Article  Human Dignity  Christian Living

How our affections follow our actions

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) In some Christian circles, this verse is often accompanied by a warning against worldly wealth and/or a moral impetus to donate to various Christian causes. And while Jesus did warn against the perils of putting too much stock in possessions and material posterity and encourage radical self-giving, this passage illuminates another deep truth.

A common sense view of desires

The common sense view of human desire among many Christians and non-Christians is that our desires are fixed and immutable. We simply desire that which we desire and don’t desire that which we don’t desire. That’s that.

We’re then told to go about pursuing our desires. We’re encouraged to “do what you love” and live the Burger King “Have It Your Way” lifestyle. And with relationships, we simply need to find the “special someone” with whom we have that perfect chemistry, and if that chemistry is lost or we “fall out of love”, then it’s time to pack up and move on. After all, we can’t control our heart and desires, right? That’s just the way it is. Our affections are beyond our control, and it is our job to order our lives and actions around those immutable affections. Our actions follow our affections.

Jesus’ teaching about desires

And yet, Jesus’ message is radically opposed to this kind of thinking. Rather than seeing our desires and affections as being fixed and intransigent, Jesus tells us that our affections follow our actions: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our heart follows our treasure. We treasure that which we choose to treasure and our affections follow suit. Our affections grow toward whatever we treasure.

This truth is simultaneously profound and backward:

  • The world says to treasure and desire those things for which we have desires and affections.
  • But Jesus says that our affections and desires grow toward those things which we treasure.

We determine where our heart lies by what we treasure. Jesus reverses the order of action and affection: our affections follow our actions.

No room left for passive affections

This has major implications for basically all areas of life. Jesus’s teaching leaves no room for the passive view of affection that maroons us on the island of innate desire. We have the ability to invest in and treasure those areas of our lives where we would like to cultivate affection and desire. Treasuring is an action. You treasure something when you invest in it. Jesus promises that your heart will follow your investments in life.

This applies to more than mere monetary investing. When you invest in a relationship, you heart will naturally grow in love and affection for that person. When you invest in a skill, your heart will grow in desire for that activity. When you invest in your work, your affections will grow for the work that you do. Investing is simply pouring of oneself with the hope that fruit will be reaped.

Pouring yourself into anyone and anything will ultimately cultivate in you a greater desire for those people and things. It is both paradoxical and counter-intuitive. We would normally think that our affections should determine how much we invest in someone or something, but Jesus says the opposite.

Whether it be with friendships, romantic relationships, our relationship with God, our career, our children, etc., we increase our affections by pouring ourselves out into wherever we desire to increase our affection. It is this attitude that Jesus wants us to have as we walk through life: not that we should be swayed to and fro by the winds of unchecked desire and immutable affections, but that we cultivate desires for the right people, thoughts, and activities.

The Holy Spirit’s influence

As Christians, we have the added benefit of the Holy Spirit who fills us and stirs our affections toward Christ. Scripture exhorts us to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6) This means that we can also petition God about our desires and affections. In the same way that the father of the demon-possessed boy asked Jesus, “help my unbelief,” (Mark 9:24) we can ask God to stir and condition our affections by his Spirit to grow in God-glorifying directions.

God has not left us at the mercy of our desires. He offers us hope in reminding us that our desires are cultivated and not immutable. And because the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we can trust that he will change our affections toward Christ for the glory of God.

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

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