The image will forever be burned into my memory. It was one of the strangest things I had ever seen. My nine-year-old twins and I were sitting in the lobby of the local university waiting for swim team practice to begin. On the television was one of those wildlife programs that children (and their dads) love to watch. This one was about snakes. Big snakes! The kind that might stretch up to twenty feet long and easily crush the life out of a man.
The host of the program was describing the insatiable appetite of the Burmese Python and how it can actually eat animals larger than itself. Somehow, the jawbone of this massive creature dislocates, enabling its mouth to encompass prey two or three times its size. On occasion, however, its appetite—designed to sustain the snake’s life—becomes the cause of its untimely death. The images that appeared on the screen at this point in the program were undeniable proof. Before our eyes flashed shocking photographs of the tail and hindquarters of a large, dead alligator protruding from the burst belly of a large, dead snake.
“Beware of your appetites,” the pictures seemed to say. “Left unchecked, they will kill you.”
As James 1:14-15 says,
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
I can’t think of a more sobering picture to illustrate what is fundamentally wrong with the heart of man.
The pathology is simple enough: strong desires give birth to sin, and sin results in death (James 1:14-15). We see this as far back as the Garden of Eden where a serpent—that living picture of pure appetite1—exploits man’s God-given desires, seducing him to rebel against his Maker.
Ever since, man’s natural bent is turned away from the rule of God in favor of the dictates of his own desires. As Russell Moore observes, “the whole of Scripture and of Christian tradition warns the church against the way of the appetites, the way of consuming oneself to death.”2
Thinking back, man’s first act of rebellion against God involved yielding free reign to his appetite. God had warned Adam about the need to keep his desires in check. He and Eve were invited to eat and enjoy all the fruit in the garden except one kind. The fruit growing on the tree in the center of the garden may have appeared to offer an oh-so-satisfying meal, “but” He said, “in the day you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
It wasn’t that God was down on appetites. After all, it was the Creator Himself who had hardwired Adam and Eve with cravings that would preserve their lives, health, and happiness. Lacking a built-in hunger for food and sleep would have resulted in sickness and death. Without a strong desire for sex, our first parents may never have reproduced, and their experience of oneness and unity would have been limited at best. It was God Himself who graciously implanted into the human fabric such strong desires. And His appraisal of this newly created being? “Very good” (Genesis 1:31).
The serpent, however, judging that strong desires might be man’s point of greatest vulnerability, set out to exploit their appetites and induce them to rebel against God. By challenging God’s goodness and truthfulness, the Devil succeeded in convincing Eve that God was unnecessarily withholding from her something good. “Your appetites are a better guide than God,” he implied. And so, the Scriptures tell us, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).
The Devil has never stopped employing this strategy against mankind, which is why we must always combat our oversized desires with the gospel of Christ, who sets us free from our own lusts to serve Him.
1 Russell D. Moore, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, (Crossway, 2011), 64.
2 Ibid., 64.