What Is Desire?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of desire.

I know that sounds weird. In fact, it probably is. But then I’m not the most normal guy on the block. For what it’s worth, I don’t mean it in a weird way. More of a nerdy sort of way.

But regardless of what it says about me, having questions about the concept of desire is only natural. The Bible talks a lot about this, and in many different contexts. What is desire? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? What’s are the implications of desire on the Christian life? So I did a little digging. And I discovered that even though it’s not something we talk about very much, desire is a very, very important concept for Christians to understand. It’s connected to temptation; it’s connected to joy; it’s connected to love. Let’s dive in and take a look at what desire is, and whether it’s a good or bad thing.

Desire: What is it?

The first question we have to ask, of course, is a simple one: what is desire? According to the Dictionary of Bible Themes, “desire” is defined as follows:

“A sense of longing for or wanting something. It may be a positive or negative force in the human character, but sinful desire is characteristic of human nature and must be overcome by the believer. God also expresses desires in Scripture.” (See footnotes for source info)

So what does that mean? Well, the first thing we need to understand is that desire is a force. Gravity is a force. Inertia is a force. What do these things have in common? Well, they’re powerful. But more importantly, they’re not inherently good or evil. Whether desire is good or bad is determined by what it’s a desire for. This is a very important thing for us to remember. Christians have a tendency to cringe when they hear the word “desire.” Its taken on some rather negative connotations. And that’s because we’re sinful humans, which means that we tend to use desire in a sinful way. Any force can be used for good or evil. Gravity can be good when it helps an apple fall from a tree into our reach; but it can be bad when it causes to to fall and break a bone. The same is true of desire. Desire is a good thing when we’re desiring something good, but it’s a bad thing when we desire that which is evil. That’s why the definition states that desire can be a positive or negative force in human character. So let’s take a look at what the Bible says about good and bad desire.

Desire: The Good

Like every other force, Desire started with God. It’s actually a part of God’s nature; as the above definition states, God Himself expresses desire. A good example of this can be found in Hosea 6:6:

Hosea 6:6 (ESV)

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Here, God, speaking through the prophet Hosea, tells the people that He desires for them to love Him and to seek knowledge of Him rather than focusing on sacrifices and offerings. God is expressing desire; He wants something from His people. Of course, God cannot sin, so in this case desire is a good thing. God passionately wants something; He desires love. All throughout the Bible God expresses desire, even when the Bible doesn’t use that specific word; the Scriptures tell us that God desires glory; He desires that all would be saved; He desires that His people would seek righteousness. As beings made in God’s image, desire is part of our nature. We were made to desire! The question is, what were we made to desire? What should our desire be directed toward? To put it quite simply, the answer is God. We were designed to desire God. This is aptly summed up in Psalm 73:25:

Psalm 73:25 (ESV)

25  Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

Here, the psalmist is expressing the reality that his greatest desire is ultimately God Himself. We were created to desire God! Desiring God and passionately pursuing Him is a central part of Christian life. But the Bible tells us even more about good desire. For example, Psalm 37:4 tells us that when we delight in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. Not sinful desires, but pure desires. Another great example of good desire can be found in 1 Corinthians 14:1, where Paul writes about spiritual gifts:

1 Corinthians 14:1 (ESV)

 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

Here we are told to “earnestly desire” the spiritual gifts that God bestows on His followers through the power of the Holy Spirit. And using other words like “want” or “pursue,” the Bible also tells us to desire many other things, such as wisdom and righteousness. Clearly, desire can be a very good thing; it’s a part of God’s nature, and He desires for us to desire Him and His good gifts!

It would be great if that was the end of the story. But unfortunately, we’re humans, and we have a tendency to screw things up. The Enemy loves to take was God created for good and use it for evil, and desire is no exception. Desire has perhaps become one of the Enemy’s greatest tools, and it manifests itself in many sinful ways in our lives. Let’s take a look at the dark side of desire.

Desire: The Bad

God’s Word makes it very clear that sinful desire is a big problem. Ephesians 2:3, referring to our old sinful nature, puts it this way:

Ephesians 2:3 (ESV)

3…among whom we all once lived in the passions 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.
In this context, desire is clearly portrayed as a bad thing, called the “desires of the body and the mind.” Why is desire such a bad thing here? What makes the desires of the body evil? The answer is simultaneously simple and very complex. Because mankind has chosen sin and rebellion, we have a sinful nature. Our flesh is evil by very definition. As a result, the desires that come from our flesh are also corrupt and evil. Thankfully, through Christ’s atonement, we as Christians have been washed clean and given a new nature. But there is a constant struggle between the desires of our old nature and the desires of our new nature. A great couple of verses that discuss this conflict between the desires of our conflicting natures is Galatians 5:16-17:

Galatians 5:16 (ESV)

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  

This passage aptly sums up the central tension in the Christian life: a conflict between sinful and pure desires. We were created to desire, but because of the Fall, we as Christians must wrestle with desires that are righteous and desires that reflect our old, sinful nature. Sinful desire is the root of temptation; the desire to do what is wrong. Righteous desire, on the other hand, is a reflection of God’s own nature and heart and ultimately comes back to desiring and loving God Himself. So what does all of this mean for each of us? How should this impact our lives? Let’s finish up with some life applications.

Desire: A Passion for God

At its heart, desire is not a bad thing. It’s a beautiful that God designed. But like the rest of our fallen world, its been corrupted by sin. As Christians, we’re locked in a lifelong struggle between the desires of the Spirit and the desires of sinful flesh. There are a few ways that this reality should impact our lives every day.

1. Passionately Pursing God

Desiring God should be at the core of our lives as Christians. Ultimately, we should spend our lives pursuing Him and seeking to live in a way that honors Him and reflects the love He has for us. Because we are “wired to desire,” we should point our desire toward God! Never be satisfied with sin or content to sit in apathy. Desire for God and for His ways should inspire us to passionately pursue our creator every day.

2. Shutting Down Sinful Desire

As Christians, we’re locked in a battle. For the rest of our earthly lives, we must struggle and wrestle against our old nature. In order to truly fulfill God’s calling for our lives, we must learn to defeat the desires of the flesh, which are contrary to God’s plan for our lives. The best way to ditch evil desire is to simply fill your life with righteous desire! Ultimately, desire stems from being discontent with the way things are and seeking something different; so rather than being content with a sinful lifestyle, we should passionately desire a Godly lifestyle. Desire to defeat sinful desire!

3. Finding True Joy

As we’ve seen, desire comes from from being dissatisfied with the way things are and pursuing something different. So a great way to conquer wrongful desire is to stop being dissatisfied! We should never be content living in sin, but we should be content living in Christ! The truth of the Gospel gives us so much to celebrate. Why not ditch desire and revel in the joy that Christ has bought us with His blood! We don’t need to desire salvation any longer; it’s been given to us freely! We can all overcome evil desires by remembering the joy that we have in Christ.

Thanks for reading! I’ve been inactive on here for a long time, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things again soon.

In Christ!
Benjamin Vincent

Works Cited:

Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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