The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Nov 27, 2013

The Heart's Desire

Generally, I don't write blog posts based off of something else that I read online, e.g., an article that piqued my interest (else I would never get anything done!) Recently, however, I ran across a quote that I just could not pass by without some theological commentary.

In an online article [click here] in the Huffington Post entitled “Couple has open marriage so complicated, it’s hard to keep track,” author Jenny Block, when interviewed, had this to say: “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others,” said Block, who has been in an open marriage for the past 10 years. “You cannot tell someone, ‘Don’t be attracted to anyone else. Don’t desire anyone else.’ You can say, ‘If we’re going to be together, I want it to be monogamous.’ But you cannot control the other person’s heart and mind. The heart wants what it wants.” [emphasis added; online: accessed 11/27/2013, could not find the author for this particular article. Note also that Jenny Block is not part of the particular "marriage" being discussed in the article]

Keep those words in mind: “We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others.” Now, the sad thing is that Jenny Block is absolutely correct for those who do not have the Spirit of God. In other words, the unbeliever truly cannot control his or her own desires; he or she remains a slave to sin. Thus Scripture can describe unbelievers as “slaves . . . of/to sin” (Romans 6:16 and 17 NET Bible)  Furthermore, “. . . the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8, NET Bible). Thus Jenny Block’s words, applied to an unbeliever, are absolutely correct: “We cannot control our own desires . . . . The heart wants what it wants.” Unlike J. Block, however, this is not a cause for celebration (much less an excuse for a polyamorous lifestyle), but rather proof of how fallen the human race is, and how much in need of redemption we are.
Yet how, then, does the Christian differ? For some theologians, there really is no difference and the Christian still cannot control his or her desires. In other words, for some theologians, Christians truly have no say in the outcome when faced with temptation at a particular point in time (i.e., the result could not have gone otherwise). Yet if that is the case, then Romans 8:2 is absolutely meaningless when it states, "For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you  free from the law of sin and death” (NET Bible). How can we truly be free from sin if J. Block’s words apply equally to Christians and unbelievers alike when faced with temptation?
Furthermore, as I have argued elsewhere (see the bibliography below), 1 Corinthians 10:13 clearly states that Christians have an “escape route” for each temptation they face, an escape route that is lacking in an unbeliever. In other words, when the Corinthian believers faced the temptation via social pressure of participating in idolatry, they could not say “my desires caused me to sin” or “the peer pressure was just too much for me.”

What, then, makes the difference? It is nothing less than the indwelling Spirit of God Who becomes the great Enabler to do what is right. Consequently, Galatians 4:6-7 states, "And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God" (NET). Indeed, it is this very fact that causes the Apostle Paul to soundly rebuke the Galatians in 4:9 for reverting back to their old ways! They cannot claim that they were unable to resist the siren call of temptation, for the Holy Spirit provides a powerful force that enables the Christian to pull away from beckoning temptations. [note: in a response to my JETS article, the objection was raised that this means Christians could live an absolutely perfect life, successfully rejecting every single temptation they run across [thus attaining sinless perfectionism, more or less; it was implied, though not explained, that this was theologically incoherent]. My response was to raise the analogy of a hitter in baseball. A good hitter is entirely capable of hitting every single pitch in the strike zone for a home run; in reality, however, this never happens. Potential and actuality are two different things. Yet even if a Christian could reach a point where he or she successfully resists temptation for an entire year (or two, or three), I would find that a much more theologically coherent state than positing a God who does not allow Christians to resist a particular temptation at a particular point in time, perhaps even foreordaining his own child to sin]

So what, then, is the difference between a believer and an unbeliever? The unbeliever truly cannot resist a life of sin, whatever his or her heart is bent towards. They may exercise a certain degree of restraint, of course (and I am not arguing that unbelievers are as bad as they can be!). Yet without the Holy Spirit’s influence, they remain incapable of permanently resisting sin. For the believer, however, it is the Spirit’s influence that becomes the competing force against our sinful desires. With the Spirit, we can truly chose the good and reject the evil. The heart may indeed “want what it wants,” but fortunately with the Spirit’s presence, the heart also wants to please the Lord. Thus the Christian must deal with competing sources of desire: the remnant of our sinful past vs. the new heart given to us by the Spirit’s regenerating work. In my opinion, one of the best articulations of this difference between believers and unbelievers is the following quote by Hae-Kyung Chang: “In Rom. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that ‘being free under sin’ and ‘being free from the law of sin and death’ are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, they are not true” (Chang, p. 268; emphasis added).

To return to the original article: ultimately, then, one who names the name of Christ yet lives, without chastening or remorse, in an “open marriage” such as described in the HuffPost article truly demonstrates that he is not a Christian, for clearly the Spirit has no part in him. God will not allow a Christian to consistently choose the evil and demonstrate no sign of the Spirit’s power in his or her life, for God Himself has a vested interest in us! 

[one final note: I am even OK with the idea that God can “overrule” the Christian's will in certain circumstances; simply because the Christian always has the ability to resist sin does not mean he or she always has the ability to accept sin; the converse of a law is not always true]

For further reading:

1.   Hae-Kyung Chang, “The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7–25 Reconsidered,” Novum Testamentum vol. 49 (2007). In my opinion, this is a fantastic article, and it has heavily influenced my views on Romans 7.
2.   Paul A. Himes “When a Christian Sins—1 Corinthians 10:13 and the Power of Contrary Choice in Relation to the Compatibilist-Libertarian Debate,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 54 (July 2011).
3.   Steven Cowan, “Does 1 Corinthians 10:13 Imply Libertarian Freedom? A Reply to Paul A. Himes,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 55 (December 2012).
4.   Paul Himes: “First Corinthians 10:13: A Rejoinder to Steven Cowan,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 55 (December 2012).

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