Spiritual growth requires facing one’s desires and countering one’s fears with faith.
Author’s Note: This post has had some input from RedPillApostle. His contributions are indicated in blue.
Length: 2,700 words
Reading Time: 10 minutes
In a previous post, Dealing with Discernment (2021-09-17), I recounted a number of thoughts, feelings, and impressions I had after experiencing an increase in discernment. Such impressions are not very well subject to rational criticism on the basis of doctrinal consistency. Instead, these impressions were intended to convey some of the challenges and issues of confusion that arise from having a sudden increase in discernment. I had another impression which I did not cover in that post but will cover here. I must emphasize that this particular issue caused me years of confusion, and a few trips through hell and back.
David Gilmour of Pink Floyd performs Comfortably Numb (Originally written in 1978; Performed live in Pompeii in 2016)
Discernment Increases Desire
All my life, I had had the impression that desire was an antagonist to faith, obedience, and contentment. Every book I read on Christian Living, every sermon I heard, only reinforced this belief.
When I was ~25-28 years old and in graduate school (ca. 1997-2000), I experienced some discernment of the nature I described in last week’s post and more as follows. As I noted in last week’s post, the experience is profoundly confusing and deeply troubling.
One of the things I experienced when my discernment started to improve (which I did not include in last Friday’s post), is that I felt intense desire. It was so intense that it made me feel impulsive, self-centered, and childish.
In addition to the challenge of facing my desires, I also felt more sexually aroused, and it seemed like I faced intense temptation everywhere I went. Every time I went out in public, I was getting IOI’s from women.* Also, I felt like my ability to resist this temptation was considerably reduced. I felt like my sexuality had a life of its own, and I was uncomfortable with this because it made me feel vulnerable. Sometimes I was afraid to leave the house because I didn’t know what might happen. But even then, women would come knocking on my door, and if I let them in, sooner or later they revealed an expectation of sexual relations. Some of them were quite forward in their suggestiveness, taking off their clothes and/or inviting me to the bedroom.
I thought that this increased temptation and a perceived reduction of self-control indicated that I was going the wrong direction in my spiritual life. In other words, I thought I was “backsliding”. So because I didn’t really know what was happening to me, I rejected the whole spiritual posture of discernment and “ran the other way” within my internal nous paradigm.
Desire is a Sign of Life
20 years and two marriages later, I went to see my pastor to discuss conflict in my marriage (ca. 2018). My pastor was a Buddhist before he became a Christian, and he told me that I was essentially a Buddhist. I was surprised to hear this, because I grew up in a Baptist church and I never had any interest in Buddhism. I asked him why he thought so. He said that my view of desire was a fundamental Buddhist belief — that desire must be controlled, contained, and eliminated if possible, in order to achieve inner peace. In other words, Comfortably Numb.
Over the following months of counseling, I experienced an increase of discernment (ca. 2019-2020) as I mentioned in last week’s post. Similar to what I had experienced in graduate school, I felt strong desire, endured a lot of temptation, more impulsive, self-centered, childish, lower self-control, and so on. But instead of recognizing these changes as evidence of “backsliding”, my pastor helped me see that I was “coming alive”, and this naturally induced an awareness of the fragility of life, manifested as an internal sense of insecurity and a fear of wrongdoing.
3 [Jesus] said, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 So whoever will humble himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 18:3-4 (NASB)
In addition to my pastor telling me this profound interpretation of my internal state, during my quiet moments, I felt that God was saying to me, “What do you want? Try Me. Ask Me.” When faced with this question, I realized that I didn’t really know what I wanted, because I had made a lifelong habit of micromanaging all my desires in order to force myself into conforming to what I thought was right behavior. After sitting on this question for a while, I found that I was afraid to ask God for anything, because I thought it would not turn out the way I expected, or in some cases, that it would turn out the way I expected. I was stuck in a mindset of frustration, and I realized that I didn’t trust God as much as I had always believed.
It took me a long while to learn that desire is an intrinsic part of discernment, and to accept the fact that this desire is not evil — it is a sign of life! Furthermore, I couldn’t keep avoiding the problem of desire; I had to accept this and deal with it. I had to integrate my desires into my persona, examine the motivations and consequences, trust God with whatever I find, and thereby become authentic in my self-expression. I needed to allow my desire to manifest and undergo this process of refinement through God’s discipline, and come under the authority of the Holy Spirit. By going through this crucible of faith, I am one step closer to finding an authentic exercise of authority in my life, my home, and my marriage.
