James 1:13-15: We Need To Put To Death Evil Desires

I was reading this morning in James 1 when the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to a spiritual truth that I had not seen before.  This truth may be obvious to some, but to myself, I had never really seen it this way before, and so I wanted to share this passage with you, and the insights that the Holy Spirit has provided me through it.  The passage is James 1:13-15:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

What the Holy Spirit revealed to me  was that it is not the things out there in the world that are causing us to sin, it is our wrong and evil desires that lead us into temptation and eventually sin. It is our desire that is the cause of our temptation, not the other way around.  I used to think that it was the things of the world that I saw that caused me to desire sin, but in fact, it is the evil desire that lives in my heart that even makes these temptations possible.  When I see a scantily clad lady in a television ad, it is not the woman in the ad that is causing me to lust, it is my desire for my own sexual fulfillment that already lives within me.  The ad didn’t cause me to sin, the ad was only the alarm clock that woke up the desire to sin that was already alive within me.  when that desire is woken up, it fights against my very being until either it gets its way, or else I put it back down (resist the urge to sin).  The problem is, when I do this, I am not killing my desire, and so it stays within me, going back into hibernation until an opportune time (when another image, memory, etc. reawakens it, and the fight begins again).  It is the desire within me that causes me to be tempted and enticed, and after it has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and if we let sin run rampart, it brings death.

We cannot stop all of the images we see all around us, because this type of sexuality  pervades our society and especially our media, and therefore sooner or later we will stumble upon this sort of sexuality.  We can, however, put to death our evil and selfish desire to find sexual fulfillment outside of the natural and God-ordained order of marriage between a man and a woman.  If we put to death the desire to sin, the things of the world cannot tempt us, just as an ad for rogaine does not entice someone who is not bald or someone who doesn’t care that they are bald and accepts that that is the way things are.  Rogaine is only be appealing if you are bald and have a desire to have hair.  In the same way, if we do not desire sexual fulfillment outside of marriage, then we will not be tempted by the things of the world, because they will hold no gain for us.
(NOTE: I am not saying that rogaine is bad, or that being bald and wanting to have hair is bad or sinful, I am only using this as an analogy for sexual desire and the temptations of the world.  I know that this loose analogy does not fit perfectly for what I am saying, since if it were a one to one correlations baldness would be no sexual fulfillment, and having hair would be sexual fulfillment, so please don’t take this analogy too strictly, it is only meant to illustrate that if we do not have a desire for our own sexual fulfillment outside of marriage, then we won’t be tempted by the sexuality that pervades our media.)

Granted, this may seem difficult for someone who is single, but the truth is, it is just as much a problem for a married man as it is for a single man; trust me, I have been in both positions, and it doesn’t go away just because you are married.  That is because the problem is not with not being sexually fulfilled, it is with a selfish desire to be sexually fulfilled, that is, the focus of our sexuality is on ourselves, and getting off, rather than it is about being intimate with our wives (the truer purpose for sexuality; and yes, I also realize it is for makin’ babies).  When the focus is on ourselves, and wanting to get off, we are of course going to be tempted by so many other women (whether they be real or merely images of women), because they are sexually attractive to us and hold the promise of giving us some sort of sexual thrill when we gaze at them and pleasure ourselves (or have sex outside of marriage).  To use another loose analogy (that may only be applicable to married men), having sex with our wives is like having a healthy meal, and any other form of sexual fulfillment is like so much junk food.  When we are interested in our own sexual fulfillment, with getting off (as opposed to being intimate with our wives) it is just like eating for the sake of the pleasure of taste, rather than for keeping our bodies going with a healthy meal.  We aren’t interested in waiting until dinner, because our focus is not on getting a healthy meal at the proper time, we just want to enjoy the pleasure of taste, and so any time we see some enticing peace of candy, we go and eat it, and then when it is dinner time, we may still be eating the healthy meal (or we may be too full from all the junk food).  Sure we are getting the proper meal, but it is being destroyed by all of the junk food we feed ourselves whenever we have a desire for it.  Too much junk food, and you can completely ruin your diet (that is, you can cause your body to no longer crave healthy foods, and you will only have a desire for junk food) as well as your health (and more to the real point, you are destroying your marriage).  If we aren’t interested in eating for the pleasure of taste, and instead our desire is focused on being healthy, then the junk food won’t be appealing to us any more, and we will desire the proper and healthy meal at the proper time (which will at the same time allow you to enjoy the pleasure of taste in a way that is both healthy and pleasurable).

Again, please don’t take any of these analogies too strictly and thereby miss the point.  The point is, when our desires are for the wrong things, or the right things in the wrong way, we will be tempted, and eventually that evil desire will give birth to sin.  But, if we focus on killing our evil desires, then the temptations of the world will not hold any sway for us, and we can wait with patience and endurance for the proper fulfillment of our natural desire in the right way.

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One response to “James 1:13-15: We Need To Put To Death Evil Desires”

  1. David Russell Mosley says :

    Derek,

    A great post! Augustine tells us the same thing. When our desires are incorrectly oriented we end up desiring things too much or too little. It isn’t an easy thing to do, reorienting your desires to God, it can only be done by his grace, but it is something we must do.

    Thanks for the excellent reminder.

    Yours,
    David

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