In high school, and even into college, I weighed 260 pounds and was not even six feet tall. I was addicted to pornography — had been since I was nine. The appetites of the human heart are often insatiable. Whatever we want, we want a lot, and quick. It’s great when it comes to Bible reading, or prayer, or loving others. Not so great for tacos.
The message of the gospel collided with my appetites when I was fifteen. I was saved; I was washed; I was made new. Even so, as a young Christian I was losing battles with my gluttony and lust. My problem wasn’t with my ability to flee from sin. I was taking every possible physical measure to “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22). But I wasn’t tasting real freedom — not yet. Looking back, my war against the cravings inside of me was a lot like the The Odyssey.
“In our fight against sin, we cannot flee from one pleasure without also fleeing to a greater Pleasure.”
Ulysses and his crew were on a long and dangerous journey. On the way, they sail by an island where Sirens lived. Sirens are beautiful-bodied, sweet-voiced temptresses who lure passersby with their songs. The sailors are lulled to the island, and they crash their boats ashore. When they do, the Sirens destroy them.
Ulysses knows this temptation, so he has the others bind him to the mast. As they sail by, he loves the Sirens’ songs and desperately wants to go in closer. But he’s restrained. He can’t follow his urge — the overwhelming appetite. In his battle against temptation, he had won, but he wasn’t free.
From Pleasure to Pleasure
There are two ways to say no to sin: compulsion and repulsion. By compulsion, I mean the ability we possess to grit our teeth and overcome the allure of sin with sheer will. It’s possible to white-knuckle your way through the hour of temptation, at least for a time. I did for years. But God is after more than subduing our hands; he wants our hearts. That is where the second way of conquering sin comes in: repulsion.
Look at the second part of 2 Timothy 2:22, “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Many Christians, myself included, keep the first part of the verse, “flee youthful passions,” but forget that Paul never had in mind for us merely to flee from sin.
There is no fleeing from one pleasure without also fleeing to a greater pleasure. When we find ourselves before something more desirable than whatever we’re currently chasing, we’ll let go of our former love, finding it repulsive by comparison. We’d be insane not to trade crumbs for a banquet.
A Better Song Than Sin
Real freedom from sin comes when you see that God is more satisfying than food, sex, or any other pleasure.
Consider another sailor from Greek mythology, Jason, who came across Sirens’ island. Instead of resisting the Sirens’ allure by restraint, he introduced a better song. He hired Orpheus, the skilled musician, to play his most beautiful piece just as the ship floated in earshot of the island. The boat sailed by with both captain and crew pleased, not by the Sirens, but by Orpheus’s better music.
Real freedom came for me when I began, by God’s grace, to see that my cravings were for more than just food or sex. All my appetites were, at root, for an all-satisfying God. God will always be the better treasure, the more pleasing song. His music makes all the songs of the world pale in comparison. John Owen puts it well,
Were our affections filled, taken up, and possessed with these things . . . what access could sin, with its painted pleasures, with its sugared poisons, with its envenomed baits, have unto our souls?
Will we position ourselves to hear God’s voice, to give our soul the chance to truly taste and see that he is good? Fight for this pleasure every day. It’s the fight beneath every other fight in the Christian life. It’s the fight for joy in God.