Fighting against “Akrasia” with the Power of the Gospel

The following is a guest post from Dr. Jerry Root.

place of sacrifice

In Ephesians 4:22, Paul instructs his readers to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.” The Greek word for lust is epithumia and it is not merely used for purulent sexual interest, as is evident by this text.

The word speaks of a predatory approach to some activity. For instance, sexual desire isn’t lust anymore than hunger is gluttony.

Lust is intentional in its designs and set to action plans to make something happen. Paul uses the word in a positive way in Phillipians 1:23, saying he has a “desire [epithumia] to depart and be with Christ”; in other words, Paul is intentional about finishing well in his service of Christ. In light of this, we return to the Ephesians text and seek to understand what is meant by “the lust of deceit.”

Sin is intentional. As Augustine observed, a lie is not merely speaking a falsehood, it is a knowing deception. You never receive an exam paper from a teacher and next to every wrong answer read, in red pencil, “You liar!” You made a mistake.

But a lie is a knowing deception. In fact, all sin has something of intentionality about it, at least in the beginning. It sets its desire against God. Embedded in the idea of sin is the belief that we can manage our lives better than God will.

Consequently, sin does not end with the initial act. When guilt for our bad act begins to set in, we tend to respond to these bad feelings in some way. Often, there is sadness and repentance and deeper receptivity to the love and grace of God that will meet us in our brokenness. But, when repentance does not follow sin, the only way we can begin to live with ourselves is by means of rationalizing or justifying our bad choices. This desire to cover up our sin is what Paul calls “the lust of deceit.”

In time, a pattern of such lust and rationalized behavior leads to moral blindness. The philosophers called it Akrasia. The word means “without command” and implies that we sacrifice any kind of moral control of our lives to our bad behavior and the excuses that justify it. C. S. Lewis wrote that “continued disobedience to conscience makes conscience blind.” The Apostle Paul said, “We suppress the truth in our unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).

Our culture has become a culture of self-deception. At the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations 4:10 that “the hands of compassionate women ate their own children.” This is a horrifying testimony to egregious wrong. How lamentable is it that a woman would eat her child for the sake of filling her own belly! We read the text and we are aghast.

And yet, in our day 50,000,000 babies are aborted worldwide, mostly for the sake of convenience. This is bad; but worse still is that it doesn’t even seem to upset the world cultures.

The American Civil war ended in 1865, but it didn’t end racial strife in America. Centuries of racial suppression cannot occur without mounds of rationalization and justification. The war might have ended the practice of slavery, but it did not end the rationalization of the ill treatment of others. Only brokenness of such egregious sin against fellow human beings followed by repentance can do that.

History is full of the exploitation of women and the justification of such activity. Giving women the vote as recently as 1920, and thus acknowledging the full humanity of women, did not erase the centuries of rationalized behavior toward women. In fact, the estimated 26,000,000 held captive to sex-slavery today would show that Akrasia still dominates our world and holds us in “the lust of deceit.” Governments may do as they will to try and address these matters. Parties set forth their candidates full of promises of a better world at the hands of their leadership, and elections come and go and still we remain cultures of self-deceit.

What can get us better?

Herein lies our only hope, it is to be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Only Jesus’ power to forgive our sins through his death and resurrection can set us free from evil in the world and its rationalized behaviors. God’s love is ontological. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). His love is not conditioned by our performance: it is not improved by our well doing; nor is it diminished by our bad acts. God is love!

  • When we begin to understand his love, we can acknowledge our sin and turn to him in humble admission of our guilt.
  • We can renounce our past practices and the patterns of denial.
  • We can receive his forgiveness and set out to build our lives anew upon the foundation of his love and grace.
  • We can begin to address lapses in our own hearts and in the society around us.
  • If it is God’s love that woos us to him, we can be ambassadors of that love by taking the message of grace to others in the culture of denial.

Politicians and elections may do what they can; all efforts toward goodness should be appreciated in whatever form it may take. But no serious Christian should ever expect that true change in a life, or of a culture, can come without the gospel. And all serious Christians can avoid some level of frustration if they would stop expecting politicians to do what they can do more effectively by sharing the gospel with family, friends, and neighbors.

Denying our role in God’s plan to make his good news known may be one more example of “the lust of deceit.” Repentance must begin with Christians as we confess our lackluster attempts to share the gospel and return to the conviction that Christ truly is the answer to the world’s ills. It does us no good to complain of the conditions around us if we are silent about the gospel. It is sloth on our part if we expect political solutions to the sin problem. Our hope is in the Lord and we must leave off of the lust of deceit that would believe anything less. The world is hungry for God’s good news in Christ and we have the privilege to tell them!

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