Desires: A New Attitude
10/21/2019 3:15:01 AM
October 20, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Have you ever gone to a fast food restaurant, looked at the picture of a particular item on the menu and thought, “Wow! That looks good!” You order the item in question only to be greatly disappointed when it actually arrives? Advertisers know that they have to be crafty to entice you to buy their products. This is not limited to the pictures on the menu in the restaurant. After all, you’re already there! But it begins with TV ads, ads in print media and on the internet.
Why do advertisers do this? Well, ultimately they want you to give your money to the restaurant so the restaurant will then give their money to the advertisers! But what is the mechanism behind this? Why do they use this particular tactic? The advertisers’ goal is to create a desire in you that their particular client’s product promises to satisfy.
Now, we all desire food. Food is good. There’s nothing wrong with desiring food. But advertisers have the goal of directing your healthy desire to their client’s specific product. They want to create a desire in you that is hard if not impossible to resist! They want your desire to direct your will so that you part with your money and give it to their client.
This is not limited to food. Think about car ads. What do they promise? Adventure! Respect. Envy from others. They create a desire. If you buy our SUV, your life will change! You and your family will go camping and off roading! If you buy our sports car, you will appear rich. Scantily clad women will want to be seen with you and your car!
Advertising is no longer about conveying information about your product so people will buy it based on its merits. It’s about creating a feeling, tapping into a desire for a particular feeling or experience and connecting products with the thought of satisfying that desire.
What about Axe Body Spray? They’re particularly blatant in their advertising! They create, or tap into the already existing desire in young men to be attractive to attractive women. The advertisements promise that if you use their product, gorgeous women will be unable to resist you, they will flock to you and pursue you.
The amazing thing is how well this kind of advertising works! The products never deliver on the implied promises from the advertising, whether it’s a limp hamburger, a car that you still just drive around town, or deodorant that just overpowers people who sit next to you.
Our desires are fallen and can deceive us. Our desires are fallen. This is true in a couple of ways. We desire sinful things. We desire good things in sinful ways. Food is good. But we can lust after and crave food in a sinful way. Sex is good, within the context of marriage between a man and woman. But we can desire sex outside of marriage, without commitment, without boundaries.
Our desires can deceive us. We can want something thinking it will satisfy us, but it actually doesn’t. Adam & Eve- they desired to be like God! And that desire deceived them. They were already created in God’s image, but the desire to be “more” like God, the desire for knowledge, the desire to have their eyes opened, lead them into catastrophic sin with world changing consequences.
So, then, what are we to do about all this? Well, this is part of the transformation that comes when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to be transformed to be more like Christ!
We’ve been looking at the Holy Spirit this fall. We’re zeroing in, now, on how we cooperate with the Spirit in His work in our character. One of the major places where this cooperation and transformation need to take place is in our desires, both what we desire and how we desire it! Please turn to Ephesians 4:14-24.
What It Says
Paul is comparing and contrasting two ways of life- that of the “world” without God and the life with God, being transformed into the likeness of God. As Christians mature, they move from one world to the other.
Our passage begins, continuing from verse 12-13, that Christ has given gifts of leadership so the church can be built up until we reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, being transformed to be like him.
When we are spiritually immature, we are susceptible to deceitful teaching. We are tossed about like a ship in the ocean in a storm. This deceitful teaching can come from both within the church and from outside it. There are those in both places who are cunning, crafty teachers whose goal is to deceive us. We see this around us today as secular culture is putting out all sorts of crafty, deceitful teaching on a range of topics and the church is blown back and forth as new trends in thinking emerge in our culture. (From the previous paragraph, submitting to our leaders in order to serve and get to know God are the sources of Christian maturity! see v. 11-13)
Deceitful teaching can come from culture or from within the church. One contemporary example comes from the Post Modern idea that truth is relative- truth is what we make it as individuals. Now that teaching originated from our culture, but its effects have penetrated much of the church. It has gone unquestioned as we discuss such difficult, complex topics as divorce, abortion, same sex-attraction and gay marriage. Our discussion within the church on these topics has been thoroughly influenced by language of “my rights,” “my choice,” and “my identity”! And the church gets blown by every wind and wave!
Speaking the truth in love is part of maturing. It is as we speak the truth from God in love, that is, with our primary concern being the well-being of others (rather than our own justification, vindication or exaltation), that we grow up into Christ. Far too often we hold back the truth because we don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings, offend them or make them feel unloved. Conversely, when we do speak the truth, it is too often at the expense of the other, at the expense of the weak, or the marginalized. We speak the truth to win, or to wound. Or we speak the truth to be self-satisfied, secure in our rightness. But Christian maturity means speaking the truth in such a way that those who hear it know they are loved, even if they are wrong.
