Sunday, January 8, 2017


Jesus has come so that we can become whole people. While that goal is finally attained only in the age to come, we work toward the goal, and make progress, throughout our time in this age. We work at becoming whole people. It might be helpful to put all of that into church words. I’m talking about sanctification, about becoming holy people. When I say it that way, other things can become clearer. One of those things is the obstacle that stands in our way to becoming whole people. The obstacle is sin.

Now, if we’re going to make progress to that goal in this life, there are some things that we are going to need to do. For one thing, we are going to need to understand this obstacle that stands in our way. We are going to need to understand this thing called sin. You cannot solve a problem until you have a clear understanding of what that problem is.

One bit of Scripture that will help here is found in the letter that James wrote. He explains some dynamics of sin that we need to grasp. Listen carefully.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1.13-15

Sin brings forth death. That’s familiar enough. But did you notice what lies behind sin?

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

The problem beneath the problem is our desires.

So, exactly when did Eve commit her sin? Was it when she bit into the fruit that God said not to eat? No. Was it when she plucked that fruit off the tree? No. Listen.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3.6

Eve sinned when she gave in to her desires. In every case, before any act of sin there is some desire which, when given in to, is itself sin.

So, think back to David. He sees Bathsheba and thinks that she might be a good time. He sends his messengers to bring her to him. But let’s change the story. Let’s say that she refuses and sends those messengers back empty-handed. Has David sinned? Absolutely. But nothing happened between them! That doesn’t matter. David gave in to his desires. It’s just like Eve desiring the fruit.

So, our sin is so much more than certain actions. Our sin includes those evil desires that we give ourselves to. As a result, it actually isn’t enough to repent of, say, being angry. You also need to repent of what it was that you were desiring, the desire that was behind that anger, that fueled that anger. So, real change, becoming more of a whole person, more of a holy person, is not just a matter of learning how not to blow up at people. The desire behind the anger also needs to be conquered.

That last sentence is true, but not quite complete. And it really needs to be complete. It’s not enough that some desire is conquered. It actually needs to be replaced. And that will make more sense when you understand that there are no neutral desires. All desires are either evil and sinful, or they are holy and good. So, we don’t conquer an evil desire in the expectation that something simply benign, something pleasant, will take its place. No. It needs to be replaced with something holy.

Am I sure about this? Do I have a verse? Actually, I have a couple. Here’s one.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30

It’s the repeated ‘all’ that you need to notice here: all the heart, all the soul, all the mind and all the strength. And that includes things like our desires. We are to give ourselves so fully to the Father that He is all that we desire.

Now, that might sound a bit over the top. So, let me offer this other verse.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. Psalms 73:25

For this psalmist, life was all about his God. Having Him was his one great desire.

So, here’s the goal: every desire that we have, every desire, is to have at its core the desire for God. This makes sense because He made us to respond to Him in this way, to desire Him in all that we do. That’s the goal that we are to work toward in this life.

I’m going to guess that that sounds overwhelming. If it doesn’t, you’re not getting it. It is overwhelming. And that is simply a reflection of how much our sinful desires have twisted us up.

So, how do we deal with this overwhelming problem? What do we do about it?

Here’s where we start. Jesus has come, and we are saved. Jesus has come with the express purpose of making us into whole people. And that means that He has come so that we can deeply and completely desire God in everything that we do. And, because it’s Jesus who’s leading us in this process, we should all be so very optimistic. For one thing, because of His powerful grace, we are going to make progress, in this life. And in the next life, His work of changing us, of making us whole, will be completed. It’s going to work. Hold on to that. Believe the Gospel, and be optimistic.

So, what else? What else are we to do to deal with this overwhelming problem? Well, there’s this. We need to get to know ourselves. And let’s be frank. That’s a skill that needs a lot of work for most of us. We know about all sorts of stuff: the dates of important historical events, mathematical formula for the area under a curve, the recipe for great brownies, the properties of various materials under the stress of heat and pressure, important political issues, the laws that define electricity and how to make a buck. But we don’t know ourselves, not really. But how can we conquer and replace some evil desire if we don’t know when it’s controlling us? So, we need to work at getting to know ourselves. And that will be hard. But there will be no real and lasting change, no making progress at becoming whole people, unless we make progress in getting to know ourselves.

So, what exactly are we to do? One way to get to know yourself is to ask yourself questions. Here are some examples.

Think about the things that you pray about, the things that you ask God to give to you. Now, with those in mind, here’s the question to ask yourself. Why you want those things? Don’t give some ‘spiritual’ answer. Take a serious look at yourself. What is the desire beneath the request? If you are honest with yourself, you’ll find that you’re asking for some really good things but you are asking for them to satisfy desires that don’t have anything to do with desiring God. That’s true for all of us. And it’s truer than we want to believe.

Here’s another thing to do to get to know yourself. The next time you have an argument with someone, and this especially applies to you who are married, ask yourself what it is that you wanted. And again, don’t settle for something on the surface. Ask yourself what desire you wanted satisfied. So, what started out as a conversation about vacation plans, the seashore or the mountains, has turned into a heated debate. But it’s no longer about where to vacation. Now, it’s about something else. It’s about your desires, things like wanting your way, or being annoyed that other person always gets his or her way or something like that. What would be so bad if the decision didn’t go your way? And that’s a real question for you to answer. What’s the problem beneath the problem, the desire behind the argument?

Or, on the other hand, there are times when you avoid an argument, but you do it by simply giving in. You capitulate. ‘I surrender!’ What desire are you trying to satisfy when that happens? I’m pretty sure that it isn’t about desiring God. Our sin problems go deep. And we will not solve them unless we get to know ourselves better.

Now, even doing these sorts of things, getting insightful answers to those questions, will not result in success, in change, in growth. Ultimately, rooting out some evil desire and replacing it with a Godly one is something that only the Spirit can do. So, we need to appeal to Him to do exactly that. But that doesn’t mean that we pray some general prayer about that and then forget about it. We pray that the Spirit would bless our specific efforts in getting to know ourselves, in getting to understand our desires. And then, when He reveals some ugly desire, we take it to Him, repent of it and ask Him to change us. So, when He reveals our desire to always be right, we pray that we would learn humility. When He reveals our desire to be well liked, we pray that we would be able to live according to the truth even if it means we will look bad. When He reveals our desire to live comfortably in some sense or another, we pray that we would be granted the willingness to suffer loss for the sake of Jesus. We pray that particular wicked desires would be replaced with particular Godly ones.

Last thought. Why is this important? I could say that it’s important so that you could become a model Christian. But if I say that, I could very well be catering to some selfish desire, like the desire have to people impressed with you. Getting these things right will, in fact, make you into a great Christian. But that can’t be the goal. So, that’s not why this is important. No, instead, this is important because it is the way that we will become whole people. And as that happens, we will be able to live in a way that highlights the beauty of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. And that, after all, is why we were created. This is important because it’s all about our ability to make God look good. So, remember that as you work at knowing your desires and do the very difficult job of making sure that they are all about desiring God.

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