A man said the other day, “I’ve lost my confidence. I think I’m a Christian, but I still lust after women in tight sweaters. I thought that temptation would go away when I became a follower of Christ.”
I said, “So, you used to lust after women in tight shirts?”
“Did it bother you then?”
He thought, “No. Not at all. It was normal.”
“But it bothers you now, correct?”
“Yeah. Bothers me a lot.”
I said, “Well, seems to me that’s the proof you are looking for—the proof of your spiritual transformation. If lusting didn’t used to bother you, but it does now, something fundamental is different. You want to look, you are tempted to look, but you no longer desire to do so.”
If I ask, “What do you desire?” am I asking you the same question as, “What do you want?”
There’s only one word of difference: desire versus want. Are these synonyms (or not)?
Are you saying, to-MAY-toe (tomato), and me saying, to-MAH-toe (tomato), when we are both talking about a fruit that finds its way into salads and partners with bacon and lettuce when making a BLT?
I wouldn’t be writing to you if I thought “desire” and “want” were the same thing. Nor would I be writing if the distinction between the two is trivial, simply a way with words, linguistic nuance?
I have pledged not to waste your time—and I mean that. I care about you, care that you share what I write, and I care that what I write is substantive.
If I ask what you want, I’m asking about wish, fantasy, hankering, pining, craving, summed up in the word, attraction. If I ask you about desire, I’m asking about yearning, depth, aspiration, urging, entreating, summed up in the word, ambition.
I’m conveying an ambition to know, treasure, and value long term.
Think about the last two words of each definition. Wanting is an attraction, facilitated through what Freud termed, id. Desiring is an ambition, rooted inside your heart.
Okay, so what’s the point and why is this important?
Thinking about human-to-human connection: If I say I want Sally, I’m conveying a lust. If I say I desire Sally, I’m conveying an ambition to know, treasure, and value long term. If all I want is Sally, I objectify her and crave a momentary, selfish craving. But if I recognize a desire for Sally, I am aware of an ambition to know her fully, more deeply, and form a relational bond with her that is enduring.
Now using the same logic, if I ask you, “How much do you want to sin?” I’m asking you to identify how attracting an aspect of your fleshly temptation is. Ask an addict, “How much do you want a drink?” and if they are honest, they will say, “So badly that I must call my sponsor to regain my clarity.”
But if ask, “How much do you desire to sin? How much do you desire a drink?” The answer becomes, “My flesh wants that temptation badly, but in my heart, I desire to do what is right. I desire to be obedient to my desire. I desire to walk with God. In my heart, I have no desire to dishonor God or myself. I have no desire to hurt my family or live contrary to who I really am.”
Want is associated with flesh, desire is associated with heart. Want is indicative of fleshly habits, desire is indicative of heart intention. Want is an attraction. Desire is an ambition. Want is immediate. Desire is enduring. Want is self-motivated while desire is a collaborative motivation.
I wrote last to you about Romans 5-8. Let’s return, but not to the whole passage, just the transition from the theological statement to the practical application—and let’s be sure we know what we just stated: It is not good enough for God to have a theological plan, He is committed to transforming us through, and seeing us through, practical application of His plan.
Through St. Paul’s pen, God declares over the course of Chapter 5 that He has resolved His concerns about us and is decided there is justification (in His mind) for us to receive life in Jesus Christ. The question now in God’s mind is, How can I prove to my people that salvation and justification have changed them fundamentally, transformed them at their core? Ah, ha. I know. And Chapter 6 begins with Him laying out His proof that transformation has occurred.
First the four verses (5:20-6:2):
20 “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
The takeaway from Chapter 5 is that there is not enough Adamic lineage, law, or sinfulness to overcome the grace that is found in Jesus Christ. No matter if sin flourishes, grace super-abounds (v. 20). This is the theology of justification by faith in Christ alone.
Even though it’s not written in the text, there is an obvious question begged at the end of the chapter: If increasing sin causes grace to proliferate exponentially, then shouldn’t we facilitate the proliferation of grace by sinning all the more (v. 1)?
Note: This is sound logic. Paul (the author) doesn’t dismiss the question as irrational. If grace is a good thing, we can increase grace by sinning.
Note as well: Should we continue our sinning, there is no penalty, no threat, no theological downside given the justification procured by Christ on our behalf. There is only upside potential, i.e. the super-abounding of grace. In other words, given what God did through Jesus Christ as laid out in Romans 5, we Christians are free to sin. Have at it!
Just one question, though—before you head out for an escapade.
How much do you desire to do this—to go out and sin with intent?
Look into your new, transformed heart, the repository where God has inscribed His laws—literally, written them on the walls of your heart (cf. Heb. 8:10). Before you run out the door, step into your heart. Take a moment to read what is written there. Consider your heart’s response to this consideration—your heart’s desire—and now answer the question: How much do I desire to sin?
I’m suspecting your answer is, “I don’t desire that at all.”
But let’s be certain: I’m not asking how much you want to sin. That is a different question related to habitual patterns for thought, emotion, and behavior. I’m not asking about how attractive sin is to your flesh and id. No. I’m asking you to identify a deep desire that is indicative of the true, transformed, and redeemed you—the true you whose ambition it is to walk with God, please Him, and represent Him truly.
A deep desire constrains your wants and throbs with ambition to live in concert with your heart.
Think for a moment about your most precious wants, your most enticing temptations and most rewarding sins. Once those are in focus…
Now ask: In my heart, do I desire to chase after these, knowing that in doing so, I disregard my Father in heaven, bring disrepute to my Older Brother’s advocacy on my behalf, and conduct myself hypocritically to my true identity?
I’m betting your answer is, “Absolutely not. To sin, or continue in sin willfully, is contrary to my desire. To continue in sin is denial of my heart’s desire and my true desire.”
Like the man at the opening of this article, therein is the proof God gives you that you are no longer the person you used to be. The same temptations and wants are there, but something else is there. A deep desire constrains your wants and throbs with ambition to live in concert with your heart.
Follow after what you want, and you will live the life of a hypocrite, doing one thing while being another. The idea of this is unthinkable, irrational. To paraphrase Paul in 6:2, “How could this be—this notion of continuing in sin—for any purpose? In light of what God has done in Christ, and within me, to persist in sin and disrespect the work of Christ and my transformation is unthinkable. May this never be! No. I won’t do this. Indeed, I can’t do this and be true to my place in the life of Christ and family of God.”
Tap into and live from your new heart, and you will live truly and truly live.
(If you are interested in a story, not a commentary, about this transformation and application, may I recommend my book, “No Mercy.”