Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When Good Desires Become Sin

I heard a wonderful sermon last Sunday morning about walking by faith and not by sight. The text the pastor employed is Genesis 21:1-21 and it records the story of Isaac’s birth. As is often the case with me, my mind is inclined to wonder during the sermon, especially when the speaker strikes a chord that is close to home. As I sat there, I pondered what it must feel like for a woman who desperately wants a child but is not able to have one. I Immediately thought about God’s sovereignty and His power. From a rational standpoint, my Calvinistic theology argued for complete surrender and submission to God’s decree. After all, this is what any good Calvinistic theologian would think. Moreover, just in case you are wondering, make no mistake about it, I are one. However, there is another side to human beings that we must not ignore. What is more, that attribute of human beings drives more decisions and behavior than any other single aspect of human nature. That facet is the emotional facet. Moreover, that component is usually the component that wins out when it comes to human behavior. Unfortunately, most people think emotions are neutral. Even Christians believe that their feelings are somehow neutral or amoral. When I say neutral, I mean from a moral or ethical standpoint. They are what they are, some would say. “I cannot ignore how I feel, can I?” is often a response from people who are attempting to justify actions or patterns of thought that are almost certainly out of bounds with Christian ethics or principles. This lets people off the hook when it comes to being responsible for actively managing how we feel about things. However, as believers, we are never off the hook for our behavior when it comes to God. God has something to say about how we behave, and how we feel about things, to include other people. We know this because God has commanded humans to love Him with all their being.

Good Desires

Is there anything wrong with a woman or man or a couple desiring a child? Of course the answer to that question is, certainly not. Is it a sin for a man to want a good job in order to provide for his family? Is it wrong for a young woman to long for a companion to spend time with, to love, to converse with, etc.? Most people would say that there is nothing wrong with these desires. I wholeheartedly agree. These are good desires. There is nothing wrong with wanting a child, a job, or a spouse. In fact, these desires reflect the nature of God in us. God created children and as such, He desired them. God also desires community and we see that in the Trinity. Finally, God cares for and provides for those whom He loves. Hence, it follows that these desires are actually godly desires. So how does a desire go from being good, worthy, noble, and even godly, to being sinful? That is an excellent question, and I for one am glad you asked it. 

When Good Desires Become Sin

It is obvious that certain desires are intrinsically evil. For example, if a woman desires to replace her husband with the more attractive male co-worker, such a thought is immoral. If a man wishes to exchange his 45-year-old, wife for a 25-year-old model for any reason, that kind of thinking and behavior is reprehensible. This seems easy enough for those of us who have been around for a while in the Christian community. Oddly enough, however, we may need to reiterate these truths given the cultural conditions we live in. However, how is it possible that a good desire can actually become a sinful behavior on my part? Robert Jones writes, “A desire can also become sinful when it is inordinate or selfish. In other words, it is possible to desire a good or legitimate thing object too much.” [Jones, Robert D. Uprooting Anger. 51]The basic problem here is that we refuse to accept God’s sovereignty in our lives. The influence of Western culture has caused us to adopt a way of thinking that is distinctly unchristian. We have convinced ourselves that the truth that God has our best interests at heart translates into God having the same interests for our lives that we have. Nothing could be further from the truth. In other words, we want to feel happy, secure, pleased with all aspects of our work life, family life, church life, etc. However, in order for us to arrive at that state of pleasure, things have to go a certain way. They have to look like we want them to look or we become dissatisfied. In addition, here is the real rub. We take that projection, that picture we paint, the one that will make us happy, and we interpose God into it. Hence, what is our desire we actually impose on God and our wishes for us become God’s wishes for us. However, sometimes, God’s work in our lives involves lessons we would rather not learn. God is not interested in our comfort. He is not interested in our happiness. God is interested in transforming us into the image of Christ and sometimes that means just the opposite of what we would think should happen in life.

James 4:1-3 says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend It on your pleasures.”

What is the cause of our tensions? James clearly says the source is our pleasures. What does he mean? The Greek word translated pleasure in this case is hdonh (hedone) and it means “state or condition of experiencing pleasure for any reason, delight, enjoyment, pleasantness.” It appears in Luke 8:14; Titus 3:3; twice here, and 2 Peter 2:13. These pleasures can choke the word out of a person’s life. How does that happen? What does that look like? Choking the word of God out of a person’s life looks like a person who chooses to refuse or reject God’s command in Scripture in preference for that from which they will derive pleasure. In other words, taking up a desire that rejects God’s will is a way to choke out God’s word from one’s life. You end up doing your will rather than God’s will.

When your desire for something moves from a desire to a demand, you are in danger of realizing what might be a good desire turn into sinful behavior. Your refusal to accept the circumstances for what they are can drive you to ignore God’s sovereign control in your life. God has painted the picture of your life from beginning to end before you were every born. You must accept the circumstances that come your way as ordained by your Lord and Master and avoid the temptation to reject Him. If God brought you a wife, He did not intend for you to dismiss her because she no longer makes you happy or pleases you in some way. If you cannot bear children, that is God’s doing. Do not allow your desire to create evil thoughts in your mind about God’s love for you. God may have a different plan for your life. Your challenge is to align your desires with God’s plan. Our challenge is to submit our will to God’s will and plan for our lives. That is what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian means more than reading a book, attending a service every week, writing a check, and serving in some way. It is much more than that.

Your challenge and mine is to respond to God’s plan appropriately, as believers. We must learn to accept the path God has placed us on and ask the question, how can I best glorify God in my circumstance? For the answer to that question, we turn to his word. He that is of God hears, listens to, obeys God’s word. He that does not hear God’s word is not of God. If you are married and having trouble deriving pleasure in your marriage, your response is to love your spouse, not divorce them. Genuine faith demonstrates itself in real, every day, practical love. You examine yourself and respond according to the teachings of Christ. For the genuine believer, there is no other way. Regardless of what contemporary culture is doing, Christians do what Scripture teaches. They subject their desires to God’s plan for their life. They acknowledge He is sovereign in all things and attempt to respond to that plan based on His revealed will in Scripture. Moreover, when true believers understand they have taken up a life that displeases God, that dishonors his word, they turn away from it. They abandon their sinful desires and submit to God realizing that His way is the only true way of experiencing real joy and peace in this life. When confronted with sinful desires and lifestyles, genuine believers repent. Unbelievers double down as one ministry put it. They dig in and end up adding more sin to their existing sin. May we all pray that God would gracious grant each of us the gift of repentance so that our lives would show continual transformation to the life of Christ!

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