Moreover, I was wrong in my self-assessment earlier in life. Now, I understand that the reaction I took in graduate school was essentially the equivalent of clinging to foolishness,** and I regret rejecting discernment because of my confusion and lack of self-awareness in terms of how God works in the life of a believer. This was a repentance that took a long time in coming. (~20 years!)
* I don’t know if some spiritual quality related to my discernment was what attracted those IOI’s or if this state of heightened sensitivity simply made me aware of them. Readers may wish to explore this question in the comments.
** The opposite of discernment and the wisdom that accompanies it, is foolishness by Biblical definition. Knowing this now and looking back, it is not surprising that my faith didn’t mature very much during this time.
Life is borne out of Desire
NovaSeeker and I addressed this kind of experience in the post, Viewpoints on Man’s Confusion about How God Works in the Life of a Believer (2021-03-29). NovaSeeker wrote,
“…the central Christian concept of sin and grace is that one’s prodigality is a function of one being alive.”
This is the “ugly” part of the gospel that no one ever talks about. Nobody will explain this because of the obvious implications, and it’s really difficult to talk or write about this without hearing accusations of “lawlessly usurping grace”, or being branded hedonistic or even heretical. I am sure this vacuum of teaching on the subject is exactly why I never realized this fundamental aspect of faith and the gospel until late in life.
Satan and his minions take advantage of this vacuum by presenting desire as a dark, forbidden, secret, sin-drenched pleasure, something far from holiness. But this is not the entire truth. Desire is as much related to holiness as it is to sin. In fact, one way to define sin is anything that kills a desire that would otherwise be used to glorify God in its expression, and provide a vehicle of inspiration to a life of holiness. Satan recognizes that he can deter people from living a life of holy desire by overemphasizing the sin aspect and playing on people’s fear of sin, guilt, and shame.
In a sense, Satan is correct in saying that desire is evil. All of our actions, even those we think of as being upright and good, are actually tainted with sin to the point of being a stench to God. However, this is the basis for the absolute beauty of the gospel. I missed the fullness of this beauty until the Holy Spirit moved my heart to realize that being dead in sin really means what it says. We are in a lifeless state, unable to do anything of our own volition to seek God which means that it is God, as the good shepherd, who seeks His lost sheep. It means that the gift is bestowed on us even though all we do in life is tainted with sin. While we are frustrated by how easily we fall into our sin and by how much we actually like it, because God is the one who calls us and because His promises are good, we don’t have to bear the ultimate burden of our performance. This is simultaneously the most humbling and freeing concept in existence. There is nothing ugly about it.
This misaligned concept of desire and the accompanying fear of sin is firmly entrenched within Christian circles and doctrines. It is reinforced by Biblical passages, and backed with sound reason. But thinking primarily in terms of sin rather than glorification would indicate that fear, guilt, or shame remains outstanding. To be honest, it is too easy to focus on the fear, “What if I sin…?”, and the resulting shame and ignominy, and cling to this fear so firmly that one neglects the opposing aspect of “What if I could find a new Life in Christ?” Ultimately, we choose to cling to our fears, rather than seeking out and developing the Life that our faith in Christ might deliver ourselves.
Coming to embrace the fact that desire is a fundamental feature of human nature, and facing desire within ourselves as men, is quite insightful, even liberating. We should accept our desires and urges as being God given and good. The misapplication of those desires is what we should reject as this is sinful. Most people have not internalized what this means for their lives and because of this, they misunderstand the gospel.
As for desire, I am convinced that desire in men is natural and good. Seeing a nearly naked woman on the beach can stoke that desire, which is a natural reaction, but as long as I don’t start imagining ways to obtain that woman (covetousness aspect of lust), this is part of life as a man that I now accept. If we were to, correctly, I believe, address lust as a sin of coveting that which is not yours instead of defining it as sexual desire, we’d be more aligned with scripture and with how God created us. To covet is a sin of actively trying to possess someone else’s belonging(s), whether that is in thought or deed, not of admiring that belonging.
