Gratifying Desires and Passions
TRA 17th October, 1999
One problem facing modern people is how they can gratify passion and desire. Obviously some try to gratify passion and desire through purchasing things. A wild splurge on the credit card gives some people a sense of achievement which lasts until the credit bill arrives. Some try to gratify their desires through keno, lotto, casino, but the buzz of excitement soon evaporates. Some try to satisfy desire through partying with drug and alcohol abuse, and while they alter the mind for a while, the second state is worse than the first.
Others gratify their desires and passion through exercises of power and status. They are satisfied if enough people look at them and note their presence. The most serious of these is the person who seeks to gratify desire and passion by taking what they want by violence and rape.
Others get entangled in sexual affairs. Think how much better off the world would be if The United States President Bill Clinton had been able to gratify his passion within his marriage instead of groping, fondling, and sexually engaging with a series of young women. Instead, the energy of a nation was diverted into cover-up and legal battles seeking justice. Immoral people excuse themselves on the basis that they have strong sexual urges and it doesn't matter how they express them so long as they do. Consider the enormous cost paid by The Uniting Church in Australia in loss of members, congregations and finance because a small group of people wanted to continue in church leadership while living immoral lives, and other people wanted to protect and excuse them in their immorality.
The problem of undisciplined desire in some ministers makes a mockery of Christian ethics and beliefs. Thank God the day of lay people remaining silent on what is done by clergy is over. The paedophile inquiry and subsequent court action shows there is no hiding place for immoral priests. The Chairman of the Presbytery of Sydney Pastoral Relations Committee tells me they have dealt with six complaints against immoral clergy in the Sydney area in the six months since we stood up so strongly against immorality among church leaders. As a result some ministries have been terminated and others are being brought to a close at year's end. Judgement must begin in the house of God.
Rarely do any of these attempts to gratify desire and passion work in the long haul. Often they only dull our senses and desire temporarily. With one out of every three people born since 1960 never likely to get married, sexual frustration and desire is likely to increase among a group of people who have no normal way of satisfying their frustration and desire with a partner. How can we learn to gratify our passion and desire? That is one of the great arts of living. For a Christian, learning the acceptable method is really vital.
Only through the Spirit of God and through living by the Holy Spirit's power can a Christian not gratify the desires of his or her sinful nature. A Christian must avoid immorality and instead find satisfaction in virtue. This virtue must be expressed in service both to God and people. The Apostle Paul emphasises the contrast between what he calls the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. No wonder homosexuals hate Paul. He calls sin, SIN!
When Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia in central Turkey, he painted a portrait of true Christianity. He showed Christians have freedom in Christ. But it is a responsible freedom that leads to holiness of life. This is a freedom to serve God and other people and to live in holiness and morality.
Paul says that the Christian is not to allow this freedom to become a beachhead for the armies of immoral indulgence to gain a foothold in his life. When Paul speaks of flesh he means all that we are and are capable of as sinful human beings. Only by the power of God's Spirit can we be any different. Humans can live in four forms of slavery: Slavery to sin is involuntary and terrible Rom 7:18 as is Slavery to law. But Slavery to God and slavery to one another is voluntary and a source of deep joy. Deep Christian commitment to God and service to others is possible only because Christians are delivered through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit from the necessity of serving sin in their lives.
So Paul writes 13"You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbour as yourself." Throughout his letter Paul has been arguing against trying to get right with God by living in obedience to the law of Moses. Instead by God's grace we become right with God when we love Him and serve others. In so doing the law of Moses is fulfilled. This is of course what Jesus taught when he said: Mark 12:30-31 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and your neighbour as yourself."
1. THE INTERNAL CONFLICT.
As Christians, we are expected not to indulge in immoral and improper conduct, but we are free to choose to help others. 13"But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." This was not going to be easy for the churches in Galatia. Their choice to allow their sinful passions to dominate resulted in strife. Paul wrote: 15 "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." What is the solution to such biting, devouring, and destroying that is all too common among Christian assemblies? The answer, Paul says, is in living by the Spirit. 16 "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Only then, will one cease to gratify the desires of the flesh. The Holy Spirit alone can keep the believer free from sin. Paul contrasts living in the flesh, and living in the Spirit.
