In 1969 the Rolling Stones released the album Let It Bleed and included on the album was a song titled “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The album was a hit, but the song was met with half-hearted enthusiasm by fans and the masses. In 1973, the Rolling Stones re-released the song, and it shot up the charts, and in 2004 the song landed at 100 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “Top 500 Songs of All Time.” (You can thank Wikipedia for this information!) The chorus goes like this: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you find you get what you need.”
While this song may sound all right, the Rolling Stones got it all wrong.
You can absolutely get what you want. The Bible says so. The problem comes in our wanting.
Moses wrote that the Lord looked at humanity before the flood and saw “great wickedness,” and God concluded “the intentions of people’s hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). All humanity wanted and longed for and thought about was evil, so God “rebooted” humanity sparing only Noah, his family, and many pairs of animals. The apostle Paul also paints a grim picture of our wants. In Colossians 3:5-8, Paul mentions “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness…anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” as desires of our hearts, and Jesus himself said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). In other words, the desire of our hearts is evidenced by our actions. The consequence of a continual pursuit of our sinful hearts’ desires is getting what we want.
Paul tells us in Romans 1:24-32 that continually desiring evil results in God giving you exactly what you want. The word-image Paul paints is one of God removing His gracious restraint from these people who wanted temporary pleasure. This resulted in their eternal condemnation. They got what they wanted; however, it was anything but eternally pleasurable.
Before casting a stone (pun intended), remember that we all, at one time, wanted sin and its temporary pleasures (Ephesians 2:1-3). So, why are we not still desiring sin? Why hasn’t God removed His gracious restraint from us? Why hasn’t God let us “always get what we want”?
Exit Stones and stones.
If you are trusting in Christ, your mind (your desire) is set on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:1-8). Why? Paul writes, “[God sent] his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4). The reason we do not get our sinful wants is because Christ intervened in our lives, and His intervention gave us a new set of wants and desires. We don’t desire sin because Jesus Himself took on our sins, absorbed God’s wrath for our sins, and died for our sins. Jesus’ death broke our relationship with sinful wants. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…through faith. And this is not of your own doing…” (Ephesians 2:4-5,8-9). You did not change your wants; God in His mercy did that through Christ.
Without Christ, you can always get what you want (desire), but the end is eternal death.
With Christ, you can always get what you want and need – the righteous wants and desires of the Spirit.
May we fight, not with the Stones or with stones, but with prayer and perseverance. And, may we humbly thank Christ our Lord for our new (but not yet perfect) desires. May we repent like Daniel does in Daniel 9:4-19 and seek forgiveness from the Lord when we don’t desire holiness.
The old is gone. The new has come. Live as if this is true…because it is.