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Dueling Desires

• Greg Boyd

We desire to follow Jesus – unfortunately we also have some desires that conflict with following Jesus. And try as we might, those conflicting desires just won’t go away. So what are we to do?

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Have you ever desired something good, but you also desire conflicting things, so you never really attain it? Like wanting to stay thin and healthy, but also wanting to take a break from exercise, so in the end you actually gain weight even though you desire to lose weight?! Our thought processes work against us – like when you eat a salad instead of what you’d really love to eat for a meal, so then you feel justified in giving yourself a rewarding dessert. You really do desire to lose weight, but your brain is sabotaging that desire because it has conflicting desires.


Conflicting desires are at the core of our struggle to conform to Christ. We truly want to follow Jesus – but at the same time we want to do some things other than following Jesus. In Romans 7:15 to 8:2, Paul’s not saying, “sin made me to it”. He’s saying that in my false-self (my old human nature in me that experiences life as though God doesn’t exist) is where sin masters me, and all the good intentions in the world isn’t going to overcome that.


This isn’t about Paul’s experience alone – he’s speaking in the first person about all of us. If we live in the flesh, sin will reign over us. It’s not that we’ll be all bad – it’s that we’re not all good, so we remain conflicted. CS Lewis said that two things true of all people in all cultures. One is that they have a moral code, and two is that they don’t live up to it.


In the West, when people fall short, we say, “You’ve just got to try harder! Where’s your willpower? You can achieve anything! The only variable is how hard you’re willing to work for it…” Clearly that’s not true, but it is deeply engrained in us. Hard work won’t conform you to Christ-likeness. You can’t “willpower” your way to overcoming your own desires, because willpower is based on our desires. And we have conflicting desires, so we have conflicting wills! We can’t will that to be different, we need to be rescued from that. Fortunately, God has a plan to rescue us!


Romans 8:1-2 says there is NO condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. This means we ARE loved and accepted, not condemned, in Christ Jesus. God’s rescue mission is exactly the opposite of the “try harder solution”, we ARE loved and accepted right now, we don’t have to try harder to earn that! The key to this is the words “In Christ” – when you surrender your life to Christ, in a very real sense you are placed “in Christ”, and all that is true for Christ in nature now becomes yours by grace. Christ gives himself totally to you. And since there’s no condemnation in Christ, then there’s no condemnation in you.


So God doesn’t wait for us to clean up our act before he loves and accepts us. Rather, it’s the opposite – God loves and accepts us right now, and that is the motivation that makes us “will” to overcome our conflicting desires and clean up our act. He gives us everything up front, as we are, and that changes us from the inside out.


So our view of God changes. As 2 Corinthians 5:14 says, “The love of Christ compels me.” In Christ is your true identity! The lies about you get blown apart, and you get to live in the truth. You become captivated by the beauty of a God who loves you perfectly, as opposed to trying to follow a God who is disappointed that you never seem to measure up. Then you realize that your conflicting desires don’t express the true you – they only exist because you haven’t yet fully embraced the true you! So that changes your view of yourself – you can now see yourself as being fully loved AS YOU ARE, a child of God living in no condemnation. Seeing the true God and your true self in Christ sets the captives free, because you no longer desire the things that compete with following God.


Then Romans 8:2 says that because we are in Christ, we have his Spirit living within us, and that Spirit always moves us towards putting off the false self and living out of the new self. This means the “try harder solution” is backwards – we don’t need to try harder, we need to surrender ourselves to the Spirit and let the Spirit help us to will and to do the things that God loves. In the “try harder solution”, we’re trying to become something we’re not, whereas in God’s rescue plan we’re finally allowing ourselves to behave in ways that reflect who we truly are, as we shed the stuff that’s not who we truly are!


You’re already in Christ, already holy, already seated in the heavenly places, already a reflection of God – but you need to accept that fully so you can let go of the lies that keep you in bondage to sin.


So the 2 steps we need to follow if we want to overcome our conflicting desires mirror Romans 8:1 and 8:2:

Believe that what God says about you is true as you grab hold of your true identity!

Yield to the Spirit as he takes away the lies that conflict with who you truly are!


“The fuel that the Kingdom engine runs on is Christ loving us, which ignites in us a love for Christ.”

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Topics: God's Will, Identity in Christ, Transformation

Sermon Series: Formed

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Focus Scripture:

  • Romans 7:15-8:2

    I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

    So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

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8 thoughts on “Dueling Desires

  1. Dave Pritchard says:

    “Suppose our failures occur, not in spite of what we are doing, but precisely because of it.”
    ― Dallas Willard,

    This message was so great! Often one’s personal battles with food are synonymous with the deeper spiritual struggles we have in other areas. How we ‘Eat’ and how we ‘Drive’, often can be huge indicators of where we are at in our “Spiritual Development” journey. Also, that “Middle Age Michelin Man Thing” that Greg keeps referencing – Ha! You know most of us over 40, ekhumm… 50, have gone through the whole “body fascist” phase and simply have given up on that chiseled “Stallone” or “Arnie” look. It’s just not sustainable. I hear the “Frozen” theme song coming on – Ha!

