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Desires are not a dichotomy of good and evil. All the desires God created are good when they are expressed how God intended them to be.
When we are tempted to fulfill a desire for the wrong reasons, it can be equally tempting to throw out the desire altogether. For example, if people are addicted to food, they might overcompensate and decide to eat too little. However, eating too little is just as unhealthy as eating too much.
God would have us learn how to regulate our desires, that is, to use them in the right way. Not over-indulging and not depriving out of guilt. The goal is self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
What are Desires and When Can I Fulfill Them?
Desires are human drives, appetites, needs, and wants such as:
- Sexual intimacy
- Physical touch
All of these desires can have positive and negative expressions. It’s a matter of timing, situation, and motive. Some are more obvious than others. There’s a right time to eat and a wrong time to eat. There’s a right and a wrong time for sex. Even physical touch is not always appropriate.
What happens when one of these desires becomes an idol? A person might continue to eat beyond what will be helpful for their body. They might eat for pleasure alone to escape the pain of life. A person might seek sexual intimacy or physical touch, involving others without their permission.
What about power and control? They have a more negative connotation, don’t they? But God couldn’t be God without them. Power and control are more often than not used to gain an advantage over another for one’s own benefit. But they can be equally used to protect the vulnerable and accomplish great works.
There’s a time to act with bravery and a time to be humble or accepting instead. Action is not always the answer.
Love is harder to see how it can become a problem. God is love. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. Godly love has a perfect balance to it, so it’s always appropriate (Galatians 5:22-23). Yet in our human attempts at love, we can actually hurt others. Being only kind to someone when they need truth is not loving. Respect is similar. It would seem that respect is always a good attitude. And it would be, except evil shouldn’t be respected.
None of these virtues is the only solution for all time in all situations. To better understand how any one desire is not enough, imagine a world where only one desire existed (eating for example). God created a world more interesting and dynamic than that. We are not robots. Wisdom calls us to apply the right action at the right time according to the need (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Romans 12:15; Galatians 6:1-5).
The How of Desire Trumps The What
I’ve established that is not necessary to fulfill a desire all the time. God takes this idea a step further in Romans 14. He says that there are times when we should abstain from an activity we consider to be good if it would cause a fellow believer spiritual distress (v. 15).
You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.Romans 14:22-23 NLT
To fulfill desires without guilt, you must develop, train, and follow your convictions. Your conscience matters in determining what is right or wrong. It’s important to realize that living by faith is the same as living with a clear conscience. If you are in right relationship with God, what you do will be right, too.
If you have an over-active conscience or a seared conscience, ask God to restore you to a healthy conscience so you can live free of guilt and condemnation.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.