Living in the flesh means doing what bodily passion and desires want. That is close to what Dr Sigmund Freud said was the main driving urge in humans. To live in the flesh is to allow any of the evil of which we are capable to express itself. And it will, unless we have the greater power of God's grace within. When we live in the flesh we are incapable of knowing God or doing what God desires. Instead we gratify our human passion and desire. To live in the flesh then, results in living in sin. Paul tells it like it is. No wonder immoral people do all they can to dismiss the teachings of the Apostle Paul. He calls it like it is. The opposite to living in the flesh is to live in the spirit. Paul says if we "live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature."
For when God breathes His spirit into a person the Spirit of God takes up residence in that Christian enabling them to understand spiritual things 1Cor 2:14, to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord, to call God Father Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6, and to develop a Christian personality. Only by the presence of the Holy Spirit can we be different and overcome the desires of the flesh. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God within, through which fellowship with God is possible and power given for winning the warfare against sin in the soul. The two principles of flesh and spirit are in deep and irreconcilable conflict. 17 "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want." In the sense in which Paul uses the words, the flesh does no good and does not desire good, whereas the Spirit does no evil and, indeed, opposes anything that does not please God. The flesh is to become increasingly subdued as the Christian learns by grace to walk in the Spirit. But it is never eliminated. The Christian must continuously choose to go God's way. There is no escape from the need to depend on God's grace.
2. LIVING IN THE FLESH.
Gratifying human passion and desires lead to obvious acts: 18 "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
If your conduct is characterised by the obvious "acts of the sinful nature" then you are either not a believer or else a believer who is not being led by God's Spirit. The same standards of evaluation hold true for churches. In the listing, there are four divisions: first, three sins that are violations of sexual morality sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery. This includes all sexual immorality, homosexual and heterosexual. Second, idolatry and witchcraft. This includes anything put before God, and any playing with evil spirits, clairvoyance, astrology, and the activities of Celtic witches as in Halloween. Third, eight sins of social conduct, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. These break social relationships. Finally, two bad habits: drunkenness, orgies. So often drunkenness lowers inhibitions and leads to immorality. There are more items that could be mentioned, for when Paul adds "and the like," he indicates that the list is not exhaustive.
Paul adds a solemn warning, saying that those who habitually practice such things will never inherit God's kingdom. This does not mean that if a Christian gets drunk, or commits adultery, he or she will not be saved. For the tense of the verb (present) indicates a habitual continuation in fleshly sins rather than an isolated lapse. The point is that those who continually practice such sins give evidence of having never received God's Spirit. Certainly, they are not living in the Spirit of God despite what they may say. They are living in the flesh, gratifying passion and sinful desires. That is not the way of the Christian who seeks to live in obedience to God's will. That kind of continued behaviour results in a person finding themselves outside of God.
3. THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT.
Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit are the natural product of a living relationship between the Christian and God Gal 2:20; John 15:1-17. 22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." The nine virtues or Spirit fruit, fall into three categories. The first three are Christian attitudes towards God: love, joy, peace. The second three concerns Christian attitudes towards others: patience, kindness, goodness. The last three concern three qualities of Christian character: faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
The warfare between the flesh and the Spirit is intense and unremitting. How, then, is victory to be achieved? What must the believer do to triumph? In the final verses Paul gives two answers. 24 "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." We are first, to repent fully of our sinful nature with its passions and desires. That means we turn our backs on them forever. We nail them to Christ's cross. We are not to remove them from the cross once they have been nailed there. Second, we are to keep in step with the Spirit. We are to walk in God's way, indwelt by God's Holy Spirit.
To become a Christian we repent of the works of the flesh and walk in the fruit of the Spirit. Hence we gratify passion and desire in a way that is helpful to others, and which keeps us close to God.
Gordon Moyes 1999
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