Monday, August 11, 2008

Over Desire

I have been struck recently by Romans 6:12-13 where Paul writes to Christians,

"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." (Romans 6:12-13, NASB95)

What is initially startling to me is the fact that Christians, those who have been set free, can once again experience a life of slavery. How can this be? If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed (Jn 8:36)! Right?
To begin with, let's compare slaveries. This is important in my mind because I believe that the source of the slavery is the determining factor in our ability to experience freedom. Ephesians chapter 2 describes our condition prior to faith in Jesus Christ. To summarize, Paul says we are slaves to Satan, indulging in the desires of the flesh, by nature children of wrath. The slavery is involuntary and imposed upon us by the prince of this world, Satan.
However, what Paul describes in Romans is different. It is voluntary. It is the choice made by a believer to let sin rule and reign in their heart.
We have been set free from the slavery imposed by Satan through faith in Jesus Christ. Once delivered from the hand of the enemy, he loses all authority and power to rule our lives. However, as a Christian, we can decline the power of the Spirit in our lives and do the unimaginable. We can invite the sin that so easily entangles us and allow it to become the master of our life and eventually "dethrone" the only rightful ruler of our heart - Jesus Christ.
Understand that at the moment of faith, our eternal destiny is sealed. Paul (nor I) is suggesting that we can lose our salvation having truly believed in the gospel message. What Paul is talking about is transformation of your heart. Your heart is another way of describing your internal motivation. And Paul is telling us, your motive reveals your master.

"Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?" (Romans 6:16, NASB95)

In other words, there is no neutral ground. You and I serve the one whom we obey. We either obey our master Jesus Christ as He prepares good works beforehand so that we may walk in them or we obey our master sin which we invite to become the driving passion of our life.
But here is an important question. "How do we know who is the master of our life? What are the clues to help us determine the driving passion of our heart?"
This is where the original language is helpful. In verse 12, the word Paul uses is epithumia. The NASB translates this as "lusts". The NIV says "evil desires". The NET bible translates the word as "desires".
The root of the word, "thumia", literally means desire. An epithumia is an OVER DESIRE. In my mind, the NET bible has the best translation because it helps us understand that the desire does not have to be inherently vile. It can be a good desire. But any desire that supersedes your desire for Christ is an evil desire. In fact, if it is a driving passion of your life, it is a false god whom you serve as master.
If you are a workaholic, you serve the god of money or status or achievement. Perhaps it is an eating disorder and you serve the god of thinness or gluttony. Perhaps you look to your spouse to fulfill the deepest needs in your life and you serve the affection and acceptance of another person as god of your life. Even the duty of religious routine can be a false idol. ANYTHING that supersedes your obedience to Christ as Lord of your life is your self appointed master.
Although there is not a fool proof litmus test, here are some helpful hints to assist you in determining what is the driving passion of your life. They include the normal emotions of anger, fear and sadness. In and of themselves, these emotions are very normal and ones we all experience.
For example, when something happens in our life that is disappointing, it is a normal response to be sad. If something blocks us getting a good thing, it is OK to be angry. Or if a good thing is being threatened, we might be fearful.
BUT...when something has an inordinate value in our life, when it becomes the "ultimate something" and it doesn't happen, we don't get sad - we get epi sad. We struggle to break free from the disappointment and depression. When the driving passion in our life is blocked, we don't get mad, we get epi mad. And our fear turns into a paralyzing anxiety. We experience bitterness, unforgiveness and any variety of "epi emotions" which reveal the motive and master of our heart.
These emotions of our life can be compared to a dashboard. A series of gauges we monitor. And when they lean to the side of epithumia, or over desire, we might want to look under the hood and see what is truly the driving passion of our life. We are slaves of the one whom we obey.