Getting to the Heart, Part 4

By Mike Kelsey, Campus Pastor @MBCSilverSpring

The Heart Is Always Seeking Something

For the most part, our behavior is our attempt to attain what our hearts desire.[1] Christian counselor and author David Powlison explains, “My daily behavior is my attempt to get what is important to me in various situations and relationships. My choices and actions always reveal the desires that rule my heart.” These can sometimes be inherently sinful desires, but usually even those can be traced to legitimate desires that are not necessarily sinful but that can begin to take the rightful place of God (approval, companionship, success, respect, etc.). In fact, this is what the writers of the New Testament mean when they use the word “lust.” Lust is often used in reference to sexual desire in particular (which is how we most commonly use the term today), but throughout the New Testament, the term “lust” is a generic term that basically means any “controlling desire” (James 1:14-15). It is almost as if these desires become mini-kings (or in religious terms, mini-gods) that demand our attention and obedience. For example, the Apostle Peter writes about conforming to our lusts (1 Peter 1:14), and the Apostle Paul mentions being enslaved to and obeying our lusts (Titus 3:3; Romans 6:12; also “appetites” in Romans 16:18). These controlling desires have profound significance because as the 19th century Puritan preacher David Clarkson said, “Every reigning lust is an idol.”

“Every reigning lust is an idol.”

So how do we know when we have allowed a desire to take the rightful place of God? How do we know when natural desires have become sinful desires?

We can usually tell that a desire has taken control in one of two ways:

  1. When we are willing to sin in order to get it.
    (In order to get approval, I gossip. It feels great to be the one “in the know.”)
  2. When we sin in response to not getting what we want.
    (When I feel I’m not getting the respect I deserve, I retaliate with harsh words.)

However, outward and obvious sins are not the only places where sinful and controlling desires lurk. Sometimes, these subtle desires can also be found underneath our seemingly righteous behaviors. We must be careful that our good deeds are being done with holy motivations. Jesus was very critical of Jewish religious leaders who were doing “good” things in public but were motivated by impressing people rather than serving God and people (Matthew 6:1-18). In other words, they were using religious piety as a way to attain what their hearts truly desired, which was praise and admiration. That is not true piety in God’s eyes. True piety is doing the right thing with the right motives. It is ironic and yet true that idolatry can motivate our Christianity. God doesn’t just want us to do good things; He wants to be the true ruler and treasure of our hearts.

Practically speaking, we have to understand that our choices, attitudes, words and behaviors are being driven by the reality that our hearts are seeking something. Our deepest and most controlling desire should be to please God and enjoy His presence. This is what it means to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:29-30). In His love for us, He created things for us to enjoy, but those things become idols, God-replacements, when we desire them more than we desire God (Romans 1:25).

Read @MikeKelsey‘s first, second, and third posts from this series!

[1] Desire includes what you value, crave, treasure, long for, set your heart on, hope in, cherish, worship, love or seek.

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