    We often get this conception in our heads of what we “think” we should look like physically or spiritually, but in reality that’s not necessarily God’s vision for us. Aiming our “Telos” with our own self-absorbed flawed [Will] is where these conflicts can arise, as Greg pointed out. Allowing the Spirit to guide and direct us is the key, where our personality is so intermeshed with His, that 1 Cor 10:31 then becomes our primary nature; our default setting.

    Jettisoning those performance based ideas about our relationship with God and coming to terms with our shortcomings can help quell the floodtide of anxiety that can result when we don’t feel we’ve measure up – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”– 2 Cor 12:9

    But this process doesn’t happen over night and we don’t spring full bloom spiritually from a nervous brow. I might sore in some areas in my life, only to still cash into the ditch in others. Don t give up, keep on going – spiritual tenacity is worth its weight in Gold.

  2. Jill Hoschette says:

    I really like the Michelangelo analogy. God see’s us like Michelangelo saw his sculptures. He see’s us shaped and perfect; but it’s us who need to hew away the rough walls so we can be who He made us to be. I picture myself chipping away

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Greg, great sermon, I loved listening to this great concept of “Dueling Desires.” However I just want to let you that I am an agnostic. I still tune in to your sermons every week because being apart of the christian community makes me so happy, as I definitely have faith in Jesus, I just can’t conclude on his existence, despite the aw-inspiring Grand Canyon, or Niagara Falls. I hope you and the rest of WH aren’t insulted by my words, I don’t seek to rub anyone the wrong way. You’re all awesome god loving people!

    I have a simple question that I come up against a lot, and I think this talk of dueling desires made this question come up in my head again:

    “If Jesus accepts me in any form that I am in, whether sinful, lethargic, at any down point in my life, and it’s up to me to decide let him into my heart to work, will he accept even my skepticism of his existence?” Will I go to hell if I accept the faith, but still can’t conclude that I have a direct line to him?”

    Will god accept my questioning, or will there be consequences? What are your thoughts on this?

    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

    Bless Greg Boyd and his big belly too!

  4. Celia says:

    From my perspective “fat and sassy” worship is comparable to buttered popcorn. Even though it is sensually pleasing I am afraid that it is very bad for our spirits. As a person with deep anabaptist roots your comments at the opening of this message tempt me to discredit the rest. I acknowledge the truth that we can swing too far and make worship a miserable joyless experience, but when our approach to our loving holy cross carrying Savior is “sassy” I think we have crossed a dangerous line.

  5. Dave Pritchard says:


    I am nobody’s spokesman, but if you dig deep into the bulk of Greg’s sermons here online, I think you’ll find a very healthy mixture of serious exegetical reflection, empathetic Cross-centered messages and socio-historical analysis coupled with a unique theological panache; all sprinkled with Greg’s weird sense of humor – that alone makes it worth tuning into!

  6. Celia says:

    Dave- Thanks for your response. I guess my comment was just exploring the possibility that our attitude toward worship may be indicative of our receptiveness to the spirit’s work in our life. I have so much appreciated Greg’s teaching on many levels but just found these comments ironic and a bit troubling for the launch of a spiritual transformation series. While it may seem like I’m being nit-picky, it’s actually pretty fundamental questions about the nature of God that I am wrestling with. Has the disciplined way my faith tradition has approached worship been a strength or a weakness? How do I prevent the belief that “God accepts me just as I am” from killing the journey toward holiness? Greg said in a previous message that it is through worship that we practice “doing” our relationship with God. If yieldedness to the spirit’s work is key it seems like sassiness should be the first thing we practice letting go of in worship. I know I still have a lot of room to grow in understanding Gods grace towards me. This is just where I am at in processing this topic.

  7. Kevin says:

    Wow brother Greg, five whole years in porn addiction! My question, as a committed single man, has to be; what was it like from age 17 until you got married? Were you single, celibate and porn free for a period of time before marriage? thanks

  8. Ken says:

    I love the sermon dueling desires! Wow so honest refreshing enlightening and liberating. The comment fat and sassy-is not a problem. Being seminary trainied and coming out of close to thirty years of military service, I love Greg Boyd authenticity . I love everything about this man. wonderful brain but what a massive heart. I love all the ways God is using this man in my own life. Great sermon!!!!


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