Humans hate emptiness! We do everything possible to avoid or deny the feelings or appearance of emptiness. Even the suggestion that we are empty or missing something powerfully moves us. An empty wall calls for a picture, an empty room for furniture, an empty house for a family, an empty cup for water, and an empty stomach for food. Silence, an emptiness of sound, is awkward. People start talking to avoid an awkward silence. Loneliness, a relational emptiness, compels us to talk out loud to ourselves, turn on a TV or music, or perhaps go to a bar or a church. Pain, a state that occurs when we lack the power to heal, overcome, or change something, drives us to take action to medicate, anesthetize, or distract. Boredom demands activity, entertainment, and enlightenment. Guilt, the absence of righteousness, often produces an urge to do good, serve, or adopt strict religious standards.
Emptiness has been a part of the human experience because of one act in history. I’m referring to the first sin of Adam and Eve. They were full-had everything they needed. First, they had intimacy–unbroken fellowship–with God, their Creator. Second, they had significance as God’s agents, created and assigned the responsibilities to procreate and subdue the rest of God’s creation. Third, the garden was replete with all they needed to eat and sustain themselves in the new world. No inclement weather or hostile animals or threatening neighbors existed. They did not live under the shadow of death! Furthermore, they were designed with the abilities and senses to enjoy to the max all God created for them. They had no experience with emptiness until…
Satan suggested they were lacking something.
Adam and Eve were full. They lacked nothing that was good. They had firsthand experience with God’s goodness. Satan merely implied that they lacked something which would make them more like God–the knowledge of good and evil. “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” How could they be so easily drawn into sin? Obviously, Satan knew that even the threat of emptiness or the appeal to greater fullness, deeper intimacy with God, would be successful in drawing them into sin against God.
With one act of rebellion against God, Adam, Eve, and the entire human race lost the one thing that satisfies and fills the human soul and spirit–intimacy with God. The impact on mankind was pervasive and tragic. God’s Word gives His appraisal of sin’s impact.
“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
As a result of one sin, the human heart became a cesspool of evil. Spiritual emptiness swallowed Adam and Eve and death entered the entire human race (Rom. 5:12). Adam and Eve didn’t quit breathing the day they sinned, so the death God promised wasn’t only physical death. In their attempt to get what they thought they were lacking, they lost the fullness that comes from intimate fellowship with God. They were separated from Him, and with that separation came spiritual emptiness. Blaise Pascal wrote in Pencees, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”
I want you to consider an undeniable fact: sin rises out of a person’s spiritual emptiness, lack of intimacy with God, his or her Creator and Filler.
There’s a relationship between spiritual emptiness and sin
Spiritual emptiness fuels sin; and once sin is accomplished, it results in greater emptiness. Lust, idolatry, doubt, fear, discontentment, disobedience, and ultimately death are driven by spiritual emptiness. Sin and spiritual hunger and thirst have plagued mankind and trickled down to you and me. When we don’t live in the fullness of God provided through Jesus Christ, we sin as they did. Our actions become driven by fear of what we might miss or by lust for what we don’t have.
Not realizing the thirst for intimacy with God, the flesh, under the control of sin, seeks to fill the spiritual void with things, relationships, and experiences rooted in the world. Some people try to find satisfaction in destructive, evil activities such as illicit sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, or a host of vices. Others may seek to fill the spiritual emptiness with things and activities of this world that mask the spiritual thirst. If a person has been raised in a religious environment, then the flesh may drink from the wells of religious service, self-sacrifice, self-abasement, or compliance to a host of rules and standards controlling outward appearance and actions. In all of these ways there is a deception of which we need to be aware.
The Apostle Paul warned the Colossians of this (2:8-10): “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete.” The philosophy of this world runs on elementary principles and those principles become men’s traditions. Basically the philosophy is this: the ultimate purpose of life is personal happiness. The principles and traditions of men therefore are developed by men to fulfill that purpose.
The flesh falls for empty deception
Does the man with a six-figure salary, 5000 square foot house, beautiful wife and kids, new cars, boat, 90-inch flat screen TV, and whatever else he wants feel his spiritual emptiness? He might, but probably not. When he lacks something, he simply goes out and buys it. He has the resources to satisfy the earthly desires of his heart. His life is filled with good things. He will find at the end what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes found, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity” (Ecc. 5:10). Unless the Holy Spirit unmasks the spiritual emptiness, the lack of intimacy with God, which provides eternal security and satisfaction, he will live his life thinking he has everything only to pass into eternity with NOTHING–his flesh fell for empty deception.