Growing in love and serving are two more parts of Christian maturity. That is what it means in vs. 16 for the body of Christ to “grow and build itself up in love as each part does its work.” As we serve the body of Christ in a self-giving way, as we serve in our gifting and calling, working within the body of Christ which is the church, we as individuals and as a community mature and grow in love. In the context of that loving, serving community, we can establish our love for one another so that we earn the right to speak hard truths that maybe others don’t want to hear. We also get practice at putting love into action, so when it comes time to speak the truth, we have a personal foundation of experience in loving others. This is why church is so important!
Paul then contrasts this loving, serving life of community within the church with the life his Ephesian readers used to live before they knew Jesus. There are numerous descriptions of the problems non-Christians face. They thinking is futile. Their understanding is darkened. They are separated from the life of God because their hearts are hard. That hardness of heart has lead to an ignorance about God, the source of life! This heart-hardening, this callousness of their conscience, has lead them to devote themselves, to occupy their minds and desires, with outrageous behaviour rooted in unclean, insatiable desires. No matter how they indulge themselves, their lusts are never satisfied and their desires never fulfilled in a lasting way. This leave people feeling always empty, so they try to satisfy those desires with even more extreme behaviours.
Knowing Christ means putting off our old mindset to be renewed. There are actually 3 steps Paul lists: put off, be renewed, and put on the new self. We are to put off the old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires. We are to be renewed in the “attitude” of our minds. In Greek, it literally reads “in the spirit of our minds.” This is a renewal of our inmost being, that part at the centre of who we are that can relate to God. “The pattern, motivation and direction of our thinking needs to be changed.” [David Peterson, cited in Peter O’Brien, Ephesians, p. 330] And this is work Christ does in us- he renews us!
A renewed mind leads to renewed behaviour. Allowing Christ to transform our inmost being, cooperating with him to make that change, naturally leads to a radical new lifestyle. That new lifestyle is putting on the new self, which is created in the likeness of God! The truth of the gospel is the source of our newfound, godly righteousness and holiness. We live up to the status we have already been given as the children of God. We become “chips off the ol’ block.”
Our “new self” is part of “new creation” which is the “New Age.” This means our favourite diagram shows up again! We live in the present age of sin, but we are citizens of the age to come, the new age of Christ, the future age, the Kingdom (or rule) of God. This is the tension of living in the “in between times” between the past resurrection of Jesus and our future resurrection.
We experience the tension of our fallen desires on the one hand, and the power of the Spirit of God living in our inmost being on the other. Engaging with the Holy Spirit in this renewal of our minds is how we wage war in the battle in our hearts between indwelling sin and the Holy Spirit!
Paul calls us to become what we already are, to mature and grow up into the status Christ has already given us. This is part of this wonderful tension of “now and not yet” in the New Testament. We are saved, but we are still being saved. We are new creatures, but we will become new creatures. We are dead and raised with Christ, but we look forward to our resurrection, etc. And our role in this renewal is to submit to the Holy Spirit’s work in us, cooperating with his work in renewing our thinking, strengthening our will, purifying our desires and living out the consequences of that change.
Once again, we are talking about cooperating with the Holy Spirit to be renewed. How do we actually do it? We keep coming across this concept in Scripture, but if it was easy to put into practice, the church in Canada wouldn’t be struggling!
So let’s get specific! How are we being deceived by our desires? How are we falling victim to the cunning and craftiness of deceitful men’s schemes? Begin with the world of ideas. Paul was writing to Christians in Ephesus. Ephesus was home to a famous library. Ephesus was a famous centre of learning and philosophy. The Christians in Ephesus were surrounded by and greatly influenced by secular learning and secular ways of understanding the world. So there is a significance to Paul’s indictments, “they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts!” He’s talking about well-educated Greek people, steeped in learning and Greek philosophy!
It’s the same today! Our culture in the West, highly educated in modern philosophy, has embraced philosophical ideas that run against the life of God. In fact, post-modern thought and its emphasis on individual truth runs contrary to surrender to anybody, let alone God!
Secular culture teaches us we are our own little “gods” unto ourselves. It teaches us that we define what is true to ourselves. We get to define what is right and wrong for ourselves and nobody else better interfere with that! And in the moment, that makes us feel very powerful, it gives us significance!
