Recently I had a chance to preach from one of my favorite texts, Galatians 5:16-17: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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.”
In this message I spell out what “the desires of the Spirit” are and how these affections displace the desire for sin. The basis for this message is my earlier post, “How ‘Holy Lust’ Trumps Unholy Lust.”
This talk really got me thinking. I just finished Galatians today, and I was puzzling over this. “What differentiates the desires of the spirit from the desires of the flesh?”
Certainly, Jesus is important, but I don’t really feel this explanation does more than scratch the surface about our true longing for God, why we should long for him, and what our motivation ought to be. Is it merely that we want his justice? Do we just want him to make us better people? Stronger? Wiser? Happier? How? Why? In what way?
I would propose that holy desires are desires for things that last for eternity, and that disordered, sinful desires are disordered and sinful mainly because they pertain to temporary things, which do not require us to grow closer to God in order to obtain them.
I could never crave the company of anyone for its own sake. I’ve never met Jesus in person, and only rarely enjoyed the company of another human being. However, God is fundamentally different from man, and those differences include being the source and author of happiness, which is what people really want anyway. I think that if we recognize the difference between temporary and eternal happiness, and we pursue eternal happiness over temporary delights, it can’t lead us anywhere but to holiness.
Also, it’s not sinful to see life in adversarial terms. Our Blessed Lord himself was the good shepherd, and shepherds were essentially warriors of the field, who fought for their lives and the lives of their sheep, against wild, vicious beasts; sometimes even against lions and wolves. It’s Satan who wants us to forget that we have an adversary.
@Ken – It does only scratch the surface. My sermon was really trying look at the question: “What are the desires of the Spirit?” You said, “I could never crave the company of anyone for its own sake.” My point is the Holy Spirit does love Christ for His own sake. The message was more about exploring the vibrant love among the members of the Trinity and stating that this divine pleasure should become the source of our pleasure.
I totally agree that holy desires are for eternal things. Like Colossians 3:1-4 states, our thoughts and desires should be fixated on heavenly things, things that will be brought to us at the Second Coming.
It sounds like what you are saying is that God requires us to get close to Him in order to obtain eternal pleasures. My point is that Christ is the central eternal pleasure, and every other eternal pleasure is pleasurable because it reflects His glory. He is the “desire of the nations” (Hag 2:7).
The same is true of temporal pleasures. When pursued in a godly frame of mind, temporary pleasures are a great source of happiness to us because they reflect the goodness of God. The trick is being able to “see through” these pleasures to the glory of God so that the earthly pleasures do not become idols to us.
Eternal pleasures include many things: new heavens, new earth, no pain, no death, shared kingship of the world, resurrection bodies, restored harmony with creation and among human beings. These all sound wonderful, but in eternity, why do we not turn these pleasures into idols? Of course, then we will be perfect, unstained by sin. But what does that mean? It means we no longer have the propensity in us to make good things into ultimate things (to quote Tim Keller). We will be able to take pleasure in our eternal world and yet trace the source of that joy back to God. We will be surrounded by beauty, but we will know the One from whom all the beauty comes.
“Setting my mind on heavenly things” is a difficult thing for me to do, not because the Bible isn’t vivid enough in its promises, but because the promises are so beyond what I currently experience. But when I think about Christ, when I read accounts of His life, I feel as if I am given a taste of the eternal world.
This topic is much more complicated than it seems at first. I think you’re describing both God’s nature as the source and author of happiness, and the beatific vision, which is man’s ultimate happiness, according to theology. Unfortunately, not enough people know about these things, and that can make it difficult to understand just why anyone would prize a relationship with God so highly.
And I absolutely agree that it can be difficult to relate to the big, heavenly promises that God’s made, or even stretch our imaginations that much, and I still think that’s one of the reasons why Jesus talks about accepting the kingdom like a child would in Mark 10:15. We can’t accept it unless we let ourselves believe it really exists.
Amen. I pray more people find joy by diving into rich theology. I hope the sermon is good “first word” for a lot of people. Like yourself, I hope many people’s interests are sparked and they explore the topic more for themselves.