Where would you like to go for dinner? That’s the question Betty and I often ask each other after church. What are you hungry for? What sounds good? One of us may ask the other. Steak? Seafood? Mexican? Italian? Hamburgers and fries? Bar-B-que? Deli-style? We keep going through the list of opportunities until someone says, “that would be good.” Here’s the thing, this kind of hunger-driven decision making is also one of the ways temptation trips up our walk with Jesus.
So far in our exploration of overcoming as promised in 1 John 5:3-5 we’ve discovered that overcoming may not be what we often assume. While John does say that “everyone born of God overcomes the world” the context is the commands and overcoming the temptations we all face. We’ve also learned that there are three sources of temptation, but, more importantly, three receptors in us for those temptations.
Those receptors are seen in the Genesis 3 account of mankind’s fall, in the wilderness temptations of Jesus, and in John’s first letter. John wrote, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16, NIV) What Adam and Eve saw was good for food. Likewise, the Devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread to feed his 40-day fast hunger. John summarized these as “lusts of the flesh.” Or you could say our desires, our hunger, obsessions, and even our needs.
While the most direct connections to “lusts of the flesh” are the felt physical needs of our bodies there are other sources of hunger we must consider.
Sometimes our hunger isn’t really for the triple-chocolate-cake with yummy fudge icing but the satisfaction of having it, the feelings of being naughty, the reward of indulgence, or the acceptance of our friends. What John calls the lust of the flesh goes beyond the physical desires of our body and includes the lusts of our souls.
I don’t want to minimize the power of those physical needs to drive our choices. Those are real. The felt needs for food, water, and sexual relations are physically real. Where these go off the rails is when they’re mixed with soulish temptation. People don’t overeat simply because they are hungry, there’s also something else going on. Here’s the thing, God designed us with these needs, even Jesus got hungry and thirsty. The problem wasn’t that Adam and Eve were hungry, the problem is they were hungry for more than just their physical need, they were also soul hungry.
There are many different pangs of soul hunger. Here are just a few: the need for fulfillment and satisfaction, the need to feel safe, to feel justified or right, the need for significance, for control, for power, for release, for tranquility, for attention, for social connections, the need to be heard, and for acceptance.
Here’s how this works. When we join the need for acceptance with our physical hunger we order the triple-chocolate-cake with yummy fudge icing more to fit in with our friends rather than for just meeting the physical need for food. Our need for acceptance drives our hunger and our actions.
Exploring these soulish hungers requires honesty. We’d rather find some exterior motive or extenuating circumstance for our sin. I’ve always found it interesting that the first thing Adam and Eve did after God confronted them was play the blame game. While the temptation may have come from someone else, we were the ones that let it choose our course. Temptation is not a sin, yielding to the temptation is a sin.
Remember what John said, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:3–5, NIV)
To overcome this receptor and these hungers we would be wise to consider Jesus’ own example. The temptation came this way, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”” (Luke 4:1–3, NIV) Notice that the temptation wasn’t just for physical food, there was a soulish component of “if you are the Son of God.” The bait was Jesus’ physical hunger, the hook was His own identity and self-worth. Sound familiar?
Jesus overcame this temptation by saying, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (Luke 4:4b, NIV) Which is a partial quote from Deuteronomy, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NASB95) How did Jesus overcome this temptation? By recognizing and declaring that God’s Word alive in His heart is more filling, satisfying, and powerful than anything else he hungered for.
In trying to overcome this kind of temptation we often deploy will-power to conquer our physical hunger, desire, and obsession. But overcoming this “lust of the flesh” kind of temptation requires us to look deeper. To find what our soul really craves. Identify where it really itches inside of us. We are overcomers when the source for that itch, lust, hunger, desire, and obsession is satisfied in Christ. Our friends may think less of us for not ordering the triple chocolate cake with yummy fudge icing, but their taunts no longer steer us because our self-worth is found in God and what He says.
Overcoming the lust of the flesh is not just about resisting the bait but, in Christ, defeating the hook. It doesn’t mean just removing something from our lives but replacing it with something better. Sometimes overcoming requires fasting from the bait for a time or for forever. But we must also look deeper inside ourselves to discover the soul hunger we are trying to satisfy. Then we are truly overcomers in Christ.