Buzzing with sexual undertones, or anticipation of forbidden pleasures, the word desire often summons images of decadence. This is because the word refers to strong feelings of wanting to have or experience something. Since forbidden pleasures, or even unforbidden sexual impulses have potent elements about them, it is easy to understand how a word like desire came to be infused with such energies . Of course the word can be used to express any strong longing or want, not just those that are lustful. For instance, “his desire to win the competition overcame his laziness.” It’s an important word because its ultimate reference point is the heart. His heart was set on winning, so his laziness was defeated. What we desire comes from the center of our being. Desire is powerful.
The apostle James explains this with frightening clarity. He argues that when temptation overtakes us, it is because our desire to have or experience the temptation was already in our heart. It is that desire, he reasons, that leads to sinful behavior (James 1:12-15). A person who hates meat cannot be enticed with images of sizzling steak. The desire for it is not in his heart. A man who has no desire for illicit sex cannot be enticed by the siren songs of the most seductive working women. A person who does not have a desire for great wealth cannot be enticed by get-rich-quick schemes. A person who does not desire cheap and transient pleasures or easy escapes cannot be enticed with drugs. The wisdom of James is challenging. He is telling us that when we have failed to stave off temptation, it is because we wanted what we thought sin would bring us. There’s no hiding from that truth. And there’s no hiding from the truth that once sin is fully grown, that it brings death into our lives (James 1:15). That death can be physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, or all of the above.
So considering James’s teaching, the best way to fight sin is to cultivate a desire, a longing, or a strong craving for things that are the opposite of sin. Make an effort to delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). He’ll do that by changing your kind of desires to his kind of desires, because he’ll be changing your heart.