Satan leads you into sin through a very deliberate strategy that the Bible describes with the words saw, good, coveted, and took:
Once you recognize this pattern, there are several practical strategies to help fight temptation.
In this article we will work through another important strategy for resisting the Devil: identifying what you covet.
Discerning what you covet is powerful. With this self-understanding, you can more easily recognize Satan's subtleness. It is one thing to realize that Satan is leading you to fixate on some forbidden, twisted good. It is entirely another thing to recognize why that forbidden, twisted good seems so irresistibly good.
What is Covetousness?
First, let's define what it means to covet. At a basic level, to covet means to desire, so that the same word used in the Ten Commandments against coveting is the same word David uses to describe how he desires the law of the Lord (Ps. 19:10).
The word covet, then, typically refers to a desire for something forbidden. Still, the Bible gives us additional information to fill out our understanding of covetousness.
The Tenth Commandment
The most important passage to define covetousness is in the Ten Commandments:
“You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” (Ex. 20:17)
Thus, to covet is to desire "anything that is your neighbor's." The Westminster Larger Catechism helpfully expands this simple definition into duties required and sins forbidden by this commandment:
Q. 147. What are the duties required in the tenth commandment?
A. The duties required in the tenth commandment are, such a full contentment with our own condition, and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.
Q. 148. What are the sins forbidden in the tenth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate; envying and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.
Covetousness is marked by (1) discontentment with what we have, and (2) inordinate (that is, over-sized) desires for what our neighbor has. So, the tenth commandment not to covet requires of us (1) full contentment with what we have, and (2) godly desire to protect and increase what our neighbor has.
Covetousness is Idolatry
After the Tenth Commandments, the Apostle Paul writes an important principle about covetousness twice:
For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Eph. 5:5)
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5)
Covetousness is idolatry! That is, to covet something is to desire it more than you desire God. The First Commandment ("You shall have no other gods before me"; Ex. 20:3) and the Tenth Commandment forbid the same sin of idolatry.
What Do I Covet?
With these principles in mind, we can break down covetousness into two main categories: what belongs to your neighbor, and what belongs to God. We may covet material things (i.e., wealth), or relationships ("your neighbor's wife"), or a status (e.g., admiration, respect, authority, etc.).
What Do You Desire?
How, though, do we discern what it is we are coveting? First, we must discern what we desire. Here are a few diagnostic questions that may help you identify what you desire:
What preoccupies your mind?
What keeps you up at night?
What are your nightmares?
What makes you angry?
What do you make sacrifices for?
What criticisms would crush you?
Brainstorm as many answers to these questions as you can. Then, try to find common themes across your answers.
Why Do You Desire?
The answers to these questions of what you desire are important, but you probably haven't discovered anything surprising. You experience these desires all day, every day. The next critical step is to ask why you desire these things. Again, here are a few diagnostic questions:
What do you believe that you will gain by this?
What do you fear that you may lose from this?
If you lost this, where would you turn next?
Why do you care about this so much?
Spend time in prayer about these questions, asking God to open your eyes to the deep desires of your heart. As he does, repent of whatever covetousness (that is, idolatry) the Holy Spirit reveals to you from your life.
In the next article, we will work through how the sin of covetousness relates to all other sins. Then, we will consider how to use this insight to fight temptation.
(I want to give credit for some of the diagnostic questions in this article to the brainstorming of participants in a Leadership Development class I taught at Harvest Community Church in the Fall of 2018.)