BTW, in my previous post, I mentioned that I regretted many things, mostly opportunities in life. In comprehending the phrase, “I regret missing out on opportunities”, some readers might think I am referring to opportunities to indulge myself in various forms of debauchery and sin. No, I mean I regret missing out on the opportunities to develop my confidence/faith/trust and humility, to find a full life in Christ sooner in life, and having the discernment to recognize and make better choices in life.
What does it mean to be Obedient?
In the post cited above, NovaSeeker described the Eastern Orthodox perspective on this issue, which I found to be inspiring. (Coming from an evangelical background, I had never known that a major Christian sect addressed this topic from a doctrinal viewpoint.)
“The Eastern Orthodox perspective on dealing with the archetypical problems of “prodigal” and “non-prodigal” is to avoid both by cultivating holiness instead.”
Protestant ministers would phrase this as, “You need to love God more.” But because of my faith background, I had always assumed that “loving God more” meant to be “more obedient”, according to John 14:15.
15 “If you love Me, you will obey My commandments.
Looking back, I see that my misinterpretation of obedience was based on the Protestant concept of obedience as consisting primarily of conscious acts of the will. The role of the Holy Spirit (concerning obedience in this case) is not emphasized in Protestant doctrines and sermons. But reading on, we find that the Holy Spirit is mentioned specifically.
16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper who will be with you forever. 17 That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it doesn’t see or know Him. You know Him, because He lives with you and will be in you.
As I became more familiar with “allowing” myself to experience the increased desire and temptation that accompanied my discernment, I realized that the worst of my fears never came to pass. Just as verses 16-17 state, whenever I was in such a situation, there was like an “envelope” around me that kept those things from happening. And it wasn’t just me — my personality, or any effort on my behalf to create personal boundaries. People (i.e. women) were overjoyed to be around me, but somehow, they knew there was some boundary there that must be observed if they were to continue to enjoy my fellowship. I can only conclude that this is the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the previously cited post, NovaSeeker goes on to describe the practice of holiness.
“In Eastern Orthodox spiritual practice, a great emphasis is placed on the practice of vigilance or watchfulness (“nepsis” following 1st Peter 5:8), which involves maintaining a stance of alertness and attentiveness to one’s thoughts and the focus of one’s “nous” (described below) so as to avoid patterns/strands/chains/cycles of thought that can lead, eventually, to strongholds of bondage and/or difficult temptations to sin in various ways, which run the gamut from sins of pride, to avarice, to greed, to lust, to anger, and the like. All of these begin with thoughts, and with the help and grace of the Spirit, we can get better over time at identifying the kinds of thoughts and thought chains/dynamics that lead to them (e.g. buying into false narratives, deception, denial of the truth, dishonesty, false convictions, fear, idolatry, insecurity, lying, psychological displacement, psychological dissociation, psychological projection, shame, solipsism, etc.).”
An increase in discernment, which is absolutely necessary for one to attain spiritual maturity, requires us to face our innermost desires, and this naturally involves the intensification of desire and temptation. Yes, when desire manifests there is perhaps a greater possibility for certain kinds of sin to occur. But we must learn to trust that the likelihood of sin actually occurring is controlled by the Holy Spirit. The fear of sin must be squelched, because by faith, we believe Christ has overcome sin and the grave. The fear of trusting God with the outcome must be contained, because by faith, we believe Christ loves us and will see us through.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV)
- What does your innermost heart desire?
- How have you dealt with the problem of desire? Religiosity, licentiousness, or faith?
- How did you manage to trust God with your desire?
- How has God rewarded your desire?
- Σ Frame (Jack): Wisdom, Spiritual Efficiency, and Flow (2018-01-26)
- Σ Frame (Jack): On the discernment and wisdom of true morality (2019-02-02)
- Σ Frame (Jack): What is a woman’s desire for her husband according to Genesis 3:16? (2020-10-23)
- Σ Frame (Jack): The Motivation of Desire (2020-12-01)
- Σ Frame (Richard P): A Mystical Approach to Meta Reality (2021-03-19)
- Σ Frame (Jack): 8 Things that Increase Discernment (2021-06-25)
- Σ Frame (Novaseeker): The Noetic Nose Knows (2021-09-06)