I had a philosophy professor who asked, “When Adam chose the fruit, did he choose good or evil?” and “When Satan chose himself, did he choose good or evil?” [Here’s a hint for your next philosophy class: every question is a trick question.] “Adam chose good; Satan chose good,” he explained, “since God created everything, and everything which God creates is good, they chose a good thing, but not the appropriate thing.” He went on to explain Augustine’s theory of evil as privation (which we’ve mentioned on here before [Evil is a lack of good]) and the theory of ordered loves (things are loved most fully when they are loved in relation to their intended existence).
It’s true: God creates, and creates goods. Anything which you and I choose, is the choice of a good, but not necessarily the good—or the best particularly for the situation [see the post “Complex Ethics”]. In fact, that’s why sin is tempting: because it is a good… in part. Sin is the twisting of a good toward unintended purposes. There is good beneath—cloaked—in every sin that you commit. That’s partly why its pull is so strong! (The other part is because we are recovering God-haters.) What is your most recent sin? And what did you think it would provide or satisfy?
- Was it lust? Perhaps you desire companionship…
- or beauty
- or pleasure
- Was it pride? Perhaps you desire honor
- or friendship
- or intelligence
- or peace
- or righteousness
- or truth
- Was it covetousness? Perhaps you desire well-being
- or security
- or pleasure
- or activity
- Was it anger? Perhaps you desire righteousness
- or peace
- Was it anxiousness? Perhaps you desire security
- Was it busyness? Perhaps you desire influence
- Was it lawlessness? Perhaps you desire freedom
- Was it financial foolishness? Perhaps you desire experience
- Was it gluttony? Perhaps you desire pleasure
- Was it unforgiveness? Perhaps you desire justice
- Was it asceticism? Perhaps you desire holiness
- Was it tardiness? Perhaps you desire rest
- Was it falsehood? Perhaps you desire love
- Was it abortion? Perhaps you desire trust
- Was it moralism? Perhaps you desire righteousness
- Was it lovelessness? Perhaps you desire safety
- Was it _________________? Perhaps you desire God.
I couldn’t possibly list all the nuances of sin, nor the core good which their husk encompasses. But perhaps you need to stop worrying about denying the distortion, and start worrying about pursuing the reality. Take that sin, and determine why you fell into it. Temptation isn’t easy to deny… that’s why it’s called tempting. But it’s tempting because there’s something beneath it all that is actually good and desirable—something which shows you the love of God; something which shows you that he has created you with desires and tastes which only he can satisfy.
Jesus was crucified and killed sin with him. But he resurrected and brought you to life too: destroy sin, but don’t forget to live.
Rid yourself of the bad, for the sake of the better: of the good used appropriately.
And remember… that even when you fail, Jesus has already fulfilled it all for you. He is truth, righteousness, security, peace, love, justice, pleasure, influence, freedom, beauty; and you are in Christ. You have everything you need—you are freed to forego sin and enjoy good.
If you’re looking for extended resources on sin & temptation, the two best resources I’ve read are
Tempted andTried by Russell D. Moore (which I recommend to everyone)
Of theMortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen (which I recommend to anyone who is willing to read English of another century)
I’d also recommend…
Holiness by J.C. Ryle
Fallen edited by Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson