“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
— James 4:13-16
One issue that often follows our willfulness is that we think we can continue to permit things in our lives just as long as we don’t kill, steal, or commit adultery, and as long as we attend church each week and listen to worship music sometimes, we think we are keeping godliness enough and are therefore permitted to do whatever we like.
When we think in this way, we fail to walk in the godliness that God truly means: one that occupies the whole of our lives, in which our whole nature is brought into submission to God. Even if it looks like we are simply allowing “harmless” desires, the truth is that we are permitting the evil of our sin nature.
The Vanity of “Dreams”
One way that we live in our desires is by calling our desires by a different name. We no longer call it our self-will, but our “dreams” or “ambition”. We try to tame the truth about our sin. And we honestly believe that we have the right and that we somehow deserve to pursue whatever we call by these names.
While God permits us many pleasures in this life and we are not under laws that specify every action, we easily abuse these freedoms. We begin permitting our will under the guise of these freedoms and go beyond the boundaries that God has set for them.
When we seek to live a basic morality and then to permit whatever we wish outside of that, we have used our morality for a false permission for self-will.
The greatest way we do this today is by not making our lives centered around God and by minimizing what God teaches us so as to dismiss it. It is this kind of thinking that is making waves upon waves of Christians lukewarm, and threatens them with becoming cold. When we seek to live a basic morality and then to permit whatever we wish outside of that, we have used our morality for a false permission for self-will, and we have put off the command “Not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) It is the basic thought that we can permit our own desires, our own will, as long as it’s not “that bad” that is keeping so so many of us back from true holiness. This attitude is rebellion, it is wicked, and it is wrong. A half-hearted obedience, a partial obedience, is still rebellion—just look at Saul (1 Sam 15:28).
There is a very simple reason for this: God is perfect. Because He is perfect, anything that is outside of His will, anything that is in contradiction to His ways, is sin. This means that whatever we are seeking to permit is corrupt and not holy. It is merely our natural eye that cannot perceive this corruption, but God can. Any rebellion against God and His ways is sin, not a “dream”.
While in many ways we are permitted to live within certain freedoms—we can decide what career path we’ll take, etc—we are never free to do this to a degree that we permit independence from God. You can live and do your job and provide for your family; the real issue is this: are you surrendered in your will about what you do? Are you truly willing to do God's will above your own? Or are you making your own plans and doing your own will? Are you more intent on making “your dreams” a reality than in walking each step with the Lord towards His purposes?
You can live and do your job and provide for your family; the real issue is this: are you surrendered in your will about what you do? Are you truly willing to do God's will above your own? Or are you making your own plans and doing your own will?
Having the freedom to choose what shirt you’ll wear that day is not a freedom to choose to wear anything. Having the freedom to choose who you’ll marry is not the freedom to marry an unbeliever. Having the freedom to choose where you’ll work isn’t the freedom to choose what you’ll do with your whole life.
Steering clear of evil things doesn’t mean that whatever you decide to do is now good. Being moral about sex, marriage, and family doesn’t give you the right to become vain in exercise and diet. Attending church doesn’t give you the right to decide your life outside of it. Steering clear of drunkenness and partying doesn’t mean you’re free to live in a bus and travel the world—living for self-indulgence, just in a more socially acceptable, “clean living” way.
So many of us are following a simple morality, and by it we are deceiving ourselves into becoming like worldly people who are simply moral. We do not even see how worldly we’ve become, and how we are exactly like them (Luke 6:33). We maybe waited till we were married for sexual intimacy with our spouse, but besides this, we were just as consumed with our fashion and material pleasures and “instagram lifestyle” with our spouse as our worldly peers were. We think about food, diet, exercise, clothing, wisdom, and the meaning of life the same as them. We are centered around the world and not around God. This is what makes a person worldly. And this is what makes a Christian holy. If you’re sitting there asking how God could be so angry with these unbelievers and stating how they’re not that bad, it is likely because you are worldly right along with them. Your life revolves around what their lives revolve around, not around God.
We think about food, diet, exercise, clothing, wisdom, and the meaning of life the same as the world. We are centered around the world and not around God. This is what makes a person worldly.
Within all our choices are boundaries set by God. These steer us continuously towards being a person that loves God with a whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Putting off any of these boundaries brings in corruption to these great and wonderful commands.
The church today has increasingly imagined that we no longer need to walk in full surrenderance to God. We do all our little ideas, walk in our own little plans, and keep God as a side note. There is nothing ok about this. It certainly doesn’t honor God, nor is it the love, freedom, or obedience of which Christ speaks.
As Christians, our lives are to be about Christ. But the worldly Christian, and there are so many of us, is trying to have God and the world. This is why God calls us to love Him with a whole heart (Jer 29:13), and it is this that we resent most about God. We don’t mind having God in part, but it is the notion of having Him as our only, our whole, that we hate. And it is this that is going on in us with all our little plans, little dreams, little ideas, and little rebellions. Examine yourself and ask Holy Spirit to reveal your own heart to you: anytime you want to think you’re cool, wise beyond your years, or more special than others, anytime you want to live in friendship with world, to the praises of man, and for worldly dreams—realize that the only thing you’re doing in that moment is choosing the world over God. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
So come, you who love Christ, and make your life about Him. Turn from these sins and ask the Lord to conform you to Himself. He is able and He is willing.
