then I will answer
you in truth!”

                    Those Who Refuse to Cast
                  Down Their Stumbling Block
                    of Iniquity — Who Refuse
                  to Acknowledge Their Idols
                    and Smash Them — End Up
                      in Strong Delusion!

    Idolaters are destined to live in deception — believing a
lie to be the truth!
    “For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger
that sojourneth in Israel, which separated himself from me, and
setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock
of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to
enquire of him concerning me; I the Lord will answer him by
himself.
    “And I will set my face against that man, and will make him
a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my
people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.  And if the prophet
be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived
that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will
destroy him from the midst of my people Israel” (Ezekiel 14:7-9).

    God says in this passage that he deceives covetous prophets.
Yet we know God cannot deceive any man.  Rather, what this means
is, “Because you are hardened in your sin, with no cry or desire
to turn and repent, every word you hear from now on will confirm
you in your sin.  Even the preaching you hear will speak to your
idols.  Everything will confirm you in your deception!”
    We see a picture of this in 1 Kings 22, with King Ahab.
This man was probably the most idolatrous king in the history of
Israel.  And at this time, he had aligned himself with King
Jehoshaphat to go into battle against Ramoth-Gilead. 
    Four hundred prophets stood before Ahab, encouraging him to
move forward with the attack.  Can you imagine the scene?  There
stood a horde of flattering men, all mouthing words that fed
Ahab’s idolatry.  And every one of those four hundred voices was
lying to him — confirming him in his sin, telling him it was
okay to move ahead.
    But listen to what Scripture says:
    “And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go
up and fall [be defeated] at Ramoth-gilead?  And one said on this
manner, and another said on that manner.  And there came forth a
spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him.
And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith?  And he said, I will go
forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his
prophets.  And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail
also: go forth, and do so” (1 Kings 22:20-22).
    Here was one of the worst idolaters of all time, a man whose
heart was absolutely captivated by covetousness and lust.  And
now he was inquiring of the Lord.  So, what did God give to Ahab?
He provided him with four hundred prophets who would echo the
desire in Ahab’s heart: “Everything looks great.  There is peace,
prosperity ahead.  Go into battle!”
    What a horrible tragedy!  Ahab couldn’t hear God’s voice
because of the idols rooted in his heart.  And God answered him
by sending him a strong delusion — one that would destroy him!
    “…because they received not the love of the truth, that
they might be saved…for this cause [reason] God shall send them
strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all
might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in
unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). 
    God not only allows deceptive voices, but he actually
arranges them: “…God shall send them strong delusion…” (verse
11).  I see this happen often in Christians’ lives.  For example,
one man left Times Square Church recently because he said the
sermons were too hard and legalistic.  But this man had an idol –
– a besetting sin that he wouldn’t let go.  He felt “led” to a
church where he is comfortable in his sin.  Now he can smoke and
drink freely — and not a word is ever said about it.
    I have often wondered how it is that fleshly Christians in
the church seem to find others just like themselves.  I see
gossipers making friends with other gossipers; lust-filled women
gravitating to men who are on the prowl; homosexuals finding
other homosexuals.  How are they “led” to each other?  It is all
ordained of God! 
    No, God does not overpower anyone’s free will.  But his work
of sending strong a delusion happens because people refuse to
forsake their evil practices.  He says, “The only hope I have of
reaching you is to let you come to the end of your rope — to let
your sin make you sick!”
    We see this process at work in the book of Numbers, when
Israel wept and pleaded for meat.  God answered their prayers
this way: “Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days,
neither ten days, nor twenty days; but even a whole month, until
it come out at your nostrils: because that ye have despised the
Lord which is among you…” (Numbers 11:19-20).
    God is saying, “So, you want to indulge your flesh?  You
want to hold onto your sin?  Then I will let you wallow in it
until it sickens you, until it gives you no more pleasure —
until you cry out, ‘Enough!'”

                    Many Christians Turn to
                  the Bible to Inquire of the
                  Lord While Still Clinging to
                  Stumbling Blocks of Iniquity
                  — and Even the Scriptures
                      Speak to Their Idols!

