The last couple of posts we have been talking about the difference between attraction and desire and whether or not sexual desire is a sin. To sum up the second question we noted that indeed many of our desires come from a sinful heart and therefore we often desire sinful things. However it what we do with these desires that determine if we sin or not.
So the question is, if I have a sinful desire (as we all do) then what do I do with it? In other words if acting on a sinful desire coming from a sinful place leads to sin – how do I not act on it, and what do I do with it instead.
The first thing that I want to clarify is: what does acting on desire mean?
Now on one level this is obvious. If I desire sex with someone who is not my heterosexual spouse and I fulfill that desire by engaging in sex with that person, that is for sure committing a sin. However, this is not the only way to act on that desire and therefore not the only way to commit sin.
I can also commit sin by engaging that desire mentally and/or emotionally. If I linger in thinking about it, allowing my mind to run and imagine the act, that is also a sin. That is me not taking the desire captive but instead being captivated by the desire. If I fixate on it mentally that creates lusting which is indeed a sin.
I can of course carry this even further and meet my sinful desire for sexual fulfillment in a variety of other ways. These include things like masturbating to these thoughts, looking at porn, fantasizing about it, acting out in any way and with any object, or doing things with a person just short of actual intercourse. These are just a few examples of fulfilling my sinful desire.
Here is a simple way to think about it. Any fulfillment of sexual desire that is not within the bounds of heterosexual marriage is a sin. It’s what one might call sexual immorality and the scripture clearly teaches us to flee from that.
So, what do we do with sexual desire that is sinful?
The answer here is simple but hard to do. We need to take the desire captive and submit it to God. See – simple, but hard.
We need to start with the idea that every desire needs to be submitted to God. In other words I need to run my desires through the lens of God’s truth. We need to recognize that we don’t have the “right” to fulfill every desire, even the good ones. We also need to understand that at the end of the day, our first desire is actually for God anyway. That’s what we are ultimately created for.
So we start with the idea that our first desire is God. We need to fight to desire him first, most, and completely. That friends is what leads to holiness. Always. He is the fulfillment of all desire.
Secondly we need to not act on sinful desire. Desiring God first is of course the ultimate answer to not acting on the sinful desire. But we need to flee immediately. Flee means go the other way. It means don’t entertain acting on it. Don’t allow it to move beyond temptation.
Having some sort to accountability here is helpful. This is really, really tough to do alone in a vacuum. I can also create some safe guards. I should think about the ways that I typically might fail and think about ways to avoid that. As an example there are computer programs such as Covenant Eyes and Fortify, just to name a couple.
To take it all a step further I need to dive a bit deeper into where the desire comes from. To some degree we will always desire wrong things because we live in a broken world. However, sin patterns in my life, as well as wounds I’ve received from other’s sins in my life, can impact my heart and in turn my desires. We need to repent of those sins and seek healing in those wounds. This is where counseling, good friends, and our own study can come into help. As well as obviously talking with, and communing with God himself. I believe that we can have both victory over sin and healing from wounds. Even if we might not get all the way free in this temporal life, we can experience a lot of both.
I’ve shared this analogy before but I think it merits sharing again here.
In the Odyssey, Odysseus is warned about the dangers of the sirens. These were beautiful creatures (think hot models with wings) that sang incredibly powerful and beautiful songs. So much so that sailors followed them to their death on the rocks.
Odysseus comes up with a plan. He gives all his oarsmen wax to put in their ears so that they can’t hear the sirens. He wants to hear it, so he doesn’t use wax, but he has them tie him to the mast. When the boat passes the sirens do their thing. Odysseus goes crazy, demanding that the men cut him free. Following his original orders they don’t and they pass through unharmed.
Now this is great but contrast that with the story of Orpheus and the Argonauts. The Argonauts faced the same danger from the sirens. But Orpheus was a powerful musician who played the most beautiful music possible. When the Argonauts passed by the sirens Orpheus played his music. It was so strong and powerful that it drowned out the songs of the sirens. The Argonauts were able to pass through without the aid of the wax.
Ultimately our desire for God has to trump all other desires.
It is better to tie ourselves to the mast than die on the rocks, but the goal in the end should be to grow so close to Jesus that we are not swayed by the siren’s music.