“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:20–22).
AS LONG AS WE DELIGHT IN EVIL, WE WON’T HAVE MUCH SUCCESS REMOVING IT FROM OUR LIVES. In any contest between the head and the heart, the heart will almost always win. Our loves, whatever they may be, are powerful things. They direct our actions almost irresistibly. For that reason, we must constantly work on our desires and diminish those that lead us away from God.
In dealing with our desires, there is one thing that is helpful to understand: it is not our desires themselves that are wrong, but rather our willingness to fulfill them in unlawful ways. The Scriptures teach that temptation comes to us in three basic ways: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). With each of these, the devil is simply trying to exploit some natural desire that God has given to us.
For example, when Eve was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, she saw “that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). It was not wrong, in itself, for her to be physically hungry or to desire the possession of something beautiful or even to have the satisfaction of being wise and personally significant. The problem lay in the devil’s suggestion that she should go outside the boundaries of God’s will to satisfy these desires. When she turned away from God’s provision for each of these and tried to fulfill them in a “better” way, she sinned — and she died.
So how do we get rid of our sinful desires? We do so, first, by recognizing the murderous lie behind the devil’s offer. Then, remembering that our desires have been given to us by God, we must hold on to our love for Him. However pleasurable an unlawful act might be, the thought of gaining that pleasure in a way that grieves God ought to be so repugnant that the deed seems repulsive. With Joseph, we must learn to say sincerely, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).
“As long as I delight in any evil, as long as sensuality is more gratifying than purity, indiscretion than moderation, flattery than correction, how can I even aspire to friendship which springs from an esteem for virtue?” (Aelred of Rievaulx).