The Root of Desire (I)

You may have noticed that there is a common theme running through the last few posts on this blog: Desire. That is no coincidence. I have been digging in my archives to find some old Bloemnews columns related to the topic, and there are quite a few. I will post the rest as time allows.

But before I do so, let me explain my interest in this little word.

It is my firm conviction that all of Christianity revolves around it, and that it depicts the single motivator behind all of human conduct, both moral and immoral. As such, it depicts the greatest force known to humanity, a force so strong that it cannot be resisted by human will. And so, if understood correctly, this little word will even solve some of the mystery surrounding determinism and free will. But that’s a story for another day. In the posts to follow I simply wish to introduce you to the central role of “desire” in the Bible.

Desire: The Problem Underlying Our Sins

If you read the New Testament you will notice that the word desire is everywhere. Sometimes it appears to be mentioned along with other sins, such as in Colossians 3:5-8, where we read the following:

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.

However, a careful reading of the New Testament reveals that desire is not simply a sin amongst other sins, but the driving force behind all sins. To sin is to give in to desire. Whilst Tom may be addicted to Internet porn, and Dick to alcohol, and Harry to money, the common denominator in their lives is their slavery to desire. They may choose to serve their master in different ways, but it is the same master.

The classic New Testament chapter on sin, Romans 1, provides us with a long list of typical “sins”: Envy, Murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander and so on (see verses 29-31). But note the origin behind all of these: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts… “ (verse24) and “God gave them up to dishonorable passions … “ (verse 26). The “sins” were simply manifestations of the power of “sin”, namely desire, also called “passion” or “lust”. The “giving up” has to do with the way in which desire becomes more and more determined when adhered to. Desire has a profound effect on the human will. The will is determined to desire and cannot resist this determination, but it is free when considering its object of desire. However, once it has chosen it loses that freedom rapidly. But more about that later, as mentioned above.

Along the same lines as the teaching of Romans 1, Paul tells the Ephesians that the “old self” is corrupt through “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22). The only solution to the problem of our Adamic natures, as we know, is crucifixion. And so we read in the letter to the Galatians that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Similarly, Peter says that to become partakers of the divine nature is to escape from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

This is but a small sample of a teaching that runs throughout the entire Bible and that is oftentimes sadly missed by those who preach against sin. It is not our “sins” that constitute the problem, it is our “sin”. Desire is the root of the tree. “Bad deeds” are the fruit. To preach against bad deeds is like trimming your weeds. You may create the impression that your garden is weed free, but such an impression won’t last long.

The fact that sin is preceded by desire is clear from the Scriptures. Eve “saw that the tree was good for fruit, pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom”, before she ate from it. In James 1 we read that every man is tempted when he is dragged away by his own evil desire, and that desire, when conceived, gives birth to sin. We do things for one reason only: Because we want to do them. Our wants is just another word for our desires. Our deeds manifest what is in our hearts. It is as simple as that.

If this is true, then it means that for salvation to be salvation (in the true sense of the word) the problem of desire must be addressed. Believe it or not, this is exactly what Jesus set out to do when he came to dwell amongst us. How exactly we will see in the posts to follow.

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