Monday, September 29, 2014

Cravings: Self-centered or God-centered

"They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved."  (Psalm 78:18)
"They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved." 
(Psalm 78:18)

Why do we do this? Why do we and our neighbors demand so much. Our country is so full of people demanding their rights that if you so much as accidentally bump into the wrong person, you may just end up with a lawsuit. And our kids scarcely breathe their first lungful before exhaling a loud "Mine!"

The Bible shows that this problem springs from within.

Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. When we demand our rights, when we babies of the family feel entitled to special treatment, when words like "Mine!" rip things from others' hands, or when we grumble against God, it's because of a serious problem with our hearts. Jesus says:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:33-34)

Demanding words on the tongue come from evil in the heart. But what is the nature of that indwelling evil that makes us demand our way?

Evil Cravings

The passage above singles out one heart motivation. The Psalmist, who wrote the passage above, recounts the fact that God's people demanded because they "craved" wrongly. We share the same nature with our first mother, Eve, who when she "saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate"—the very thing God told Adam not to do (Genesis 3:6). Her sinful behavior—like ours—sprang from her sinful lust.

It's worth pointing out here that when God forbade the consumption of that fruit, there was nothing evil in the fruit per se. After all, it was included with all of creation when God saw that "it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). But eating it was a sin because God had forbidden it. So even our cravings for good things can be sinful if our longings are contrary to God’s revealed will. Drink, entertainment, food, money, rest, sex, work—all these things and more are good things that can be craved in ways that are sinful.

The Cravings of Idolatry

There are plenty of other heart motivations that give birth to sinful behavior, but let's just focus on this one and drill down even deeper. We've seen that demanding words come from evil cravings, and that although the things we long for might be good, our longings become sinful when they're contrary to God's will. But what is the essence of the contrariness of our will when it goes against the grain of God's?

On the one hand, it's pretty simple. God--simply because he is God--has every right to direct our thoughts, affections, will, and behavior. So it's sinful when we rebel and want something that he doesn't want for us. It's sinful when we want something in a certain way, time, amount, or in a particular relationship or context, etc. that is contrary to the way he wants it for us. He's the Creator. We're his creation. He's the potter; we're the clay (cf. Romans 9:20-21). So he has every right to direct every aspect of our being. For example, work is good, but too much of it is bad, not primarily because too much is unhealthy for us (that's secondary), but primarily because God said so. So every week we should work six days and rest one day because he said so. He knows what's best. And he wants what's best for us.

On the other hand, the Bible lets us see why wanting what God doesn't is sinful with even more clarity. The essential contrariness of demanding the things we crave lies in what it means for our relationship with God. We can turn our backs on God and make false gods out of ourselves or anything else.

Self idolatry is the essence of sinful behavior. That's why when Jesus calls us to repent, he calls us to deny ourselves and to forsake our sinful self-salvation strategies. (For example, look at Matthew 16:24-25.) 

When we demand things of God and others, we effectively attempt to usurp God's throne, and make ourselves the King whose will should be immediately obeyed no matter the cost. 

This is where all self righteousness comes from. We want our idol of self to look good even if it means that we use God as a religious means to that end. And if we think we're doing God a favor by all our good works, then once trials and tribulations (or even difficulties and inconveniences) come--as they always will until Christ returns--then we sometimes feel like we have been treated unjustly. We actually think we deserve better! We might not actually say that we deserve a comfortable life, but that is a hidden assumption by which we tend to operate. So we don't just lament our suffering, we demand that it cease or raise a defiant fist heavenward.

But our problem is not simply that we idolize ourselves. We can idolize just about anything else too. Our sinful hearts can want something so much that we put the thing we desire in God's place, as if that thing or person will satisfy our souls' deepest everlasting longings in the way only the eternal God can.

But even in these cases, when we bow in the worship of the approval of others, control, financial security and prosperity, or whatever, it's all because we are in lockstep with the commands and demands of our false god of self.

The New Testament (the part of the Bible that shows and explains God's promises being fulfilled in Jesus Christ) calls these sinful cravings "overdesires," epithumeia in the original Greek. Here's an example of what it has to say about these desires in an excerpt of a letter from the apostle Paul...

He says the desires of God's Holy Spirit and our sinful desires (or "overdesires") are "opposed to each other." And this opposition, this contrariness, this war is ultimately about who, as it were, gets to sit on the throne over your heart: God or your sinful self. We long for that throne to be ours. And that longing is an overdesire--an excessive desire--because it's a craving that should truly be directed at God alone. It's wanting wrongly for a created thing and not the Creator to have divine rights that God alone deserves.

Longing for God

But God alone deserves our greatest longings. It's what brings him the most glory. And it is what's best for us because he made us to glory in him above all.

We were made to see that in God's presence is "fullness of joy" and that at his right hand are "pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11), to see him as "the perfection of beauty" (Psalm 50:2), and to have our souls crave and "thirst" for the living God like a deer panting for flowing streams (Psalm 42:1-2). And we were made to long for God's word like a newborn baby craves its mommy's milk (1 Peter 2:2), and to be hungry to do God's will as if doing so were to enjoy the food that we need to get through the day (John 4:34).

Turning to Jesus

So we've looked at our sinful cravings. And we've considered how diametrically opposed they are to the way God made us to desire him.

We've looked at what makes some cravings sinful, but we haven't paused together to consider specifics in our own lives. I encourage you to do so. For me, I think I am prone to addictions, so there are things that quickly come to mind when I pause a moment to consider my lusts. 

What do you struggle with?

Pause to consider your own sinful cravings. But don't stop there! Take them to God. Unburden your soul to God in confession and prayer. You could say something like, "God, I am a sinner. I do long excessively for all kinds of things, like _________ and ____________..." Fill in the blanks.

But don't stop there either! Look to Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen. He died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). He is our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). If you repent and believe the good news about Jesus, there is now no condemnation for you (Romans 8:1ff), because Jesus took that condemnation for you on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21), if you trust in him as your own Lord and Savior and Treasure (Romans 10:9-10). Not only that, but also those who trust in Christ begin slowly to find their old idols losing power over their lives (2 Corinthians 3:18). Those who are in Christ by faith have already made a clean break with sin, because they are united to the one who has died to sin and lives to God (Romans 6).

If you are in Christ you now get to enjoy freedom from the punishment and power of sin. But the presence of sin will remain to some extent even in believers, until Christ returns. So we continue to need to fix our gaze on Christ and to crave him above all things (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

And we continue to need to gather with other people who are also repenting from sin and trusting in Christ (Hebrews 10:25). So don't try to do this on your own. Look for a good church. If you don't know where to start, check out the tab at the top of this blog entitled, Looking for a Good Church.

In Christ and together with his church, we can begin not only to find our desires purified, but also to help others find Jesus to be the living waters their hearts have always really been craving (John 4).