What does it mean to thirst for God? This question is, I believe, at the heart of many questions surrounding what some people suggest is the chasm between doctrine and discipline. Put another way, it's suggested that the practical application of the faith differs--sometimes in kind, not just degree--from the doctrines of the faith. I suggest that this is a false dichotomy.
Anyone who has been involved, in any way, with pastoral ministry (heck, anybody who has normal human relationships) knows that none of us are perfect. We are all at different stages of moral development, based on any number of circumstances that have had an effect on us. This should, I hope, be a given. It's the role of the moral guide to assist a person in developing their conscience, so that they may grow towards moral perfection. It would be a terrible burden to expect someone on the road to perfection to already be perfect. However, to not have any expectations would be just as terrible.
When one sets off for a hike it's necessary to prepare. One must reflect on what's needed to successfully complete the hike. He must first plan, then procure, and then pack. He should place these things in his pack and strap them on his back before taking a single step on the trail. This journey (pilgrimage, if you will) is analogous to developing as a Christian. We all desire God, so the destination is easily chosen. We consult others about the journey and the journey's end. We take in all this information and then set off on the journey. But, how do you know that you've packed the right supplies and chosen the right path?
A good guide will check the hiker's pack to make sure that everything is included, so the hiker won't become stranded or die on the trail. Likewise, a good pastor of souls will make sure that a person has everything he needs at each step of his conversion towards moral perfection. On the trail, some things are less important than others. Similarly, in the moral life some things merit less grace than others. However, if you forget food or water in your pack, that's a gigantic oversight. If you don't have the requisites to start on the path in the moral life, that is also a huge problem. These impediments to successfully completing the journey must be addressed first. So, while one may truly desire to reach the destination, it's impossible to reach the goal without first addressing those primary essentials--those grave matters.
So, let's say a person suffers from habitual solitary sexual sin. This can be fixed along the journey. It's not something so grave that it disqualifies the person from growing in moral development. However, let's consider the state of cohabitation. This is far more serious. This state is always present no matter what a person is doing, thinking, not doing, or not thinking. This state is compunded by any other particular sin that may occur while in this state, such as fornication. In this case, it will become necessary for this state to end before a person (or persons, in this scenario) can continue on the journey of moral perfection.
These states that we sometimes find ourselves in are like brambles on a path. They hold us back from proper moral development. Before we advance in the moral life we must clear away the brambles. Until those brambles are cleared away, it will be impossible to proceed further down the road of moral development. Because of this, it is important that those entrusted with the care of souls not ignore the brambles. They must help the person who is tangled in them to escape from them. He must not tell the person that it's okay to be stuck in the brambles, and that desiring the end of the journey is enough. It's not enough. This is not true pastoral care. The care of souls is not about making people feel good about their sinful states. Rather, it is about comforting people, challenging people, and helping people overcome those states. Sometimes this requires telling people that they aren't ready for the journey. Sometimes it means being tough on someone who is satisfied being stuck in the brambles. It is, however, never about neglecting the doctrine of the faith to accommodate it to one's sinful state. Rather, it is about helping that person accommodate himself to the truths of the faith. It is about us converting to the faith, not the other way around.