By David Powlison 2007
from Chapter on “I Am Motivated When I Feel Desire” in “Seeing With New Eyes”
13. How does thinking about lusts relate to other ways of talking about sin, such as “sin nature,” “self,” “pride,” “autonomy,” “unbelief,” and “self-centeredness”?
These words are general terms that summarize the problem of sin. One of the beauties of identifying ruling desires is that they are specific and can therefore enable more specific repentance and specific change. For example, a person who becomes angry in a traffic jam may later say, “I know the anger is sin, and it comes from self.” That is true as far as it goes. But it helps to take self-knowledge a step further: “I cursed in anger because I craved to get to my appointment on time. I feared criticism from the person waiting for me and I feared losing the profits from that sale.” Repentance and change can become more specific when the person identifies these three lusts that expressed the lordship of self in this particular incident.
The Bible discusses sin in an astonishing variety of ways. Sometimes Scripture addresses sin at the general level: e.g., Luke 9:23-26 on self or Proverbs on the fool. At other times Scripture increases the microscope’s power and treats a particular theme of sin: e.g., Philippians 3 on the pursuit of self-righteousness or 1 Timothy 6 on love of money. In still other places, the Bible speaks of sinful desires that lead to sin and invites us to make the specific application: e.g., James 1:14-15; 4:1-2; Gal. 5:16-21; Rom. 13:12-14. We could diagram this roughly as follows: (1) general terms, (2) mid-level typical patterns, and (3) detail-level specifics. (See the diagram here.)