Desire: Is It Good or Bad?

In this week’s passage, James reminds us that “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (1:13).  Imagine being so pure and holy that no evil, no matter how well disguised or promising, could ever tempt you.  For now, however, we still have a sin nature that causes us to desire things that aren’t good for us.  James warns us, saying, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (vv. 14-15).  This is not to say that desire is always a bad thing, but we must be on our guard against any desire that might lead us into sin.  Evil desires are what he is talking about here.

One of the best ways to guard yourself against evil desires is to realize that you are not the best judge of what is right for you.  Accept your humanity.  Realize that just as Adam and Eve were fooled by Satan and tempted by their own desires to be god-like, so we too are fallible and vulnerable to attack from the inside (in the form of our sin nature) and the outside (either by Satan or the evil world we live in).

The one who does know what is best for you is God.  How strange, then, that James must warn us not to blame him for our temptations.  For though God does allow trials in our life to test us, he does not use evil to try and lure us into sin and ultimately death.  God always wants what is best for us.

Perhaps, then, the key to overcoming temptation is to believe God is who he says he is.  Many of us as children were eager to please our parents (I know I was), and a major impediment to doing wrong was simply the good desire, hopefully stronger than any bad desire, to make them proud and not to “get into trouble.”  Yet at some point over the years, we learned a couple of things: 1) our parents aren’t perfect, and 2) there are other people we might want to please even more.  This usually happens around the early teenage years, and it’s a perfectly natural part of establishing our independence.

But with our heavenly Father, things are different, for he is not only perfect, but he is also the one who will will meet our deepest desires.  For even though in this life, we continue to struggle with desires for things that are evil or harmful, in the end what we most long for can be fulfilled only in him.  I know what you’re thinking.  I’ve heard this over and over again.  We all have a God-shaped hole.  I want to want God.  So then why don’t I want God more than anything?

I too have had those thoughts, and I still do from time to time.  But I have also experienced the blessed desire to know God more than anything else.  And during those times, temptations have very little space on my radar.  But what to do during the times when other desires cry out so loudly?

In Philippians 4:8, Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  When we find things of value–true friendships, a simple way of life, solitude with God, meaningful ways to serve others–our minds become absorbed with the things of God, and our desires are caught up with eternal concerns.  The sin nature has much less room in our minds to tempt us, and the Spirit has free reign to guide our desires to what will fulfill them most.

Finally, take a few moments now to consider what desires in your life might be leading you towards sin.  Often the places in our life in which we find it hardest to trust God are the areas in which we are most vulnerable to temptation.  How might God be offering you another way to fulfillment and belonging in him?  What is he asking you to believe is true about himself?

Alison Orpurt

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