There is a common belief within the Christian community that we have God-given desires like love and respect that are good but can morph into evil desires from our selfish hearts. Is this accurate? Should the statement be unchallenged?
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Many are quick to bring Scripture to support good desires for marriage (Genesis 2:18), sex (Proverbs 5:18-19), or having children (Genesis 1:28). I recently overheard a mature Christian woman say,
Is it not still our natural, God created and ordained desire to bear and have children?
Life’s experiences seem to agree with this thinking. The desires for love, acceptance, sex, security, and comfort are accepted realities of the human condition. The heartaches from having these longings unfulfilled are constant indicators that we live in a fallen world.
In today’s society, they describe these unmet needs or longings as physiological needs. Twentieth-century psychology has gained tremendous influence by elevating these unmet longings or needs-deficits to the forefront of our thought. The goal, of course, is to be happy.
When Desires Control Us
Mike and Mary invited Sally and Stan to their home. They are Christians who love to reach out to their neighbors. Sally and Stan’s marriage was in trouble. Stan was a controlling and manipulative man, and Sally was a nag.
After dinner, Sally dominated the women’s conversation, detailing the sad status of her marriage: his verbal abuse, manipulation, the constant demand for sex, and the absence of love.
I just want to be loved, she said.
Stan and Mike were having a similar conversation out back. Mike was complaining how Sally takes him for granted and wasn’t meeting his need for sex.
I am just like any other guy, I want to be respected, and I need sex. Doesn’t the Bible say this is a woman’s responsibility?
After their guests had left, Mike and Mary were sharing their separate conversations with each other. They both knew how Christ was what their neighbors needed, but they were at a loss as to how to share the Gospel with a non-Christian couple who couldn’t see past their needs.
Empty Love Cup Syndrome
Sally and Stan see their unmet needs as their biggest problem. Most women would identify with Sally’s felt-need for love, and most men would identify with Stan’s felt-need for respect and sex.
Some may disagree with Stan’s approach, though they would agree how his felt-needs are normal and appropriate. These are not biological needs like food and water that enable bodies to function, but they are perceived needs necessary to make life worth living.
Need-deficit theories describe humans as empty love cups–people with God-shaped-holes. The counsel for such a person is to fill the “need” to be happy.
It would be tempting for Mike and Mary to provide this type of guidance to Sally and Stan. It addresses their felt-need problem, and they can incorporate the Gospel by explaining how they have two basic choices in how to fill their God-shaped-holes; by created things (lusts) or by Christ.
It is an easy story to tell. It addresses sin while pointing them to Christ and providing hope. But when you present the Gospel in this manner, it implies a truth that is not apparent to the undiscerning eye.
This model has made a dramatic statement about our deepest problem: it is longings, not sin. Followed consistently the model would then suggest that the Gospel is, most deeply, intended to meet psychological needs more than to cleanse sin. – Ed Welch, Journal of Biblical Counseling, Volume 13, Number 1, Fall 1994
The Bible is silent regarding felt-needs, desires, or longings as you think about them today. When the Bible uses the word desire, it’s usually in the negative sense–warnings from God, exhorting people to put off the pursuit of evil desires (Galatians 5:16; 1 John 2:16).
When used in a positive sense, desires are used to convey a purpose or will (Psalm 51:6) or to exhort God’s people to put on holiness (James 1:20; Psalm 40:8). It seems to describe the desired outcome rather than an internal need.
Solomon’s Search for significance
King Solomon dedicated himself to find a life worth living, and he captured what he discovered in the book of Ecclesiastes. King Solomon lived an extravagant life (Kings 4:22) and was blessed to pursue all of his heart’s desires (Ecclesiastes 2:10).
You may have a hard time identifying with Solomon’s wealth, but I believe your heart is similar to his. Don’t we all pursue longings in an attempt to find a life worth living? Solomon sought satisfaction in,
- Pleasures (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3)
- Projects (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6)
- Possessions (Ecclesiastes 2:7-11)
- Sex (Ecclesiastes 2:8)
- Work (Ecclesiastes 2:18-23)
He found them all to have the same end: vanity and a striving after the wind. His conclusion was life without God has no meaning and man is to trust God while carefully obeying Him (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
Solomon’s conclusion aligns with the purpose of man – to glorify Him as image bearers (Isaiah 43:7; Genesis 1:26). You will only find a satisfied life as an image bearer of God.
The term image bearer means the man is like God and is to represent God. After sin had entered the world, it corrupted everything about you and distorted your image bearing capability–the mirror was cracked and tarnished.
