Every Monday we’ll post something to do with maintaining sexual purity. Hope it helps.
Three Reasons I Honestly Thank God for the Struggle
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” - I Thessalonians 5:18
I’m a Christian man who wrestles, on a fairly regular basis, with sexual temptation. That hardly puts me in a special category and, in fact, makes me nothing more than the average Joe. Those temptations don’t come because of deficits in my life, since I’m married to a wonderful and lovely woman, and despite ups and downs common to all of us, I couldn’t ask for a finer family, or for more meaningful work, or a more vibrant church, or for better friends than the ones I’ve been blessed with. So I’m not a guy with a hard life who gets tempted because there’s so much missing. On the contrary, “Every man is tempted”, James said, “when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” (James1:14) No mystery there. Lust is a manifestation of the flesh (Galatians 5:19) the flesh exists as long as we’re in these earthly bodies (I Corinthians 15:53) and a war between the flesh and the spirit is guaranteed. (Galatians 5:17 )
So the universal struggle is a fact of life – every believer wrestles with temptations; many (most?) Christian men wrestle with sexual ones. We struggle. That doesn’t mean we give in, of course; at least, it doesn’t mean we have to. To struggle is to resist temptation; to transgress is to give in to it, whether in thought or action. And, much as I tire of the struggle, occasionally I can see the benefit that comes from it. So in the interest of taking Paul’s advice to give thanks in all things, let me offer three benefits I see coming from this ongoing, stubborn sucker we affectionately call The Struggle.
- The Struggle enhances humility.
Pride has got to be the stupidest of all sins, and the commonest. In pride I look at anything good about myself, real or imagined, and out goes the chest up goes the nose, send in the Clown. Amazing. Paul said, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hast not received it? (I Corinthians 4:7) And yet, ignoring that obvious truth, when God creates something, I say “Look what I made.” God takes action; I say “Look what I did.” God gives me a free gift; I say “Look what I earned.” Like I said, amazing, and, sadly, a regular part of my pattern. So to balance that out, the Holy Spirit interrupts by reminding me of The Struggle, a reminder that brings me down to earth, kicked in the butt, and humbled in the dust, which is not a bad place to visit on occasion. Sin is never good, and thereby nothing to thank God for. But to be allowed to wrestle with a temptation, rather than get complete deliverance from it, is something I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate. I lack humility. I need humbling. This helps.
- The Struggle reminds me that I don’t really belong here.
When reading the newspaper, watching tv, or strolling through the mall, don’t you sometimes feel like you chased a white rabbit, went through the looking glass down a hole, and landed in a world going from weird to weirder by the minute? It’s a place where the erotic apart from the intimate is elevated, where sexual imagery is used to promote every conceivable product, where the line between natural and unnatural behavior is hugely, maybe permanently, blurred. Contrast what you see practiced in this world to what you see commended – commanded, in fact – by God, and you’re slapped with a hard reminder that you’re here on a pass, but your permanent residence is elsewhere, and your allegiance is to a Sovereign this place seems to have never heard of. And that reminder is something to be truly grateful for, After all, fruitful life in the Spirit requires, among other things, awareness of the eternal versus the temporal. Get too comfortable with the second and you lose your hunger for the first, so whatever bolsters the eternal perspective is something to value. Remember, we, along with all creation, are groaning, waiting for deliverance from these limited, corruptible and sin-infested bodies. (Romans 8:22-23) Likewise, our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and good citizens remember their home country and their rightful leader, claiming and keeping their allegiance to both. I thank Him, then, for the daily reminders (nuisance that they are!) of the contrast between where I live and where I belong.
- The Struggle keeps me clinging to Him.
I was puzzled the first time I read John 15:5,where Jesus said “Without Me, ye can do nothing.” Huh. “Nothing? Can’t lift my arm, breathe, or walk a few steps?” I wondered. “What about all the people who don’t know Him? Does He empower them without their awareness? Are we really and literally helpless apart from Christ?” But I think, now, He was speaking in context of the Spirit filled, powerful and fruit bearing life his disciples were to live, a life He describes throughout these chapters. And in that sense, we can’t do anything of eternal value without Him. Apart from Him there’s no fruit produced, as He said: “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” (John 15:4)
And so, in seeking to live a truly holy life, one set apart and lived within his will, I’m given a strong sense of dependency on Him by The Struggle. Mind you, I really don’t feel I need Him any more than anyone else. We’re all dependent; it’s just that some of us know it while some are clueless. And if I were a gambler, I’d bet that I’d be in the “clueless” camp if not for The Struggle. Because with every relentless bombarding of sexual imagery and stimulation I encounter on even the best of days, I get the message: “Abide in Him, Mister, or you don’t stand a chance!”
So in all things, this one included, let’s give thanks today. Because to struggle is to go against the tide, to deny ourselves, to offer our bodies to Him and to love Him through obedience. And isn’t that the stuff true discipleship is made of? It’s also the stuff eternal rewards are made of, a fact to keep in mind when the going gets tough:
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he shall receive a crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)
A crown of life; a blessed hope; and Him, face to face, forever. So much, for so very, very little. So in this, as in everything, we really do give thanks, Lord.