    When idolaters open the Bible, they often find what they
want, right before their eyes.  They read just what they needed
to lift conviction, to put them at ease — to confirm them in
their delusion!
    A number of years ago, a married man came to me convinced
God had shown him a woman who would be his next wife.  His
present wife was disabled.  This man told me, “I love my wife,
and I have no plans to leave her.  But a voice keeps telling me
that this other sister is going to be my wife one day.  I know it
sounds hard to believe — but whenever I open my Bible I receive
confirmations, everywhere I turn.  For example — the other day I
turned to Psalms, and the word I read was, ‘He will bring you
into your desired haven.'” 
    That word should have been proof enough to this man that in
his heart this other woman was a “desired haven.”  The words he
was receiving weren’t prophetic at all; they were his own lustful
desire being given a voice!  This man was being “led” to
scriptures that were misapplied — and they confirmed him in his
strong delusion.
    It is one thing to have a struggle with sin and refuse to
make peace with it.  Such a person says, “I hate this bondage —
and I will not put up with it!  I want deliverance.  God, I will
stay true to you!”
    But when you make peace with your sin — when it is in your
face every day, yet you refuse to see it — you will begin to
hear one confirmation after another.  And it will not be God’s
word to you — but God allowing your own sinful heart to speak!
    When Christians learn to live with their sin — whether that
sin is unforgiveness, gossip, sensuality — the sin eventually
becomes a part of their life.  And no matter how often they are
seen in church — with hands upraised, worshiping the Lord —
they remain idolaters in God’s eyes.  And eventually God will
remove his anointing from them completely.
    Are you clinging to an idol in your heart?  Be warned — all
you will ever receive from God’s word is confirmation in
deception.  The word meant to heal you will only bring you ruin.
You will be led by the spirit of your idol — perverting
everything you read or hear!

                    God’s Word Shows Us Why
                  He Has to Take Such Drastic
                  Action — Why He Must Answer
                      Idolaters So Harshly!

    “And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the
punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him
that seeketh unto him; that the house of Israel may go no more
astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their
transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be
their God, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 14:10-11).
    God is telling us in tender terms: “Whatever it takes to get
you away from your polluted idol, I’m going to do it.  I will not
let you fall into deception and destruction.  I am going to woo
you back to myself!
    “If that doesn’t work, I will bring punishment if I have to.
I will bring the hammer of my word down upon you.  I will chasten
you and judge you.  And I will do it all because I love you and
don’t want to lose you!  I have come to give you life more
abundantly.  But you can’t have that abundance as long as you
hold onto that idol in your heart!”
    “…when ye see their ways and their doings…ye shall know
that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it,
saith the Lord God” (verse 23).  The Lord is saying, in other
words: “You’ll know that my strong dealings with you are for a
reason.  I simply will not let you go!”
    I ask you: Do you have a stumbling block of iniquity in your
heart?  Are you under the dominion of a besetting sin?  Are you
deceived by a bondage that could destroy you?  If so, and you
find yourself under conviction from this message, there is hope
for you.
    It doesn’t matter what your idol is — covetousness, sexual
sin, pornography, alcohol, drugs, bitterness or unforgiveness.
God says it is before your face right now — and you know what it
is.  Ask him to open your eyes to it; seek him for a revelation
about your sin.  Ask the Holy Spirit to instill the fear of God
in you — to soften your heart to his convicting word and voice.
You have to hate your sin — to determine to make no peace with
it!
    Cry out to him now: “Lord, don’t leave me blind!  If there
is any delusion or deception in me, expose it.  Bring the
sledgehammer of your word to smash down all my walls of
deception.  Get through to me.  I don’t want to believe any more
lies.  I only want to hear your voice now.  I want your power and
authority to rule my life!”
    There is deliverance for you, if you truly want it.  But God
will wait for you to turn away from your idols.  He will empower
you by his Spirit the moment you are ready to surrender them.
    Dear saint, hear me well: If you will lay down your idols
today, God will begin to reveal himself to you in a special way.
And one day soon you will look at your feet and see those
lifeless idols lying beneath you in ashes and powder.  Then you
will realize you’ve been walking in Jesus’ wonderful presence —
no longer a slave to a bondage, but a child of God set free by
truth!

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