By Jacob Rutledge

C.S. Lewis once wrote: 

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I remember how Lewis’ statement struck me the first time I read it. It’s as if I could see the remains of the mud pies on my fingers. For too long I had shirked the pursuit of infinite joy in a halfhearted venture for empty and vapid treasures. I had the outward form. I had been “going to church” since I was born. I was saved early in life. For as long as I can remember I have worshipped and walked in the way God desires. I believed the truth about baptism, women’s roles in worship, and modesty. I didn’t participate in the sinful activities that our preacher so often described. I was a good kid. And yet, something was missing. Something big. Something important. 

What I gradually realized was how unconverted my conversion to Christ really was. I had the form down but not the fidelity. I couldn’t get away from the unswerving reality of the truth, but at the same time I couldn’t get into the passion I knew I needed. My actions had conformed to Christ but my affections were still bent toward the world. I was in church every time the doors were open but so often my longing was to be outside of the building and away from that environment. What had gone so wrong? 

There wasn’t anything wrong with God’s truth or church; the problem was with me. I had every commandment down except the most important one: 

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38, ESV). 

I might have looked good on the outside, but my motives were rarely done out of love for God or man. I was often motivated by pride, selfishness, and lust. I still am at times. For too long my affections were Satan’s stomping ground. I needed a change of heart, soul, and mind. I imagine many of you reading this have similar thoughts and struggles. Maybe not. Yet, what I have come to realize is that conversion calls for more than a change of action–it calls for a change in our affections. 

As we study scripture we cannot deny the fact that a major part of conversion to Christ and repentance is the changing of our conduct. John the Baptist wouldn’t allow anyone to come to him unless they were willing to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Mat. 3:10-11). Jesus talked about the destruction that comes on those who don’t repent (Luke 13:3, 5) and called for his disciples to preach repentance to all nations (Lk. 24:47). When people were converted in the book of Acts they did “works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20). Paul told the Corinthians that the only reason that their sorrow had substance was due to their immediate, penitent action (2 Cor. 7:9-11). Obviously anyone who claims that they have repented and have displayed no change of conduct has deceived themselves. And yet, conversion goes deeper than the doing. 

Conversion is more than outward form; it is about an inward formation of new desires that pant for God and His goodness (Psa. 42:1). Jesus said that citizens of His kingdom would be pure in heart as well as possess an insatiable desire for righteousness (Mat. 5:6, 8). He came to convert our affections from the material to the eternal (Mat. 6:24). He didn’t save a people who would grudgingly obey his truth, but would gratefully praise and pursue Him (Mat. 6:33; 1 Pet. 2:9). Jesus wants a people who feed off of Him; a people whose strongest craving is to do the will of the Father and be with Him eternally (John. 6:54-55; John. 4:34). Of course, affections influence actions and that is one of the reasons it is so important for us to transform our desires toward God. Yet, how do we go about converting the entirety of our heart to God? How do we transform our affections? 

1.  We must recognize the destructive, fleeting nature of sin. It seems that one of the reasons we continue to struggle with sin as Christians is because we don’t recognize the destructive and passing nature of sin. Yes, we might read scriptures that tell us that sin brings death (Rom. 6:23; Jam. 1:15) and that the pleasures of it are passing (Heb. 11:25; 1 John 2:15-17), but do we stop to recognize the reality of those passages? Sometimes the weight of sins destruction cannot be realized until we stop to realize what it has done in the lives of so many. We need to take a moment to meditate on what sin does to people. Take the time to look at the outstanding warrants printed in your local paper. Just look into the eyes of those who have constantly shunned God’s law. Look at the horrible consequences of drug addictions, the broken homes of the fornicator and the adulterer, the stench of death and decay on the breath of the alcoholic. Hopefully your eyes will be opened to the reality that the way of the sinner is hard (Pro. 13:15). 

We also need to take a moment to recognize the fleeting pleasure of our own sin. When we commit sin we need to take a moment to think about whether or not it really satisfied the longing that it promised to fill. Did it give the pleasure you thought it would? Maybe. But how long did it last? How much did it cost? Realize that sin promises more than it can ever grant. Also, have faith in the scripture that remind us of the righteous judgment of God on iniquity (Rom. 1:32; Rom. 2:6-10). Recognize that, while sin may give you a moment of pleasure, it is storing up an eternity of damnation. Our affections will not be transformed until we realize the destructive, fleeting nature of sin. 

2. We must establish greater spiritual disciplines. I am amazed at how many Christians seem to think that they will one day wake up and find that they have spiritually matured overnight. It seems that we have often fallen into the snare of thinking that somehow God will make us look like Jesus without ever spending time with Jesus. It is seen in our worship. Some Christians spend week after week focusing exclusively on material, physical pursuits and then expect to come to worship (a spiritual activity, John 4:23-24) and discover meaning and enjoyment. It’s not going to happen. If we want to transform our affections then we have to be more disciplined in our approach to the study and meditation of God’s word. Notice that the delight that the Psalter took in the word of God was due to the fact that he meditated on it day and night (Psa. 1:2). We desire what we consume. If we are constantly feeding on the spiritual junk food the world puts out we are going to desire it. If we feed on God, become more disciplined in our study and meditation and His word, we will discover that our cravings have been conformed to His will. 

3. We must discover the beauty of God.  When we study God’s word we are not studying for sake of study; we are seeking the face of our Creator. We are searching His mind in hopes that we can witness the grandeur of His beauty (1 Cor. 2:10-11). Like the Psalmist, we desire to gaze upon the beauty of God (Psa. 27:4). If our affections are to be transformed then we must look at our study of God’s word and world as a pursuit to make God our greatest treasure. We must learn to see the glory of His grace, love, mercy, holiness, and wrath in everything that we do. Of course, more than anything else, we must focus our eyes on Jesus; we must turn our eyes towards Calvary. It is there, more than anywhere else, that the beauty of God is displayed. If our affections for God have diminished it is often because we have taken our eyes off of the cross of Christ. God calls for us to look beyond this present, physical reality and transfix our eyes on the glory of His face as seen in Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). Once we do that, we must allow that beauty to woo us to His side. We must relinquish all affections for this sinful world as we discover that the greatest of pleasures is found in the presence of God (Psa. 16:11). 

Spiritual transformation is never easy. In fact, it might be the most difficult task you will ever attempt to accomplish. But if we learn to recognize that sin can never give what only God can grant, we are well on our way to enjoying a holiday at sea. 

  1. Lewis, C., & Lewis, C. (1949). The weight of glory and other addresses. New York: Macmillan.