Does the one who seeks to fill his life with the vices of this world feel his spiritual emptiness? He may feel his need more keenly and more quickly, but probably not his spiritual emptiness. Why? Because the destruction and pain caused from such a lifestyle cannot be hidden. I am in no way suggesting everyone should seek to satisfy the base desires of their flesh in order to get in touch with their great need for intimacy with God, but at least the empty deception that accompanies worldly vices comes to light more quickly and powerfully than the other ways that are more pleasing to men. Nevertheless, the man who tries to fill the spiritual void with endless hours of porn viewing, uncontrolled substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, etc. may think he’s living high. Unless the Holy Spirit reveals that his search is a spiritual search for intimacy with God, he will pass into eternity with NOTHING-his flesh fell for empty deception.
Does the man (or woman) who fills his life with good things, faithfully attends church, does good deeds, reads the Bible and prays daily, follows the commands of God as best he knows, and serves his family and others in the community well feel his spiritual emptiness? Quite possibly not! When it comes to public compliance with goodness and righteousness, he or she might feel quite full. Certainly his schedule is filled with good activities. Others may praise him for his example and leadership. He might even be in great demand as a teacher or leader. The question however is this: Does he realize that spiritual emptiness, thirst for intimacy with God, drives his lifestyle? Unless the Holy Spirit reveals that man-made religion, self-abasement, and ministry is only the flesh trying to fill the void of spiritual emptiness in his soul, he will live his life thinking he is pleasing God only to pass into eternity with NOTHING-his flesh fell for empty deception. Paul warned the Colossians of the empty deception of the man-pleasers, “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 1:23).
Emptiness drives fleshly indulgence
The Apostle Paul warned his readers in his letters about all of the forms of fleshly indulgence mentioned above. The term flesh has been defined as human nature under the control of sin. That’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). There’s no way God can be pleased with flesh’s attempt to please Him apart from the fullness of God in Christ, which is only imparted by the power of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. In Col. 2:23, the word translated indulgence comes from a word literally meaning filling up or completing. Man-made or self-made religion might appear to be wise according to the traditions and elementary principles of men, but it is absolutely of no value to God and is powerless to fill the emptiness in man. How can we see this?
In the first place, why does man come up with commandments and teachings about what to do and what not to do (this is the context of Col. 2:21-23) which he follows religiously? Men are compelled to come up with standards of righteousness that they can accomplish in the flesh so they don’t feel their guilt (the absence or emptiness of righteousness). That the motive is to satisfy their feelings of guilt or emptiness and to satisfy the praise of their own consciences is revealed in that they pick the standards from God’s word that they can perform consistently and ignore the ones which they cannot. Unfortunately, they have satisfied themselves with outward compliance instead of intimacy with Jesus Christ, Himself, who is the fullness of God and in whom they may be complete.
Here are a couple of examples. First, a person believes and teaches that religious hymns are the only acceptable music to God, and he applauds himself that he doesn’t listen to any contemporary music out of love for God. However, he judges, despises, and avoids those who do listen to contemporary worship music. While being careful in his music diet out of a professed concern to please the Lord, he ignores God’s word about not judging, expressing love, and encouraging his brothers and sisters in Christ. One is not an explicit law stated in God’s word and the other is. Second, a man religiously prays and reads his Bible everyday, but controls and manipulates others to get them to do what he wants. Which is of greatest value to God? Which fuels fleshly indulgence?
The second way we can see that flesh work cannot fill the void in man is when a person tries to fill him or herself up by doing things he/she thinks is right and pleasing to God or not doing other things thought to offend God. They make no headway in replacing the emptiness within by the fullness of God in Christ. No matter how hard the flesh tries, righteous deeds cannot destroy emptiness or facilitate intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. They actually strengthen fleshly filling, which cannot please God.
What is your experience with emptiness?
Consider how you typically respond to the following versions of emptiness common to the human experience.
The following questions may help you get in touch with your experience with emptiness.
• Do you find yourself reacting to the circumstances above by self-filling or by the filling offered in a relationship with God in Christ? (I suggest writing this list and any others you think of on a piece of paper. Write beside each one what your common response is each time you feel the emptiness).
• Do you derive satisfaction more from following certain rules or principles that you think please God than from living in relationship with Christ and enjoying the Spirit’s leading in your life?
• When you sin, have you detected spiritual emptiness driving the sin?
• Have you considered that finding happiness from living by a set of standards, which you think are righteous, could be sin before God and an expression of fleshly indulgence?
• When you think of dying and passing into the presence of God, what do you expect?
• Are you at peace with what God has given you and in the circumstances in which you find yourself or do you feel empty and compelled to search for something more from this world?
• Are you filled with love or fear when you meet people?
• What drives your prayer and devotional life?
Until we recognize our own unrighteousness and the resulting spiritual emptiness, its power to fuel sin, and the world’s appeal to our emptiness, we won’t appreciate what God has to offer in Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of God. God sent His Son so we might have an intimate relationship with Him and be complete in Christ. He came to end the curse of sin, spiritual emptiness, and lack of intimacy with God passed down from Adam and Eve so we might live in the fullness of God. We'll discuss this more next month. Until then, seek fullness in Christ during this Christmas season.