The word often translated lust in our English Bibles is from the Greek word epithumia and to the surprise of many does not necessarily mean something bad. There are good lust, good epithumia and there are bad lusts. E.W. Bullinger in his Critical Lexicon and Concordance aptly defines epithumia as "inward passion". Our inward passions can be the result of the spirit of GOD working within us or they can be the result of our yielding to the world around us. Just because we desire a thing doesn't make it good or bad. As such, we would do well to routinely conduct a personal inventory and ask ourselves, if our inward passions are in harmony with the way GOD has chosen for us, or are they consuming us like a cancer from within?
EPHESIANS 4:22 ...put off concerning the former conversation [lifestyle] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts [epithumia];
Paul refers here to an old man. The old man was the believer's former lifestyle, before he changed Lords. The inward passions of the old man are deceitful and as such often cloak themselves with a godly attire. As deceitful, they are desires which the world might endeavor to persuade us are from GOD, yet are anything but. Because of this false illusion, they are often more damaging than carnal lusts. The deceitful lusts of the old man can choke any word from GOD which has been sown in our hearts. They are foolish and hurtful and can drown us in destruction and ruin.
Many converts are caught in these snares which are often referred to as something like, know yourself, follow your heart, and chase your dreams. This is the way of the world and is only the heart, desires and dreams of the old man. Being led by the holy spirit the believer is expected to no longer fall for these deceitful lies. Having decided to escape the corruption that is in the world and having determined to be renewed in the spirit of our mind, believers are to learn to think the thoughts of the new man.
From the comfort of the Garden of Eden, the father of lies deceived Eve by convincing her that the wrong thing to do was actually the right thing to do, promising "your eyes shall be opened" (GENESIS 3:5). Four thousand years later, this time in a harsh wilderness, Satan again tried his subtleties by likewise making the wrong thing to do look like the right thing to do, promising the only Begotten "all shall be thine" (LUKE 4:7). In like manner the systems of this world often hope to deceive us by glazing over the way of destruction as some kind of "yellow brick road" where our dreams may be realized. This is a lifestyle of deceit of which the established order intends for us to pursue.
We would do well to periodically question our heart's desires. Are they the inward passions of the old man or of the new creation within us? The new man desires to see the works of GOD and hear the words of GOD (MATTHEW 13:17). The inward passion of the new man is to see and fellowship with other like minded believers (1 THESSALONIANS 2:17). To be of service to the body of believers is the inward passion of the new man (1 TIMOTHY 3:1). Are these our desires? Have we escaped the corruption that is in the world and become partakers of the divine nature (2 PETER 1:4) or have we turned aside after another way? After hearing the words of GOD, do we receive them and bring forth fruit, or because of the inward passions of the old man, are they being choked?
MARK 4:19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts [epithumia] of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
The inward passions of the old man are such that they choke the words from GOD which are intended to transform us. GOD has a purpose for each of HIS callings, but the inward passions of the old man can restrain us from walking worthy of that calling (EPHESIANS 4:1). The unenlightened are too often blinded to the reality that their inward passions are self destructive. They believe instead that these desires are the true way to acquire happiness, fulfillment and security. This is how these passions so easily deceive, enslave and destroy.
This is in essence what our Lord was referring to when He encouraged His followers to lay not up for themselves treasures on earth but instead in heaven, for where one's treasure is there will his heart be (MATTHEW 6:21). And again, He warned that a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses (LUKE 12:15). The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that "they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 TIMOTHY 6:9). He plainly warned that those who desire to be rich, fall. Wealth is not evil, but rather it is the desire for wealth that is too often an inward passion of the old man and such desire can cause its pursuer great loss.
Two Proverbs set the conflict in perfect perspective. First, "labor not to be rich" (PROVERBS 23:4). It doesn't say that GOD doesn't desire us to be rich, but only that we ourselves are not to work towards that end. Then in beautiful harmony, "The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it" (PROVERBS 10:22). On GOD's timetable HE will prosper us, but HE doesn't need us to elbow our way to the top of some imaginary corporate ladder. HE instead needs us to be obedient to HIS word. If one disobeys the words of GOD and instead obeys the inward passions of the old man, sin will eventually reign over him (ROMANS 6:12) and his transformation will become as difficult as trying to force a rope through the eye of a needle (MARK 10:25).
One may be led to believe that he can devote himself to acquiring treasures on earth and still be rich towards GOD, but he can't and only deceives himself thinking so. We cannot serve two masters. We either live "to the lusts of men" or to the will of GOD (1 PETER 4:2). We must abandon the desires of the old man to be renewed in the spirit of our minds. John wrote that "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 JOHN 2:16). GOD doesn't instill within us a desire for the pleasures and treasures of this world. Nor does HE inspire us to be proud. These are ways of the world, ways of the old man.
The inward passions of the new man are not "worldly lusts", but "good works". Paul explicitly sets this out in his letter to Timothy where he details the characteristics of an episkopos, a guardian or bishop of the church.
1 TIMOTHY 3:1-8 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth [epithumeo] a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre.
"Not covetous" can mean that he is "not fond of money" (Concordant Version). Not "greedy of filthy lucre" is also translated not "avaricious" (Concordant Version), which the dictionary defines as "immoderately fond of accumulating wealth". This desire for gain is deceitfully enslaving. The whole nature of a trap is to deceive with desire. Whether it is a mouse with cheese, a bird with a crumb of bread or a saint tempted with all the power and glory of the kingdoms of this world, the end is the same, his freedom is taken and his destiny is now in the hands of his new master, the old man.
We were all once foolish and deceived. We were "in times past" disobedient and without GOD. But now, being called out of the world, we are to reckon the old man dead. We are to live in newness of life filled with all the wonder and excitement of a newborn. Now we can turn from the old ways which corrupt, unto HIM who sows in our hearts the words of life.
TITUS 3:3 For we ourselves also were sometimes [once] foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts [epithumia] and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
Now is the time to renew ourselves to the things of GOD. Let us leave behind the inward passions of the old man and seek again those things which be of GOD. Let us be separate from the world and its temporal desires. Let us continue with renewed vigor our transformation. Let us leave our dead works buried in the tomb and rise from among the dead of this world unto good works.
1 JOHN 2:17 And the world passeth away, and the lust [epithumia] thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.