I read a helpful article this morning by Rachel Gilson: In the face of sexual temptation, repression is a sure-fire failure. I thought it was a very helpful article, especially on what she has to say about desire.
This leads to a third indictment of repression and avoidance: One does not need Jesus Christ to practice them. Some Christians find that the right combination of carrots and sticks allows them to ignore their desire, or alternatively, they structure their circumstances so that desire rarely rears its head. Self-righteousness sets in and brings with it the impulse to advise others. Christ remains present in name only. He is seen as the one who will be disappointed at failure or who will dole out treats for good behavior. He is viewed only as the Judge when he himself should be the prize.
In other words, a system that doesn’t need Jesus is not meaningfully Christian. If his sovereignty is replaced by human authority, and if the goal isn’t him but sex—or for silver medalists, virginity—would anyone even notice if Jesus slowly disappeared?
I think this is really helpful. When we come to know Jesus, he re-orients our priorities and desires. It’s possible to practice a kind of ‘repression and avoidance’ strategy when it comes to sin – it’s the kind of strategy which could be practiced without Jesus. But it’s doomed to failure, as ultimately it will lead to resentment (“I’m not getting what I really want!”) rather than a growing desire for Christ and all that he is.
This is an important lesson, and it’s particularly important for Christians to understand given our cultural context. I think it’s the meaning behind Jesus’ words in Luke 18:29-30: “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” How can giving up things lead to ‘many times as much’? Because God gives us from his abundance, not from the limited amount which physical pleasures can give.
I started to speak about desire a few weeks ago when I talked about C.S. Lewis and The Weight of Glory. I’m very pleased to see this kind of language being used elsewhere, and I hope it’s a sign that God is renewing his church.
Anyway, do read the article, I hope you find it helpful.