Your purpose in life is to glorify God through image bearing, and this end can only be achieved through Christ and thus unattainable for anyone outside of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Imaging God is key for Stan and Sally. Their thoughts are not about glorifying God, but about finding their deepest longings met through the other person. What about Mike and Mary? How should they address Stan and Sally’s cravings for felt needs?
How Are They to Live?
Were you created with God-given good desires or are you a fallen image bearer? I think you would agree the fallen image bearer is the proper Sunday school answer, but what about your felt needs and how do they relate to image bearing?
Instead of arguing how one is correct, you need to look at both in light God’s big story of creation, fall, and redemption. When God created Adam and Eve, He completely built them. The graphic below communicates this.
- Tending the garden: reflecting God’s work to create (Genesis 2:2) and sustaining the universe (Job 12:10).
- Their covenantal relationship of oneness: reflecting how God is love (1 John 4:8), enters into covenants (Jeremiah 30:22) and is an inter-relational being (Trinity).
- Their procreation: reflecting God’s creation of all things (Colossians 1:16).
Since their relationship with God was complete, they lacked nothing. Adam and Eve did not focus on themselves, but their attention was on what they saw on their Father (John 5:19). Needs and desires were not on their radar until after their fall into sin.
When It All Went wrong
You were born in Adam and thus born incomplete, represented by the “Pacman” sketch below. You were disconnected from the Father and thus living in a depraved condition. Sin severed your spiritual connection to God, and you find yourself with cravings and longings for good things in God’s creation (Romans 1:23).
If you think of these longings as God-given desires, you will spiritualize them as biblical. From there, they will quickly become needs, which will morph into demands you place on others. The actual need is spiritual restoration by God, which comes through His saving grace.
Making Things Right
The good news of Christ is your restoration with God. You are made righteous (Romans 3:22) and adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:17). Through the process of sanctification, you are being made complete – the Pacman mouths are closing.
This process is why Paul says we are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10) and “being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The enemy wants to shift your focus from your need to bear the image of Christ to an increasing craving to fulfill your felt-needs. He has a track record of using fleshly means to lure you into believing you can only achieve satisfaction in life when your felt-needs are met (Genesis 3:5).
This futile thinking is a scheme of the enemy because he knows how your heart gives birth to sin when you start thinking about what you want (James 1:14-15). Yes, marriage is how God designed us (except for the gift of singleness), have children, and desire love.
Note to self: These things were never intended to fulfill some aspect of your humanness but to allow you to be more pure image bearers of God. This difference is subtle, but the outcomes are significant. Let me illustrate.
Wrapping It Up
If you believe God gave individuals good desires for love, sex, and children, a single man or woman will approach marriage and each other as a way to fulfill their felt-needs.
You can describe their mutual desires as co-idolatry. Though these desires are not bad, they can quickly morph into demands. For example, when the woman feels unloved, she will be tempted to become bitter.
When the husband’s sex life diminishes, he will be tempted to get angry while making demands. The woman will feel like an object rather than a co-inheritor of grace (1 Peter 3:7).
If they saw themselves as fallen image bearers in need of a restored relationship with God, the point of their marriage would be a pursuit to reflect God better. They would find their purpose and satisfaction through perfecting their image bearing.
The husband would seek ways to serve his wife–as Christ served the church (Ephesians 5:25-27). The wife would seek ways to submit to her husband as he spiritually leads the family–as Christ submitted to the Father (Ephesians 5:24).
Their sexual relations would better reflect God’s inter-relational character. Sex would be an act of worship rather than about need meeting. I believe this is the context for Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4.
Paul recognized we are still works-in-progress, lacking self-control. Thus, when he tells husbands and wives not to withhold their conjugal rights, it is not to ensure they are meeting the spouse’s needs, but preventing Satan from gaining a foothold (1 Corinthians 7:5).
There are many other ways to magnify God’s image through marriage effectively:
- Understand and honoring the wife (1 Peter 3:7)
- Encouraging and helping each other (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
- Living in harmony with each other (Romans 12:16)
- Bearing each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Loving each other (John 13:34)
- Demonstrating kindness, forbearance, and patience toward each other (Romans 2:4)
Stan and Sally Revisited
Hopefully, I was able to show you how the empty love cup counsel leads to a false gospel. You learned from Solomon how the pursuit of filling love cups would ultimately prove meaningless.
Stan and Sally need to hear the real source of their felt-needs. They are not God-given desires for them to pursue but are echoes and shadows of their lost image bearing capability.
They must hear how they need restoration to God and the good news of redemption in Christ. Christ came so they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10), but this will only come in proportion to their restoration to God’s image.