For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other… (Galatians 5:17 NIV)
Someone has said that “nature abhors a vacuum.” It is also true that your heart was created to be animated with affection and desire for something outside of itself.
God wired us this way. The verse above not only shows us that sinful desires are a problem, but also that there are desires that come from the Holy Spirit. Desire can lead you away from God (temptation), and desire can also lead you to God! The enemy in temptation is not “desire” in itself. Rather, desire is either sinful or holy, depending upon the object it is fixed upon.
Duty is weaker than desire. No one sins out of duty and no one escapes sin out of a sense of duty alone.
It is certainly our duty to serve and obey God, and it is always the right thing to do. But God is not glorified if we serve him only out of duty. Nor are sinful strongholds expelled from our hearts by duty-motivation alone.
The way to expel a sinful stronghold from your heart is to captivate your heart with a stronger and holier affection! Thomas Chalmers (1798-1847) referred to this reality as, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”
Somehow we’ve been made to believe that the battle against sin is a battle against desire. In reality, it’s not desire in itself that’s evil. It’s our capacity to desire that’s been hijacked by the “lusts of deceit”. We’ve believed the “lying promises” that sin makes. Those deceitful promises cause our minds and bodies to believe that sin offers us a real and satisfying solution to our needs.
Here’s how C.S. Lewis described the issue:
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Again, it is not desire that is the culprit. But the corruptible counterfeits that the world offers as a substitute for God and His glorious provision for our lives.
To really win against temptation, you must fight fire with fire.
(To read Thomas Chalmers’ essay, THE EXPULSIVE POWER OF A NEW AFFECTION, click here. It’s a powerful and edifying teaching, but written in far higher language than the typical American is accustomed to! So be prepared to take time to ponder what you are reading.)
More on this theme later in the week.