But here’s the tricky, deceitful part of that most people don’t anticipate. When we decide right and wrong, we become slaves to either the lust for power or the lust for pleasure. With no outside law governing us, either a few gather power and rule over us, or we throw off all restraint and, in the classical sense of hedonism, pursue every pleasure we desire with unbridled passion.
Choosing right and wrong for ourselves makes us slaves to our desires. It removes any objective, or outside of ourselves, standard for evaluating whether or not a particular desire we have should be fulfilled! If we want it, we pursue it because the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming has taught us we get to choose what is right and wrong. And, lo and behold, we are tossed about with every wind of teaching. Every time somebody or some group says something is “good” or desirable, we chase after it. And we are never satisfied.
Do you ever feel like you’re a hamster stuck on a wheel, running and running, but never getting anywhere? Never making any progress? Do you identify with people who talk about the “rat race” of work? Do you pursue different things but never feel satisfied? I would gently, lovingly suggest that perhaps you’ve fallen for the lies of our culture that your desires need to be satisfied, that your desires “deserve” to be satisfied and that you’re being lead around by the nose by your desires. And let me assure you, the world out there is doing everything it can to manipulate your desires! They want your money. They want your time. They want your approval. And so they do what they can to manipulate your desires knowing that the gap between desire and action has shrunk down to be so small there is little room for thought or reflection before action is taken to satisfy those manipulated, insatiable desires!
The gap between desire and action has shrunk so that there is no room for reflective thought. And our desires, open to manipulation, fallen in selfishness, empowered by false beliefs that we are autonomous, gods unto ourselves, are constantly being directed by outside forces towards things that will never satisfy our lives. We are being led by the nose through our desires and, to boot, we have been convinced that we are not being lead but are “searching within” to find ourselves, pursuing our own destinies, choosing our own way, forging or own path and living “authentic” lives.
We need the Spirit to renew our minds. We need to stop long enough between the time we feel a desire and the time we act upon it to begin asking ourselves, “Is this a godly desire? Should I fulfill this desire?” Or even, “What am I doing?!?”
Last week we introduced a helpful diagram for why we do things we don’t want to do, why we keep falling into habitual sins. I think it’s worth considering again.
You can think of this cycle as a wheel. We have our sense of significance and security on one side. Our favourite, or habitual sin(s) on the other side. When our sense of significance is threatened, it makes us feel insecure, we run to our habitual sin in order to numb that feeling, to soothe ourselves. If our sense of security is threatened the same thing happens. We run to our favourite addiction, our favourite sin to deal with the sense of insecurity.
Our culture today has taught us that pursuing our own desires makes us significant and will provide satisfaction or security. For us, today, as Christians, this belief is part of the old self we need to cast off. This is part of our mind that needs to be renewed. We need to put on the new self of bringing all our desires under the authority and rule of God, asking him both if what we desire is good and if we desire it in a good way.
Do you remember what the Holy Spirit’s primary desire is? The Spirit’s primary desire is to show Christ to us and form Christ in us. [John Stott, Romans, p. 223] This is the lens through which we should filter all of our own desires. Does our desire show Christ to us or others? Does it form Christ within us or others? If not, we must be willing to surrender that desire, to surrender satisfying that desire to those things that will show Christ or form Christ. What about a desire for food or for family? These are good things to desire! God gave us food and family. But the nature with which we desire them needs to be subject to the light of the Spirit. God also gave us work. A few verses later, Paul talks about the importance of work. But with a purpose- to share with others! Why do you work? To provide for yourself? Or to be generous to others?
If you want to put on the new self, if you want to put on the self that has been recreated to be like God, if you want to live out true righteousness and holiness, at least part of what you need to do it subject your desires to God for his analysis. You need to ask God to show you what you desire. Ask him to reveal to you where your priorities are. Ask him where you are putting your sense of significance and what makes you feel secure.
In our culture, we are taught security comes from having stuff, or having the money to buy the stuff we want. But this never satisfies! Our old selves have learned that our significance comes from choosing for ourselves what we do, what is right, what is wrong. We find both significance and security in deciding for ourselves what our identity is! But this is equally empty.
The only way to fill a bottomless pit is with endless love. The world is trying to get you to pour more and more time, money and effort into things it promises will make you feel significant and secure. But these things cannot deliver on their promises! And so you pour more and more into these things. Think of people who work 60+ hour work weeks to buy bigger and bigger houses for their families, but they’re miserable! Think of those who have all the experiences they could want, but they’re always looking for the next experience. It’s never enough. Because these don’t satisfy. Only the endless love of God will satisfy the desires of your heart. Only the endless love of God will satisfy the bottomless well of our need to matter and feel safe. Amen.
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