In nature it is easy to watch the activity carried on by desire. The very perpetuation of the various species is guaranteed by the presence of desire, and each individual member of each species is sustained and nourished by the natural operation of desire. Every normal creature desires a mate, and so the perpetuation of life is achieved. Every creature desires food and the life of each is supported. Thus desire is the servant of the God of nature and waits on His will. In the moral world things are not otherwise. Right desires tend toward life and evil ones toward death. That in essence is the scriptural teaching on this subject. Whatever a man wants badly and persistently enough will determine the man’s character. In the Pauline epistles the gravitational pull of the heart in one direction or another is called the “mind.” In the eighth chapter of Romans, for instance, when Paul refers to the “mind” he is referring to the sum of our dominant desires. The mere intellect is not the mind: the mind is intellect plus emotional tug strong enough to determine action.
By this definition it is easy to understand the words of Romans 8: 5-7, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” When our dominant desires are bad the whole life is bad as a consequence; when the desires are good the life comes up to the level of our desires, provided that we have within us the enabling Spirit.
At the root of all true spiritual growth is a set of right and sanctified desires. The whole Bible teaches that we can have whatever we want badly enough if, it hardly need be said, our desire is according to the will of God. The desire after God and holiness is back of all spirituality, and when that desire becomes dominant in the life nothing can prevent us from having what we want. The longing cry of the God-hungry soul can be expressed in the five words of the song, “Oh, to be like Thee!” While this longing persists there will be steady growth in grace and a constant progress toward Christlike-ness.
Unsanctified desire will stop the growth of any Christian life. Wrong desire perverts the moral judgment so that we are unable to appraise the desired object at its real value.
As Christians our only safety lies in complete honesty. We must surrender our hearts to God so that we have no unholy desires, then let the Scriptures pronounce their judgment on a contemplated course. If the Scriptures condemn an object, we must accept that judgment and conform to it, no matter how we may for the moment feel about it.
God is always glorified when He wins a moral victory over us, and we are always benefited, immeasurably and gloriously benefited. The glory of God and the everlasting welfare of His people are always bound up together. The blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse not only actual sins which have been committed, but the very inward desires so that we will not want to sin. Purified desires will tend toward righteousness by a kind of gently moral gravitation. Then it can be said that we are “spiritually minded.” A blessed state indeed, and blessed are they that reach it.