To be a Christian is a wonderful thing. The greatest thing, in fact. To find forgiveness in the cross of our Savior, to be united to Christ by his Spirit, to have the Father as our own Father, and to commune with him as his child — these are the greatest gifts a creature can receive. And so, we give thanks. And yet we also look forward to our resurrection, and to new bodies that will enjoy God forever without any sinful impediments to our giving God all the glory he is worthy to receive from us — and by it, experiencing the fullest possible joy we can experience in ourselves. Can’t wait!
But for now, we wait. For all the incredible gifts and blessings we now have in Christ, to be a Christian in this life doesn’t mean we are free from our disordered loves. We’re not. Every Christian feels an ongoing civil war on the inside, in our twisted loves and longings. We both love God and find in us the remains of a treasonous impulse against the God we love, in our attraction to sin. The Bible explains this civil war. Arguably, Romans 7:14–25 makes the point. Less arguably, Galatians 5:16–17 makes the point too.
So then, what do we Christians — redeemed by Christ’s blood, sealed by the Spirit, adopted by the Father — what do we do with the disordered loves that we find still at work inside of us? Pastor John explained at the end of a sermon on Romans 7, preached in 2001. Here he is, drawing out pastoral application.
“We should not be surprised when we meet in ourselves some really excessive and distorted bodily desires.”
In view of all that the Bible says to us about our condition, our fallen condition with this body of death, and our sinful condition with the body acting in treason to join forces with the power of sin to tempt us — in view of the fact that there’s a law of sin still active, and there’s a body of death — we should not be surprised or thrown off balance when we meet in ourselves, and our children and our spouses and our loved ones and our colleagues and our roommates and our neighbors, some really excessive and distorted bodily desires.
Let me give you some examples, and then say how I think we should respond.
Excessive and Distorted Desires
Remember, we are being redeemed in stages. Guilt is taken away right now. All your sins are forgiven right now. The Holy Spirit is dwelling in your life by faith, if you’re a believer, right now. No condemnation is hanging over you at all right now. And yet, we wait for the redemption of our bodies, and those bodies are bodies of death, and places where sin sets up a base of operations often, and tempts us with excessive and distorted bodily desires.
For example, we see excessive desires for leisure, tempting us to laziness and sloth. We see excessive desires for food, tempting us to gluttony and all of its damaging effects. We see excessive desires for drink, tempting us to alcoholism. We see excessive desires for sex, tempting us to lustfulness and fornication and adultery.
And on top of all of those excessive desires, this law of sin operating in our members produces distorted desires. That shouldn’t surprise us either. The whole world is bent out of shape under the fall. That’s much of the point of Romans 1–3. It’s much of the point of part of Romans 8.
For example, we see distorted desires for food. My father-in-law treated people, before he died, who had this incredible hankering for gray river clay in Georgia. They ate clay until it filled their bowels and they died. He would warn them not to take laxatives because it would kill them. Why would anybody want to eat clay?
Or the whole issue of binging — bags of cookies and so on. Those are distortions of a good thing called appetite, desire. Or we know about distorted desires of sex. The desire to have satisfaction with one of your own sex, whether homosexuality or lesbianism or bisexuality, is one of many kinds of fallen distortions. Another example would be the distortions of desire for pleasure, a kind of high, and people resort to marijuana or speed or cocaine or LSD.
Why? What are these distortions, these artificial ways of getting some kind of satisfaction and happiness? The world is just shot through our bodies. These bodies of death are shot through with excessive desires and distorted desires. There’s not a person in this room who doesn’t have one of those.
Who Will Deliver Me?
Now, what do we do? I’m calling you, pleading with you week after week for a biblical realism in Jesus Christ. In Christ, by faith, we are united to him. Before any of this is fixed, hear this now: by faith we become united to Jesus. Faith alone! We are united to him, and his purchased pardon becomes perfectly ours, and his perfect righteousness clothes this excessively desiring, distortedly desiring body first. This is the gospel.
“Will you make war all your life until your body is finally redeemed at the resurrection? That’s the issue.”
Now, what’s the issue then? The issue in your life, believer, is not, Do I have excessive desires? Do I have distorted desires? I say it with joy in my heart for those of you who struggle with homosexuality or with eating disorders or with drugs or with laziness — I say it with joy in my heart: The issue is not whether you have those excessive and distorted desires. The issue is, will you say, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” and look away from yourself and your resources and say, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, who gives the victory”? And will you not make peace with the law of sin and find yourself at home in the body of death, but rather make war all your life until your body is finally redeemed at the resurrection? That’s the issue.
So you walk up to me at the end of the service in five minutes and say, with trembling, “I’d like you to pray for me because I’ve never told anybody, but I really struggle with homosexuality.” I’m not going to be surprised. Happens a lot. You say to me, “Nobody knows what I’m doing with food. Nobody knows.” I’m not going to be surprised; nothing surprises me anymore.
But I will call you to a massive hope that through faith, there is justification, and through faith, there is forgiveness. And then, by that same Christ, comes incrementally — sometimes in leaps and bounds, and sometimes through long, agonizing wrestling — a triumph that will be secured in the last day because of the blood of Jesus.