Getting Down To The Root
Scripture informs us as to the depths of our sinfulness before the holy God. We rebel outwardly disobeying His perfect commandments turning aside from His way (Romans 3:12). After our father Adam, we are born sinners (Psalm 51:5 and Romans 5:12-13). Our sin issue goes down to the depths of our heart which Scripture testifies to saying “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)?” Down to the core of who we are as human beings, we are sinners. Which is why Christ came not merely to bring some changes in our lives as believers. No, He came to make us a new creation, to give us new hearts, to bring about the new birth (2 Corinthians 5:17, Ezekiel 36:26, and John 3:1-15). After we are saved by the power of the Spirit through the Gospel of Christ, we are given new desires. The battle of sanctification is putting off the ways of the flesh learning to walk in mature submission to the Lord in everything with thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7, 3:5-17).
The reality of sin penetrating to the depths of our soul and the truth of the Gospel giving us a new heart means that the battle of sanctification must be fought seeking to bring the very desires of our soul into submission to Jesus. This is why Psalm 119 is filled with references to the delight, joy, and seeking of God and His Word at the heart level. All of this necessitates that we understand our desires according to Scripture so that we can spot sin and by the power of the Spirit pluck it out of our lives. As it pertains to sinful desires, one’s object can certainly be inherently evil. The soul desirous of getting drunk has for its object a sinful desire (Ephesians 5:21). Someone who wants to commit adultery is in sin. Yet, we must remember that it is also possible for us to desire something good only to elevate it to an idolatrous level.
Thinking Biblically About Desire
David Powlison is incredibly helpful on this point of desire from a biblical perspective saying:
“Our desires deceive us because they present themselves as so plausible. When natural affections become warped and monstrous, they blind us. Who wouldn’t want good health, financial comfort, a loving spouse, good kids, success on the job, kind parents, tasty food, a life without traffic jams, control over circumstances? Yet cravings for these things lead to every sort of evil. The things people desire are delightful blessings as received from God, but terrible as rulers. They make good goods but bad gods.”
Powlison’s point is particularly powerful because all of the various items he lists are good. Defined by Scripture, none of them are sinful, all of them are blessings from the hand of God. However, we must remember they are to be “received from God” and not place them in their improper priority. If I have the desire of excellence in my work, that is commendable before the sight of the God who is excellent and masterful in every way. The problem comes whenever I elevate that desire for good work to a sinful extent where I no longer view my work as a way to serve Christ (Colossians 3:23-24) but as a way to elevate myself. At that point, my desire for work is sinful because I am viewing it pridefully wanting the approval of others instead of seeking to be approved of in the judgment of Christ.
All of this brings us to a powerful point for sanctification, we must not merely drill down into what we desire, it is vital we go further to seeing “why” we desire it. Our goal is not to rid ourselves of desire, rather it is to bring our desires in alignment with God’s will so that not only what we want but also why we want it and how we act on it is thoroughly in submission to Him. That is drilling down to the innermost crevices of the heart. It is good to desire marriage, it is a grand gift from God. Yet, if marriage is to be glorifying to God that very desire must be centered on receiving marriage as a gift from Him to reflect His glory as each spouse delights in one another to His praise seeking to work out their ordained roles. Both the object and the reason for the desire must be submitted to the Word if it is to be honoring to the Lord.
How then do we cultivate all of this in our life day by day as believers? It is by dying to ourselves and living in Christ. We must be “poor in spirit” not proud (Matthew 5:3). The way to true joy is not to fulfill everything we want, but to submit to everything Christ says. Central to this calling is love. It is love for God, His Word, and others which orients my desires by the power of His Spirit. After directing believers to cast off sin and put on righteousness, the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:14-15 says in the inspired Word:
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” -Colossians 3:14-15
Notice that it is love which causes the Christian process of casting off and putting on in sanctification to flow together perfectly. It balances and orchestrates the believer’s life in perfect harmony as the peace of Christ rules in the heart of the Christian. Ruled by peace, fueled by love, and adorned with thankfulness the believer is led to proper desires and a faithful walk. No longer desiring to use others for sexual immorality or sinfully coveting what others have, we are now freed to love them by showing compassion from the heart living with humility, and showing patience as we bear with each other (note the contrast of Colossians 3:5 with 3:12). The point is clear, it is love and the peaceful rule of Christ in our hearts which orients our desires as His followers.
Practically, this means that my joy is not fundamentally found in my own wants, but in service to Christ and in pouring myself out as a living sacrifice for His sake (Romans 12:1-2). This reality manifests itself in obedience to His commandments and a life of selfless love toward others modelled after Him (see John 13:35 and 14:15). The Holy Spirit has so changed our hearts that as we grow in Christ He brings both the object and the “why” of our desires into alignment with His will. Husbands are freed to love their wives as their own flesh seeking their joy, growth, and advancement in the Lord (Ephesians 5). Friends can serve each other instead of using one another for selfish and sinful purposes. Our work is now centered on blessing others as we vocationally labor with excellence to the praise of Christ. It is not that we have less joy because our desires have been reoriented, no we know a depth of joy the lost world never can. That is because all of our satisfaction is found in Christ Jesus. He is our desire and He is at work in us as His people binding our hearts to His in love which orders our life, even at the innermost level, according to His Word to be a beautiful symphony of praise to His name!
1 All Powlison quotes are taken from this article: