Question 7 of 15 from the Q&A in David Powlison’s essay, “I Am Motivated When I Feel Desire,” Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture.

7. How can you tell if a desire is inordinate rather than natural?

By their fruits you know them. Human motivation is not a theoretical mystery; there is no need to engage in introspective archaeological digs. Evil desires produce bad fruits that can be seen, heard, and felt (James 1:15; 3:16). For example, a father who wants his child to grow up to become a Christian reveals the status of that desire by whether he is a good father or a manipulative, fearful, angry, suspicious father. In a good father, the desire is subordinate to God’s will that he love his child. In a sinful father, the desire rules and produces moral and emotional chaos. Similarly, a wife who wants to be loved reveals the status of that desire by whether or not she loves and respects her husband. Visibile fruit reveals whether God rules or lust rules.

It is a serious mistake to engage in introspective “idol hunts,” attempting to dig out and weigh every kink in the human soul. The Bible calls for a more straightforward form of self-examination: an outburst of anger invites reflection on what craving ruled the heart that our repentance might be intelligent. The Bible’s purposes are “extrospective,” not introspective: to move toward God in repentant faith (James 4:6-10) and then to move toward the one wronged by anger, making peace in repentance, humility, and love.