Desires, Will and Death TO self
We are in a blog series exploring how we can enter into the Psalm 23 life without lack drawing on Dallas Willard's book "Life without Lack). In part 1 and part 2 we explored the first step into this life without lack which is trust in/reliance on God in our real everyday lives. This step involves how we relate to God.
In part 3 we began to look at the next step into the life without lack and it involves Death to Self. This step involves how we relate to ourselves. We drew the vital distinction between death TO self and death OF self and looked at three misunderstandings to avoid.
Dallas says "this is the essence of the death-to-self life: that we should no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died for us and rose again". It is not about the death of the self, but death to self that makes space for the life of Jesus in us and through us.
In order for death TO self to become a growing reality in our lives we need to understand the place of our desires and our wills. Again Dallas's book helps us:
Simply stated, the flesh is merely the natural powers of the human being, based in the human body—our capabilities, wants, and desires as they are in themselves, unaided by divine assistance or guidance. The flesh is not identical to human nature, but simply one aspect of it.....
The problem with the flesh lies in its weakness and lostness when uncoupled from God’s Spirit, which is precisely the condition of humanity apart from Christ. To live in the flesh, to live with uncrucified affections and desires, is simply a matter of putting them in the ultimate position in our lives. Whatever we want becomes the most important thing. This is what happens when we are living apart from God; we make our desires ultimate because they are all we have. We look to them as if they were everything in our lives; thinking of my worth, my glory, my appearance, thinking of my power to sustain myself.
Desire is essentially the impulse to possess or experience something. It cares for nothing else other than its object. Desire proclaims, as the old song puts it, “I want what I want when I want it.” 1 There is nothing wrong with wanting or desiring. Desire is a fine thing, and it is one of the things that keeps us alive, but desires are terrible masters. The objects of desire may differ; I may want to eat or sleep, I may want to dominate others, I may want great wealth. Taken by themselves, desires are inherently chaotic and deceitful (James 4: 1–3; Eph. 4: 22). In our natural state, apart from God, our “fleshly lusts . . . wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2: 11 NASB). Here “soul” should be understood as the whole person, and the war involves the very center of the person, the human heart, will, or “spirit.”
Our spirit (will) is different from unrestrained flesh with its singular focus on satisfying desire. The spirit is able to consider alternatives, and God prompts us to have an interest in what is better and best. It is our God-given ability that gives us an interest in what is better and best. It takes a broad view of the possibilities before us, not just of one desire and its object, but of other desires and goods. That is where choice comes in. Choice involves deliberation between alternatives, with a view to what is best. The conflict between the flesh and the human spirit is the conflict between desire—what I want—and the will for what is best. It is, in fact, the conflict between desire and love, for love is always directed toward what is good, and not at simply having my desires satisfied. Love is the will-to-good of its object...
When our abilities are the only things we know to trust, and when we are living with them as ultimates, we are living “in the flesh.” We are living in dependence upon the God-given drives of our human personalities rather than in the God who gave them to us. That is life in the flesh, the frightful story of which the apostle Paul described repeatedly. That is a strong claim. As long as our desires are paramount in our lives, we cannot have faith in God...
Human desire is infinite by its nature; it cannot be satisfied. You must take your stand against it because you cannot satisfy it. You can never get enough money, if you want money. You can never get enough power, if you want power. You can never get enough love, you can never get enough glory. It is impossible. So fundamental is this truth that every person who wishes to follow Christ must understand it. He spoke directly to the point: “Unless you lose your life for my sake, you cannot follow me. Unless you take up the cross, you cannot follow me” (Matt. 16: 24 PAR). The cross means the acceptance of limitation on desire. Without establishing this for yourself, there can only be frustration and worse, for you simply cannot satisfy desire.....
If we are going to live a life of abundant sufficiency, we must be focused and intentional in standing against these dreadful roots of the self-life. Until we have done that, we will be incapable of entering by faith into the life God longs to give us. Desire is infinite partly because we were made by God, made for God, made to need God, and made to run on God. We can be satisfied only by the one who is infinite, eternal, and able to supply all our needs; we are only at home in God. When we fall away from God, the desire for the infinite remains, but it is displaced upon things that will certainly lead to destruction.
Desires are God given but they are terrible masters. They can alert us to the need for things like food, sleep, etc but we need to stop seeing them as orders that must always be obeyed. You might say that when we are Disconnected from God our Desires come to Dominate us. As we reconnect to God we need to Dethrone our Desires from that place of Domination. And that involves our wills and us making choices for good and for God not by ourselves or in our own strength, but with our wills enabled and empowered by God's grace.
In the next post we will look at how we cooperate with God and receive God's help in the choice of dying to ourselves.