By Jon Bloom
Don’t try to reason with your sin-infected appetites. An aroused appetite is almost always unreasonable. When a desire is awakened in you to indulge in some sin, your best defense is often escape.
Delight Rules the Kingdom of the Heart?
We might like to think that reason rules the human heart, but it doesn’t. Delight rules.
In the kingdom of the heart, the commanding hierarchy is this: King Delight rules and he tells General Desire what to want. General Desire then issues commands to Lieutenant Will to act on the want. No one does anything by “sheer will-power.” The will is not an independent agent. It is a soldier under authority that receives and obeys commands. The will might be strong or it might be weak and, like a soldier, it can be trained. But the will does what desire commands. And desire commands whatever delight believes will bring it the most pleasure or the least pain.
So what role does Reason play in the hierarchy of the human heart? Reason is Royal Counsel to King Delight and advises the king on what he should believe and value. When King Delight agrees with Counsel Reason, General Desire and Lieutenant Will act reasonably. But if King Delight doesn’t agree with Counsel Reason, the king is going to have his way.
The Will Always Obeys Desire, Even to Do Undesirable Things
But don’t we sometimes will to do what we don’t desire? Yes and no. Yes, our will can move us to do something that, on one level, we don’t desire, but only if, on another level, we desire something else more.
A man who desires to view a pornographic image can resist this desire, but only if he considers a competing desire, such inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9) or cherishing his wife (Ephesians 5:28-29) or avoiding the shame of being caught will result in a superior pleasure. A woman who desires to smoke a cigarette can resist that desire because of her superior desire to enjoy more robust health now and avoid lung cancer in the future. Jesus desired to avoid crucifixion and bear the Father’s wrath, but he endured it because he desired even more the superior eternal joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). Likewise, a Christian denies himself, picks up his cross and follows Jesus because he wants the same eternal life of joy more than earthly pleasures (Matthew 16:24-25).
Cool Reason Vs. Hot Desires
It’s important to understand how the hierarchy of the heart functions, especially when it comes to battling sin-infected appetites, which are sinful desires issuing orders to the will. When we experience those desires, what’s happening is that King Delight is being persuaded by a temptation that a sin will yield pleasure. And in that moment, the king may not be open to Counsel Reason.
That’s why reasoning with an awakened sinful appetite is like reasoning with a devil. It isn’t interested in or compelled by the truth; it is interested in a pleasure being offered. In fact, that appetite will seek to manipulate our reason in order to get the pleasure it seeks. It will twist every reasonable objection and minimize and muddle it in our minds. This is why we have often succumbed to an appetite’s demand even when our reason tells us it is wrong and even destructive. Cool reason usually melts in the presence of a hot desire.
Know When to Run
Reason is necessary in the battle against sinful desires. But typically not when a sinful appetite’s craving is upon us, especially if the source of gratification is close at hand. What we need to do at this point is run!
The Apostle Paul understood this. This is why he wrote, “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sin-distorted sexual desire is a very powerful, persuasive appetite. Paul’s recommendation—no, his command—in the face of this appetite was to flee. Paul was very aware of this appetite’s ability to overpower our reason. So he told us to employ this intelligent, righteous alternative strategy: hightail it out of there.
Joseph in Genesis 39:11-13 is a great example of this. When Potiphar’s wife cornered him and tried to seduce him, Joseph wasted no time reasoning with her, which he knew from experience was a waste of time. He “fled out of the house.”
David in 2 Samuel 11 is an example of a failure to flee. When he was on his roof and saw Bathsheba bathing, he could have done what Joseph did. But he didn’t. He lingered and looked. His reason and conscience told him it was wrong. But the longer he lingered the stronger his appetite grew and the more he listened to its promise of pleasure and he let it overcome him.
Plan Your Escape
We have all had our Joseph moments and our David moments. We’ve fled from and we’ve caved into sinful temptation. We all have certain familiar sinful appetites that tempt us to stumble. Therefore, we must make some plans of escape for the times when the temptation hits.
You know yourself. What are the patterns of temptation? When are the times that you are more vulnerable? When does the seductive voice speaks sweet insanities to you in such a way that you want to linger and look and listen?
There are two ways to flee from sinful appetites that seek to entrap us. The first is to flee from proximity to the temptation. Get out of the house, away from the computer or T.V. or phone or fridge or Facebook.
But sometimes fleeing from proximity to temptation is not an option. At that point we need to flee to visibility. Either we must flee to a visible place that will minimize temptation or we must let a trusted friend know about the temptation. Often the quickest way to douse a hot desire is to tell someone else about it.
The time for Counsel Reason to speak with King Delight about the highest, truest pleasures is when he’s open to listening to reason. But if a deceitful appetite is awakened today, don’t reason with it, run from it! Be ruthless. Run from proximity to the temptation or run to visibility on it.
Sometimes flight is the best way to fight sin.
Jon Bloom serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God and has penned three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart.