Who Is in Control?

“Most of us have never really understood that Christianity is not a self-help religion meant to enable moral people to become more moral. We don’t need a self-help book; we need a Savior. We don’t need to get our collective act together; we need death and resurrection and the life-transforming truths of the gospel.” -Counsel From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson

We would all agree that a “sex addict” is controlled by evil desires. More accurately, a sexual sinner is control by what they want. What about the rest of us? Paul said “we all once lived in the passion of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3). All of us, whatever our family of origin, have this same influential sinful background. We all lived in the passion of our flesh, doing what we wanted. That is, we were controlled by what we wanted. The biblical view is that sin comes from within. Past events may trigger sin, but they don’t create the triggers. We are internally driven by a commitment to carry out our own desires. The desires that controlled us were the desires of the body and the mind. The truth is that those who are not really following Christ are controlled by what they want. Outwardly a Christian, there is no change from the inside out, just a level of external conformity!

Every man wants respect. That desire is often expressed in having a successful career or ministry. Is he controlled by what he wants? Our true motives are not a deep mystery. Wrong motives and desires will never bear the fruit of righteousness. There will be bad fruit exhibited in handling competition, criticism, neglect of wife and family, along with anger and depression. This is the fruit that indicates that the man is controlled by what he wants.

The problem of unfaithfulness also illustrates my point. Betrayal and deception always go together when a spouse is unfaithful. No longer wanting to be deceived, a wife, discovering her husband’s unfaithfulness, wants to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. She wants the honest truth, but is she controlled by what she wants?

We all have desires, but sinful desires often disguise themselves as our expectations, felt needs, goals, wishes, and longings. Legitimate desires can conceal the truth that we are ultimately controlled by what we want. When we follow the desires of the body and mind we can fall into sexual sin. But those same desires of the mind can rule a person as strongly as an “addiction.” In fact, legitimate desires for money, reputation, security, love, success, comfort, looks, career, and meaningful marriages are so subtle and deceitful that we easily justify such desires and end up being controlled by what we want.

How do we know if we are controlled by what we want? The wife wants the “honest truth.” Yet once that honest truth is told, despair often increases. “How do I know you are being fully honest with me?” “How do I know you will be honest with me in the future?” If she is being controlled by what she really wants—never to be deceived again—she will not find peace. “A sinful fear is the craving for something not to happen” (David Powlison). What is the true motive of her heart? If a wife wants her husband to change and be sexually pure in order to control her fear—getting what she really wants—she will reveal the true motive and desire of her heart by being manipulative, fearful, angry and suspicious. This is the fruit that is certain indication that she is controlled by what she wants. On the other hand, if her desire is to be faithfully loved by her husband and to have him right with God, she will reveal the “hidden person” in her heart and the “beauty of a gentle quiet spirit as she loves and respects her husband. Such beauty, with love and respect is the fruit that reveals that God is in control.

The problem in the heart isn’t that we want something. We could want something good, something bad. In either case, the core problem is that we demand to have what we want. Everyone who has been betrayed must forgive the past without attempting to control the future so that it never happens again. The desire is right, but being controlled by the desire destroys the relationship. It will put the person in a position of suspicion and fear and leave them spiritually and sexually immature.

I can hear all the objections: “What’s wrong with wanting my husband to be faithful?” There is nothing wrong with desire! No one wants pain, rejection or abandonment. What is wrong is when that desire rules you rather than God. That results in the obvious outward displays of anger, complaining, and despair. Real truth brings peace and contentment in all circumstances. True followers of Christ in difficult circumstances “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:10). A husband and wife in the difficult circumstances of marital unfaithfulness can, through the work of God in their hearts, come to see what rules them. They can repent and find God’s grace that brings real change from the inside out. God doesn’t take away our ability to desire. He has promised to change what we really want; to want what He wants. We can have new desires and motives that rule our hearts and dramatically change behaviors and relationships.

Recommended Resources

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, by David Platt. This book is radical because it will challenge you to look at how we have manipulated the gospel to fit our needs. What does the Christian lifestyle actually look like? Pastor Platt gives sound biblical answers.

The Sovereignty of God, by Arthur W. Pink. Are you confused about the sovereignty of God? This doctrine is so “diametrically opposed to the natural pride of the human heart” we need to by faith develop it in our hearts as a sound doctrine and then live responsible lives.

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