We were created by God to seek pleasure and follow our desires. I wrote about this in my post, “Smartphones, addictions, joy, and pleasure,” so I won’t belabor that here, only to say that it’s a stoic delusion to think we’re going to be free from desire for pleasure as we follow the Spirit. Quite the opposite. We’ll be simply be replacing the counterfeit for the real thing. And that’s because God made us this way.
God intended that we should be constantly overflowing with His pleasure as we live from His Spirit (Psalm 16:11), which empowers us to love others from His other-centered, self-giving affections.
Now, let’s talk about lust! The Greek word in Scripture for lust is ἐπιθυμία (epithumia), which means “intense cravings, earnest desire…” It can be either holy or evil. These desires can spring forth from one of two forces working in us: the flesh (self-life) or the Spirit.
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Gal.5:16-17 NKJV*)
When we look at The Passion Translation (TPT), we see this clearer. In this translation, lust is defined as “intense cravings,” and the flesh is the “self-life”:
16 As you yield freely and fully to the dynamic life and power of the Holy Spirit, you will abandon the cravings of your self-life. 17 For your self-life craves the things that offend the Holy Spirit and hinder him from living free within you! And the Holy Spirit’s intense cravings hinder your old self – life from dominating you! So then, the two incompatible and conflicting forces within you are your self-life of the flesh and the new creation life of the Spirit. (Gal.5:16-17 TPT*)
Let’s unpack this. According to Paul, there are “two incompatible and conflicting forces within you”—the self-life and the new creation life in the Spirit. As I said last time, God is only interested in working on the latter. In fact, He says your self-life has already been stripped of its power because He nailed it to the cross.
24 Keep in mind that we who belong to Jesus, the Anointed One, have already experienced crucifixion. For everything connected with our self-life was put to death on the cross and crucified with Messiah. (Gal.5:24 TPT*)
We will either follow the intense cravings of the self-life or of the Spirit. Paul tells us that following our self-life cravings produce the following:
19 The cravings of the self-life are obvious: Sexual immorality, lustful thoughts, pornography, 20 chasing after things instead of God, manipulating others, hatred of those who get in your way, senseless arguments, resentment when others are favored, temper tantrums, angry quarrels, only thinking of yourself, being in love with your own opinions, 21 being envious of the blessings of others, murder, uncontrolled addictions, wild parties, and all other similar behavior. (Gal.5:19-22 TPT*)
This ignominious list proves that both Christians and godless people can demonstrate these traits. As I said last time, this is one of the reasons why the world doesn’t see the benefit of Christianity. We seem to be doing the same things as them; we’re just judgmental hypocrites about it.
Don’t think so? Just honestly peruse the list above again and see which ones you’ve been involved in doing over the last week!
But the good new is, we really do have a choice! We absolutely can be free from our addiction to counterfeit pleasures (including our religious addictions!). The answer is holy lust! Yes, that’s right! As we already saw, “And the Holy Spirit’s intense cravings hinder your old self-life from dominating you!” (vs.17) Then, Paul goes on to say….
18 But when you are brought into the full freedom of the Spirit of grace, you will no longer be living under the domination of the law, but soaring above it! (Gal.5:18 TPT)
Why does he bring up the law here? Because the self-life still eats from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which is a lose-lose situation. The law only shows you how guilty you are; if you fail to obey it, you feel condemned. On the other hand, if you succeed, it makes you prideful and judgmental of others who fail. This is why the law only produces sin and death, for the soul that sins must die. But following the “intense desires” of the Spirit produces life and joy and authentic pleasure!
22–23 But the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit within you is divine love in all its varied expressions:
joy that overflows,
peace that subdues,
patience that endures,
kindness in action,
a life full of virtue,
faith that prevails,
gentleness of heart, and
strength of spirit.
Never set the law above these qualities, for they are meant to be limitless. (Gal.5:22-23 TPT*)
Since we have a choice between these two paths, we need to ask ourselves, why would we ever choose to live according to the self-life? There are two main reasons: first, because it’s our default; it’s our “normal.”
The second reason may be because we believe that following the Spirit is not as pleasurable and full of joy. But this is an outright lie! It’s quite the opposite! The pleasures experienced in His tangible presence are limitless and overwhelming; their intensity is beyond our ability to contain, which is why it overcomes the lusts of the flesh.
So, the lesson is this: “As you yield freely and fully to the dynamic life and power of the Holy Spirit, you WILL abandon the cravings of your self-life. “ And, since your self-life is already crucified with Christ, the choice is totally within your power to make.
Beloved, it’s not a matter of choosing pleasure or no pleasure. It’s a matter of choosing which “lust” you will obey.
LOL! Very funny. Methinks we might be having a similar train of thought, Mel? I very nearly named my post today, “Holy Hunger,” but thought, nah…. 🙂
I have a lot of issues with Piper, but one thing I really appreciate about him is his “Christian hedonism” stuff. I’m not quite sure why we of the Christian world often seem to believe that following Christ is not going to be beneficial or pleasurable for us. We like to focus on the cost, how much I’ve allegedly given up for Jesus, how much I now “have to” suffer because I’m a Christian. I mean, wow, sounds just awful, sign me right up.
I actually spent months just staring at, “Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers,” and thinking hmm, that is just so weird! It’s almost sounds like God wants good things for us. There are a lot of problems with people like Joel Osteen and assorted prosperity gospels, but the part they really got right is that God wants good things for you.
Yeah, I agree with you about Piper. I love his “Christian hedonism” and enjoying God, even though some of His deterministic theology is hopelessly conflicted and incoherent.
One thing we must change in our mindset is how God thinks about us and how He wants us live in His love. We turned it into Stoic head knowledge, when it’s all heart and enjoying our relationship in Him! There are so many passages about heaven where there’s partying going on and joy and pleasure forevermore! We need to stop being the elder brother and join the party! 🙂