January 27, 2016
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
One of the major moves toward maturity we must all make is the move from managing our behavior to discipling our desires. Behavior is symptomatic of a deeper problem. That’s what James is getting at with his question:
What causes fights and quarrels among you?
James is trying to get beneath behavior to the deeper reality of our desire. Attacking behavior is like trying to put a cork in a volcano. It’s like putting a bandaid on a staph infection. We must bring our desires into submission to the Holy Spirit, who alone can bring our lives into alignment with the way we were made to live. The issue is not our behavior but the “desires that battle within” us. Paul famously gets into this in Romans 7.
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. vv.18-20
Anyone who has been following Jesus for any length of time knows the reality both James and Paul speak of. Unfortunately, most of us are willing to live in this compromised state for a long time, if not a lifetime, resigning ourselves to defeat while excusing ourselves as “sinners.”
Jesus did not come and live a life of power over sin, dying our death to sin and rising to life in victory, so that we could live out a mediocre life of compromise. Paul continues with the diagnosis:
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.24 What a wretched man I am!
Here’s where I think we go wrong. Because something is “common” we make the assumption that it is normal. Neither James nor Paul will allow it. Hear Paul out:
Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
It gets even better.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Discipleship means operationalizing the new reality brought about by the Holy Spirit. It’s not easy. And the reason most of us are stuck here in our discipleship is because we lack the courage to be brutally honest with ourselves about the battleground of our desires going on in our inner life. Beyond that, we lack the humility to be consistently honest with at least one other human being about our arrested development.
I don’t meant to be harsh. I’m just trying to follow James’ lead—you know—speaking the truth in love. Think about it this way. God took the Israelites out of Egypt in a single night. It took the next forty years to get Egypt out of the Israelites. Don’t be discouraged and never give up. This is the good fight and we will win. Don’t settle for the endless frustration of sin management. Go for the win.
1. Can you identify a place of compromise with sin in your life that you have just accepted as an unwinable struggle?
2. Do you see how that compromise has arrested you in your discipleship to Jesus?
3. Are you ready to be honest with God and yourself about this broken way at work within you? Would you dare to bring it out into the light with a close confidant who will be honest with you and completely for you in the struggle?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.