Understanding Concupiscence: Beyond the Sexual – A Deeper Dive into Disordered Desires

The term “concupiscence” often evokes thoughts related solely to illicit sexual desires, largely due to its historical association with Augustine’s struggles and contemporary debates on human sexuality. However, in Christian theology, the scope of concupiscence extends far beyond the realm of sexuality. It encompasses a range of disordered inclinations, whether greedy, lustful, prejudiced, or selfishly biased. Understanding this broader application is crucial for Christians in navigating their spiritual journey.

Augustine’s Perspective on Concupiscence: Sin or Not?

Augustine of Hippo, a prominent figure in church history, grappled with the concept of concupiscence, particularly whether God holds individuals guilty for illicit desires even if they don’t act on them. Augustine argued that our illicit thoughts, desires, and actions, being a manifestation of our inherent sinfulness, incur guilt regardless of our intent. This view, that humans are inherently sinful from birth due to the original sin of Adam and Eve, has significantly influenced Christian thought.

However, Augustine’s stance on baptism adds a layer of complexity to his doctrine. He suggested that baptized Christians are not guilty of sin for disordered desires until they consent to them. This nuanced view has led to debates and differing interpretations over centuries.

The Reformers’ Stance: Concupiscence as Persistent Sin

Contrary to the Catholic view, Reformers like Martin Luther vehemently argued that illicit desire remains a sin in believers even post-baptism. They contended that these desires, whether acted upon or not, signify our sinful nature inherited from Adam. The Reformers emphasized that Christians must actively confront and battle against their inner corruption. This perspective aligns with scriptural teachings, wherein illicit desires are seen as idolatrous at the core (Colossians 3:5, Matthew 5:21–30).

Contemporary Implications of the Reformed Understanding of Concupiscence

  1. Universal Sinfulness: Embracing a comprehensive definition of concupiscence reminds us that no one is innocent before God. Our inner desires, as much as our actions, make us culpable.
  2. Need for Confession: This doctrine encourages Christians to confess and label their illicit thoughts and desires as sins. Recognizing and admitting these tendencies is the first step toward repentance and healing.
  3. Cultivation of Empathy and Compassion: Acknowledging our struggles with sinful desires fosters a sense of humility, encourages honesty, and builds compassion for others grappling with similar issues.
  4. Hope for Growth: By naming our sins, we open doors to spiritual growth and transformation in Christ. This process involves continuous repentance and reliance on God’s grace to overcome our inherent sinful tendencies.

Conclusion: Embracing the Full Spectrum of Concupiscence for Spiritual Maturity

Understanding concupiscence in its full context is not just about acknowledging our sexual desires but recognizing the broader spectrum of our disordered inclinations. This acknowledgment is not meant to trap us in guilt but to guide us toward empathy, transparency, and a deeper reliance on God’s grace. By comprehensively grasping the doctrine of concupiscence, we are better equipped to embark on a path of repentance, healing, and spiritual maturity, ultimately drawing closer to the heart of Christ.