And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:2b-3 ESV)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 ESV)
The spiritual in us must overrule the physical and merely soulish parts of our life. We must master our appetites or they will master us.
Christ in His Beatitudes stated this truth that to hunger and thirst after righteousness leads to a blessed, happy, and fulfilling life. But to hunger and thirst after the things of this physical life, especially the elements we associate with sin, will lead to an empty and meaningless life. “Striving after the wind” is how Ecclesiastes describes it (Eccl. 1:17).
Now we do not notice how empty this is right away. Sometimes it takes years and sometimes it is never noticed because of the blindness of sin in our lives. We can often see in someone else what we cannot see in ourselves. We see the emptiness of someone else being consumed with food and drink, for example, and see him throwing away his opportunities in a fit of lust, in an inability to master his appetites. Yet we may not see this in ourselves, for we can easily justify our own appetites and feel that momentary illusory pleasure that flits across our consciousness like a mayfly.
The temptation to turn stones into bread, like all temptations, was to take a short-cut (Abkurzung) to the will of God. The goal of a Christian’s life is not only about arriving at the proper destination – it is also about taking the correct path to the right destination. Our goals cannot be to have arrived at a life that is fulfilling and meaningful, if we have compromised the principles of God in the pursuit of selfish intermediate goals.
For example, one may satisfy the sexual drive by giving into temptation, and justify it (falsely, of course) with the excuse to just get the matter over with. We may do the same with other appetites as well, saying to ourselves in a deluded type of thinking, Well, God will forgive me and I will feel better for a little bit. I will feed the urge, even if in a wrong way, and not think about it anymore. But, of course, we find on the other side of the sin, that the temptation returns again, all too soon, and we have developed a habit of giving into the temptation. Plus we discover that the shame has multiplied and felt in double strength because we feel powerless against the temptation.
It is a trick of Satan to so shame us about our sin that we return to the very sin just to numb the pain. But the end result is a downward spiral that brings defeat, depression, increased deception and dependency, and a strange loneliness of our souls.
Our appetites determine our paths and choices in life, just as sure as a train runs along the tracks. What we desire we will chase after, and the only cure is for our hearts to desire the righteousness of God. When we are born again in Christ we have this divine work of God called regeneration, bringing us back from death to life. This new nature is given us that is in the likeness of God, “created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24 NASB).
We are commanded to put on this new nature every day, just like we put on clothes. The illustration is fitting, for in our homes, and it was the same in biblical days, we have both dirty clothes that we wore before, and clean clothes. We are to take off the dirty – the old nature – and put on the new, the new nature created within us by the hand of God. It is a matter of surrendering our appetites to God and letting Him put upon our hearts His own nature, so that we will hunger and thirst after righteousness.
If we do this, we will not be satisfied by what the world offers, but will find great joy and fulfillment in Christ. For example, when my wife and I have taken our vacations, we have found incredible fulfillment in going to places where we experience spiritual refreshment. Our best vacations have not been spent only at a beach, or some mountain resort, or even in some fascinating Asian or European city, but in a place where the Word of God was taught, where we joined in worship with other believers, where we relaxed but also where our spiritual appetites were fed more than our physical ones.
Even when we have been at more touristy places, at beaches or historic cities or in the mountain retreats, we have taken spiritual resources along with us – books to read or sermons to hear on tape or on the web. We did not merely spend the time as the world does. And we experienced not only physical and soulish rest, but also spiritual rest that strengthened us inwardly.
Christians must realize that life is not just about the destination, but it is especially about the journey and how we get there. We are to put our goal as the glory of God, and everyday let the Holy Spirit lead us to long for more and more of God in our lives.