We can choose to be more reflective on our own desires and their consequences.
Thomas Aquinas, a man of demonstrable wisdom and faith once wrote that there are “three things necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.” We live in a time that is abandoning the difficult and challenging work of reason and has chosen, rather, to settle for a seemingly simpler and more immediately satisfying appeal to emotions and feelings. And we are experiencing the consequences of this shift in every aspect of our lives.
As Christians, we know what we ought to believe. We ought to believe in God the Father who created all things seen and unseen. We ought to believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the only begotten (not made) Son of God who became man, suffered and died for us on the Cross, was buried and rose again on the third day; that he will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, and that his kingdom will have no end. We ought to believe in the Holy Spirit who is one with the Father and the Son, has spoken through the prophets, and is present with us today. We ought to believe that God made us in his own image and likeness, that he counts us as his beloved children, and that He is Love, unconditional, and everlasting. And we believe that he wants us to live with him forever in heaven. If we believe this, it should make a difference in how we live our lives every day.
The question, “What ought we desire?” implies that desires come in different forms, that is, good and bad forms. We ought, then, to know the difference between good and bad desires, and that acting upon desires has consequences. We ought to know that some desires might appear to be good and immediately satisfying, but when acted upon they cause harm to self or others. In other words, we need to know the difference between what is really good to be desired and what merely appears to be good and ought not to be desired. We can learn the difference by reading and praying with the scriptures. From Genesis to Revelations, we are given countless examples of good and bad desires and their consequences. We can choose to be more reflective on our own desires and their consequences, intended or unintended, as well.
The response to the premise “to know what one ought to do,” is simple, yet very difficult, precisely because actions have their consequences. As Chrisians, we know that what we ought to do is the will of God. We encounter his will throughout scripture, but most perfectly in everything that Jesus did and said in the Gospels. If we followed Jesus’ example more and more consciously, we would be doing the will of God more regularly. We can also see what this looks like by following the example of his Apostles. And, if we do the will of God more and more, like Jesus and the Apostles did, we, too, will see that there are real consequences for doing His will in this world.
What we believe, and what we desire is revealed in what we do. If you want to know what a person believes in, watch what they do, how they treat others, what they give the most amount of their time, money, and energy to in life. We ought to look at these things within our own lives, too. If we really and truly believe in Jesus, and if we know and choose those desires that lead us ever more closely to him more habitually, then Jesus will be able to say of us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” John 13:35. What a joy it would be to be spoken of in this way. Think of what a different world this might be if the vast numbers of Christians in this world were humbly and openly choosing to live in this way.