The Inevitable Disappointment of Overgrown Desires

In a previous Covenant Eyes post on “Will a Better Sex Life Keep Porn at Bay?” I made the statement:

“When we are willing to sin in order to get something, it has become too important. When something is too important, it cannot satisfy. In order for sex to be satisfying in a way that offsets temptation, it must become less important so it can be more satisfying. Until we recalibrate the value we place on sex, increasing the frequency of sex will not have the temptation-alleviating effect we desire.​”

This concept deserves more attention and is central to understanding many of the misconceptions surrounding the subject of pornography… or any other besetting-addictive sin for that matter. Until we see how this dynamic sets us up for inevitable disappointment, we will continue to find most of sin’s lies believable.

Overgrown Desires

Biblical Foundation for Desires

Let’s start with one of the most well-known and foundational passages on discipleship.

“And he [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” Luke 9:23-24

The first sentence is Jesus teaching us we must die to self. The second sentence is Jesus applying this concept to personal satisfaction. We must realize these two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

The first sentence says, in effect, when a desire is so overgrown we will not submit it to Christ, we have abandoned the way of Christ. Not that we lost our salvation if we have embraced the gospel, but that we can no longer expect the blessing of being right with God as long as this desire remains in excess.

The second sentence explains this is not the result of God being a passive-aggressive deity who spitefully punishes those who fail to love him most, but it is a dynamic inherent in the way people function. Let’s take a couple of examples to illustrate.

Desires Grown Too Large

Imagine the husband whose desire for respect has grown too large. It is what he believes will make all the world right; it is what will “save his life” to use Jesus’ words. His wife and children are not providing the respect he thinks he needs so he tries to “save his life” by lecturing, “I am tired of this disrespect. It is time you guys start respecting me as your husband and father. If I had talked to my father the way you talked to me, you don’t want to know what would have happened. Things need to start changing around here. Do you understand?!?”

If his family responds in a sincere, “Yes sir,” is he satisfied?

Or, imagine a wife whose desire for appreciation has grown too large. She believes that gratitude is what will make her world better. Her husband and children are neglecting to notice all she does so she tries to “save her life” by saying, “No one notices everything I do around here and I’m tired of it. I do more for every one of you than any of you realize and do I hear ‘thank you’? No, all I get is more entitled requests for more things that need to be done. Well, that stops today.”

If her family responds with a sincere, “Thank you,” is she satisfied?

Unsatisfied Desires

In both cases, we can tell neither person would be satisfied. They both got exactly what they wanted, but their desires were so large they were willing to sin against their family in order to get them. Therefore, they couldn’t enjoy the legitimately good things– respect and appreciation– they were after. You can see how misunderstanding this reality results in much of the controlling, manipulative, and blame-shifting dynamics in our relationships.

For more on how this dynamic impacts marital conflict in general your can reference this message on Luke 9:23-24 entitled “Romantic Conflict: An Introduction to a Gospel-Centered Marriage.”

This dynamic is why a better sex life will never be a remedy for pornography. When our desire for sex– romance, closeness, belonging, affirmation, or whatever desire is driving us to look at pornography– is so strong that we’re willing to sin in order to get it, then we are like the ranting husband and wife in the examples above.

Hope for Overgrown Desires

But notice how Jesus concludes verse 24, “But whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” This is the hope for overgrown desires. These desires do not have to be forsaken, but they do have to be tamed. Once they are proportionally submitted to Christ, they provide the kind of enjoyment they were designed to provide again.

The husband in the example above can enjoy the respect of his family when he doesn’t need that respect in order to be a secure person. The wife in the example above can enjoy the gratitude of her family when her emotional well-being is not dependent on how their appreciation. You can enjoy the romance, closeness, belonging, or affirmation when you are no longer willing to look at pornography to obtain an empty version of them.

As you seek to make application of this post, allow these three questions to guide your thoughts:

  1. What do I want so bad that I’m willing to sin in order to get it?
  2. In what ways do these things become less satisfying when I pursue them in this way?
  3. How can I remind myself of this in moments of temptation so I am less prone to believe sin’s lies?