Thursday, June 12, 2008

To Eliminate the Desires of the Flesh

I have bad news for my readers. I’m a sinner. No, it’s true. Since you know this, you probably shouldn’t be reading what I have to say. What’s that? You say “everyone is a sinner”? Aw c’mon. We know that this is only theoretical, right? I’m an actual sinner. I’ve committed actual sins in my life. I know some people out there who haven’t actually sinned – ever… Right? I mean, we’re all sinners because of original sin. Even if you don’t sin, you still need salvation. So, surely all the people I know who act like they’ve never sinned before… well… surely many of them have never sinned. Ok, maybe they told a white lie when they were 8 years old or stole a cookie out of the cookie jar when they were 5. But they’ve never done anything major like prideful boasting, slander, unwarranted anger, cursing or ignoring the needs of the “least of these”. They haven’t even taken so much as a sip of wine lest it be a sin. I haven’t even mentioned the real biggies like adultery, hard drugs, witchcraft and murder.

Well, I was not one of these mild sinners. I once sought satisfaction for the desires of my flesh from the world rather than from God. When God brought me back to Himself, He miraculously removed desires one by one. He didn’t remove all of them. It’s one thing to say, “He removed the desire to be inebriated so I wouldn’t get drunk anymore,” because we don’t need to be inebriated. It’s another to say, “He removed the desire to eat so I wouldn’t be a glutton,” because I still need to eat something and it helps to crave the foods I need. You see, there’s a fuzzy line there when you talk about the “desires of the flesh.” Let me ‘splain:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:16-24 ESV

We are instructed in the Ten Commandments not to covet. But Paul’s admonition is not to refrain from desiring. In fact, nowhere is there command to stop desiring. There is a difference between covet and desire. It’s the difference between intention and inclination.

The way to handle the desires of our flesh is not to satisfy them with the world, but to find our satisfaction in God. That means we must subject our desires to His truth, His will. We need our desires to some extent, but sin has distorted the things of this world and our desires are likewise distorted by sin. The truth of God helps us recognize the need our desires are ideally intended to address and deny the sin we may be tempted to pursue as a result of their distortion.

To pursue the desires of the flesh outside of the will of God is to commit acts of sin. For example, sexual desire is intended for pleasure and procreation only within a marital covenant. This is spiritually aligned with God’s desire for us and as such is a spiritual desire. Outside a marital covenant, sexual desire is distorted to be spiritually aligned with death or separation from God. This is fleshly desire. Spiritual desire is acted out in the temporal, but is rooted in the eternal. The desire of the flesh is rooted in the temporal to the exclusion of the eternal.

In this fallen world, the manifestation of desire in our bodies between the spirit and the flesh is physiologically indistinguishable. That’s why the difference is in our intention, not in whether we have a desire or not. God may graciously give us reprieve from some desires of the flesh, but allow us to struggle with others. We should rejoice over the struggle, for the Spirit of God is active within us, and recognize His purpose to strengthen us and build us up. Victory is when we are strengthened and bear the fruit of the Spirit.

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