Being Renewed Is an Ongoing Work
“Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:3 teaches us that our desires are what lead us into sin. Our sin nature is most fully expressed in our desires. The trouble for us is that we are always self-biased and imagine that our desires are good and not evil. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Prov 21:2)
Christ has come and given us new hearts. He fills us with godly desires. But we must realize that this is never a permission to trust in ourselves! Too often we believe that because Christ has given us new hearts we can blindly follow our hearts. We fail to understand that we have two natures within us. One is of the old man and one is of the new: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22-24)
We fail to understand that we must continuously put off the old man and put on the new man. If we fail to walk in this work, we cannot hope to be walking in the holiness to which we are called. There is a new man! There are new desires in us, but there is also the old man, the old nature, and it also has its desires. We must be very careful to only walk in the desires that are of Christ and not the desires that are of the self and sin. When we allow ourselves to blindly follow and walk in our feelings and desires, even if we think they are good (for we will always think they are), we fail to walk in the self-control of godliness.
There is a new man! There are new desires in us, but there is also the old man, the old nature, and it also has its desires.
Again, we must learn that God calls us to discernment, and it is our duty to discern what in us is of the sin nature and what is of Christ. And with this we must be careful to not misapply the fact that we have a new nature as if it were some stamp of approval on all our desires. Many Christians today are running around in the futility of their own minds and truly believing that their imaginations are God’s Word and will. We are in great need of realizing how truly dangerous and depraved our sin nature is.
“To be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” (Eph 4:23) One of the greatest areas in which this battle lies is the mind. Our mind is the place in which we justify our desires, imagine how we want to live, make our own plans, and deceive ourselves away from the Truth.
It is essential that we conform our minds to the Truth. This means allowing God’s Word to become the substance of our minds. It means conforming every thought we have, every plan, idea, or imagination to God’s Word. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)
The fear of God keeps us, and it keeps us from trying to misuse His Word. It keeps us truly faithful to His Word.
It is so easy for us to take God’s Word as a rule, but not for the intention that He meant it. The only way to escape doing this is in the fear of the Lord. If we do not truly fear God and despise sin, then we will take liberties with His Word. The fear of God keeps us, and it keeps us from trying to misuse His Word. It keeps us truly faithful to His Word. “And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jer 32:40b)
We are quick to imagine that we don’t do this, and that is because we are quick to imagine that our interpretation of God’s Word is automatically right. It takes God working in us true humility towards Him and true fear of Him to keep us from such arrogance and pride.
Desire and Knowledge
“Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” (Prov 19:2) In light of so many of us being quick to trust ourselves, one of the dangers we wind up facing as believers (and especially as new believers) is that when we begin to experience God’s presence and are filled with new desires in our hearts, we are quick to run off in the excitement of these things and throw caution to the wind.
With some of us it can take God a lifetime to teach us that no matter how filled we are with desires or emotions, we are never free to follow these blindly. We especially need to remember this in our current world, where the notion of “following your heart” is seen as the way to walk in life.
We are quick to think that being guided by knowledge (the Word of God) is burdensome and disingenuous to our passions, but the Bible teaches us that knowledge is the assurance that we do not miss our way. Desire and knowledge must come together as one.
What the Lord teaches us is that desires must always be held with knowledge. We are quick to think that being guided by knowledge (the Word of God) is burdensome and disingenuous to our passions, but the Bible teaches us that knowledge is the assurance that we do not miss our way. Desire and knowledge must come together as one. Holiness possesses both of these, not just one or the other. And within true holiness these are no longer opposed to one another, but come together in unity. It is our work to understand how these both relate to each other, and to learn how to walk in both rightly, not favoring or neglecting either.
It is good to have godly desires. God does not make His saints empty, but fills them with life. I hope we have communicated that thoroughly enough in this series, Self-Deception: Desires. But let us be very careful to not make the mistake of believing that even the desires or feelings that God fills our hearts with are to be abused as tools for rebellion against His commandments and will. Nor that we are to be so foolish as to pursue the “filling up” of these desires to the neglect of Scripture and obedience to it.
Our generation is in special need of learning the meaning of Proverbs 19:2—how threatened we are with ruin if we continue to seek God merely by desires or feelings, but not also by knowledge and truth. We desperately need to learn that to follow desire and passion without knowledge is like water without a bowl. It has no structure to contain and direct it, and it is wasted on the ground. Holiness, true holiness, must have both: desire and knowledge. To be without either is to be greatly lacking and incomplete.
Lord, grant us holiness, and reveal to us all that holiness must be both. It is both kind and severe, gentle and firm, the lion and the lamb, desire and knowledge. Keep us Lord, and help us to do Your will as You intend it to be done.