Why do men and women who know better wander away from the good shepherd and opt to settle into a life of myths, lies, and self-deception? The apostle Paul provides at least one diagnosis in 2 Timothy 4.
We “wander off into myths” when we “turn away from listening to the truth.” It’s much easier to “turn away from listening to the truth” when we discover, embrace, and accumulate “teachers” who will tell us exactly what we want to hear. We went looking for those “teachers” because our ears had started to “itch.” Our “ears” have been “itching” because “sound teaching” has felt more and more like an irritant. Sure, God describes his teaching as “healthy”–the sort of thing I actually need, even when it’s hard to swallow–but I’m not sure I’m interested in “enduring” such “sound teaching” any longer. Why? Why would I ever decide to wander away from the safety, guidance, and promises of the good shepherd? Because when I dig down deep enough into the recesses of my heart, I eventually hit the layer of my own “passions.”
In the territory of “passions,” I find volatile fuel. When mixed with selfishness, this fuel is more than powerful enough to propel me right past what I know–what I’ve memorized, sung, even shared with others–into dark valleys I recognize as dangerous and forbidden…but I go anyway. I can be “acquainted with the sacred writings.” I can be capable of reciting, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I can be fully aware that those Scriptures describe Jesus as “the righteous judge” who will one day appear. So why would I ever rebel against the One who is willing to “award” me with “the crown of righteousness” on that day, along with “all who have loved his appearing”?
Deep in the recesses of each one of our hearts is the layer of our own “passions,” and we make fundamental decisions about the way we will handle those “passions” each and every day. In the most basic of terms: “Will I selfishly cater to them or selflessly crucify them?”
2 Timothy 4:3-4 describes the tragic path of knowing better, yet choosing to “wander off” into myths, lies, and self-deception because I’ve decided to cater to those passions.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
On the other hand, Galatians 5:24-25 describes a better way, the path of life.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
What does it mean to “keep in step with the Spirit”? How do passions get “crucified” rather than catered to? What does it look like to “live by the Spirit”? It’s submitting myself, my passions, and my desires to God’s “healthy teaching” (2 Tim 4:3). It’s allowing his word and his people to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” me “with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). It’s acknowledging “in season and out of season” that he is my Creator, my Lord, and my righteous Judge. It’s subjecting my will to his teaching, reproof, correction, and training (2 Tim 3:16). Only then will I be righteous, redeemed, a complete man or woman of God, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:17).
Dig down deep enough into the recesses of your heart, and you’ll hit the layer labeled PASSIONS. Whose territory is it? Who reigns there? To whom do those passions belong? Are they yours, to be spent however you choose, or are they your Creator’s, provided as fuel for life the way he intends and prescribes? You’ll be faced with those forks in the road, day after day, for the rest of your life.
Catering to our passions feels really good in the moment, but it devours us from the inside, eventually costing us everything. Crucifying our passions is hard, brutal at times, but the blood-sprinkled way of the cross leads home.