About one of my previous posts, Valerie Kyriosity asked: What if they changed the word “desire” to “attraction,” or even to “temptation”? And what if it were clear that it was an attraction or temptation that they were committed to vigorously resisting?
Good question Valerie. The words you suggest are all synonyms of the word I have been using. Temptation works on our desires. And our desires are desires because we are attracted to whatever we want or long for. And of course, fighting with temptation is a good thing. What I was talking about in my previous post, however, is the supposition that a person should accept their struggle as their lot in life, continue in the struggle, and presume that they are godly because they are not actually sinning. In addition, the authors were going the next step by identifying themselves with their temptation as if it were the sin itself. It should also be noted that this particular sin was homosexuality.
I wouldn’t be the first to say that a person who is struggling with a particular temptation can still be a godly person. Jesus was perfect and struggled with all the same temptations you and I struggle with (Heb. 4:15). So, struggling with temptation, desires, attractions etc. is not necessarily the same thing as sinning.
It is important however, to point out that when Jesus was tempted to sin, he did not continue to struggle with it. Instead, he overcame the temptation and thereby resisted the sin. He did not continue to be tempted by his uncontrolled desires. He overcame the temptation by changing his mind regarding the desires by desiring something greater, higher, and more glorious. For example, in Matthew 4 when Jesus was tempted, the text says, “he was hungry” (v. 2). Another way to say it was that “his desire to eat became intense” or “food because a great attraction to him.” The next verse tells us that Satan showed up and tempted him to act on his desires and attractions by providing food for himself by turning the stones into bread (v. 3). Notice that the hunger, desire for food, and attraction to eating was not sinful. But notice that the desire to eat only set the stage for the actual temptation to do something that God had not given him to do. The temptation was to change the stone into bread in an act of raw power. The sin was the desire to do for himself what God had said He would do for Jesus.
We know this is the actual temptation because of Jesus’ response. Jesus avoided the temptation by quoting Scripture that applied to the actual situation. He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4). The real temptation was not for him to alleviate his hunger, it was to control creation by turning stones to bread. The hunger only occasioned the trial. When Jesus remembered the verse, he quoted it to the tempter and applied it to his own life. He was presumably still hungry (cf. v. 11), but the temptation to take matters into his own hands went away until the next time.
In each of these examples we have seen desires, attractions, and temptations that were not sinful in themselves. Hunger, the desire to eat, the attraction to food, etc. are not sinful desires. Had Jesus gone the next step and acted on his desires, changing the stones into bread, he would have sinned. This follows the same pattern James described when he said, “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” (Jam 1:14-15). It is important to note that the desires James is talking about are not sinful desires.
But this does not mean that no desires and attractions are sinful. Jesus lists a number of attractions, and desires that come from the heart and defile a person; evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness (Mar 7:21-22). It is interesting that he includes sexual immorality, adultery, wickedness, theft and murder in this list as these are usually thought of as behaviors we do rather than expressions of our being. But, as we know, Jesus taught that, for instance, adultery happens in the heart a long time before it happens in real life (Mt. 5:28). The point here is that some desires are de facto sinful. To have them is to sin. Included on this list is sexual immorality, which would be sex outside the design of God. Sexual immorality is sexual desires and behavior that is immoral as defined by God.
Let me summarize: There are many desires that are not evil in themselves. The desire to have sex, to eat, to enjoy life, be happy, have fun friends, etc. are not evil in and of themselves. They become evil when they are attained in ways that God has not given permission for, recommended, condoned, or commanded. On the other hand, there are desires, attractions, etc. that are sinful all along. They are never good. They are sinful in and of themselves, evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. These are desires and attractions such that to have them is to sin. They are expressions of a sinful and dark heart.
The solution is to confess them as sin and to repent from them. Confession means to “say the same thing about your desires and attractions as God says about them.” If God says what I am thinking is an abomination, I need to agree with him and tell him that I have changed my mind from thinking it is a good thing to agreeing that it is evil. I also need to realize that what comes to my mind has come from my heart. It is an indicator of what is inside me; who I am (for the Christian, vestiges of who I was). In other words, when I have evil thoughts, I need to know that it is because my heart is still not what it will be. When this happens, I need to go to God with my hands out, pleading for him to change my heart. If what comes out of my heart is what I think, do and say, and what is coming out is evil, I need a change of heart.
Besides confessing my sin to God, I also need to repent. Repentance means to change my mind and behavior from the sinful thing I am thinking and/or doing, to the godly thing I was previously not thinking about and/or doing. In the earlier example of Jesus, instead of turning stones to bread, he trusted God to provide the bread for him. In our case we would stop lusting after things and people God has not given us and begin to love the people or things he has given us.
My original post was a response to those who are suggesting that a person can stay in his or her sins, having sinful desires for same sex partners, but not act on those desires and still be considered godly. My contention here is threefold: first, the desire to have sex with someone other than the person God has given (one person of the opposite sex) is sinful in itself. A person cannot claim that not actually touching someone is sin, but desiring to touch them is not. The desire itself is sinful and thus even though the person is being physically celibate, he is still in his sins and thus not godly. Second, it is wrong for a Christian to identify himself as anything other than a Christ-ian. For a Christian to say, “I am a homosexual,” or “I am a baby beater,” or “I am a puppy kicker” is wrong. Christians sin, but they don’t identify themselves as sinners. They have been redeemed, they have been transformed. They are being transformed. They are being created in the image of Jesus. Third, even if the desires were good desires gone bad, God does not allow us to continue to live with sinful desires. He wants to give us his desires and these are good desires. He does not want us to live in the bondage of sin, he wants to give us the joy of his salvation. He wants to commune with us, he wants to be our God and us to be his people. He wants to give us glory. To live in under a dark shadow is not God’s desire for us. And for us to settle with what is not God’s desire for us is sin.
I hope this helps.