The history of humanity has been a continuing struggle against temptation and tyranny.
– Robert Kennedy
If you’ve struggled with lust in any form, and you’re now waiting for temptation to completely stop, then life is sure to be awfully frustrating
If you think a truly spiritual woman or man eventually stops being tempted, you’re bound to think you’re a flop as a Christian. Conversely, if you think you’ve arrived at such a point of spirituality that temptation couldn’t snag you, you’re skating on very thin ice.
Temptation happens. It’s Biblically guaranteed (Galatians 5:17) which is neither an indictment nor permission. There’s no shame in being tempted; there’s no excuse for giving into it. Both are equally true.
So if purity’s your goal, you attain it through repentance, then maintain it through, among other things, vigilance. You’ve got be watchful enough to recognize temptations when they come, because your ability to manage them will determine your success or failure in protecting your purity. So let’s begin by breaking down the terms we use when referring to
You’re a sexual creature, and as such, you can be sexually aroused. That’s not only normal; it’s intentional. The first negative thing God said about man in the Scripture touches on this:
“And the Lord God said ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper —“ -Genesis 3:18
You’re not trying to solve the problem of being sexual, because that’s not a problem. You’re struggling because your sexuality, like all parts of your life, is marred by fallen human nature.
To lust means literally to “covet”, “strongly desire”, or “set your heart on” something. Technically, the word can apply to both legitimate and illegitimate desires, but it’s generally used in the negative sense. (As in “Lusting after a married woman.”) When you lust sexually, then, you allow yourself to desire what’s not rightfully yours.
Sexual Acting Out
When you “act out”, you physically express what you’re internally experiencing. So when you commit a sinful sexual act, you’ve transgressed by physically expressing outwardly the sin you were entertaining inwardly.
You will be tempted to sexually lust and sexually act out, and those temptations will come from at least one of three primary sources:
From Within: James said, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. (James 1:14) That’s not to say it’s a sin to be tempted; rather, it means it’s because we are sinful creatures that we can be tempted. So a man can be tempted to daydream about past sexual experiences or images he’s seen, or he can of his own volition look at
From Satan: The Devil does, indeed, tempt and entice. He tempted Jesus, beguiled Eve, and put it into Judas Iscariot’s heart to betray Christ. So naturally he’ll work on you, trying to influence you into something attractive and lethal.
From Others: Temptations offered from others can be the hardest to deal with. When you know a potential partner is willing, tearing yourself away is a challenge. Just ask Joseph, whose boss’ wife kept coming on to him. (Genesis chapter 39) Or Bathsheba, who got propositioned by Israel’s handsome King David. People can and will, at times, impose strong temptations on you.
Those three primary sources will always be there, by the way. Your own capacity for lust – your thoughts, memories, and weaknesses – won’t disappear. Likewise, Satan and other people certainly aren’t going anywhere. So temptation will always be a fact of life that a wise man will accept and be prepared for.
How often or hard your temptations come is not what really matters. What does matter is your response to them, so let’s clarify the options you have when you’re tempted.
Stimulation: Opportunity Knocks
Temptation begins with stimulation. That happens when something from within you (a thought, memory, or longing) or an external trigger (something or someone in the environment) appeals to you. It basically presents itself as an option, or an invitation.
Think of stimulation as a door to door salesman. He knocks. You look through your peephole and see him standing there with his briefcase, and you make a decision: “I WILL or I will NOT answer the door.”
There’s your goal right there – don’t answer when stimulation knocks. It’s not that hard to do this, if you do it during the first part of the stimulation phase. Because when you don’t decide to resist the opportunity, you do decide to entertain it.
Entertainment: A Slippery Slope
Once you let the Stimulation inside, that’s Entertainment. When you decide not to resist the stimulation by continuing to look it over, your ability to detach from it gets worn down. That’s because stimulation, once it gives way to lust, quickly becomes obsession.
When you think about one of the most famous cases of a temptation yielded to, with disastrous results, it’s easy to visualize how King David’s attraction to Bathsheba (II Samuel 11) probably evolved.
First look: “Wow, she’s beautiful. Should I look again?”
Second look: “She’s incredible. Hmmm — I’m alone; her husband’s probably in the battle; she’s available. Should I go for it?”
Third look: “I have to have her. Nothing else matters.”
Something scary happened to this good man’s judgment between the First and Second Look – a consideration. The first look simply identified the woman as attractive. He decided then and there whether or not he’d indulge in a second look.
The second look, I’ll bet, involved a consideration – “Should I or shouldn’t I go for it?”
No doubt his heart pumped, he got aroused, his imagination raced. After that, it was full speed ahead. Nothing else mattered.
That’s the obsessive nature of the Entertainment phase. Once your lust is inflamed, judgment falters, then fades. Indulgence – acting out the lust that’s been inflamed – is a short step away.
James said as much when he described lust, action and consequences:
“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived (second look) it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” -James 1: 14-15
Management Goal: Stop at Stimulation
You can’t prevent Stimulation. You can, though, decide NOT to entertain it. That’s your management goal, and it’s reachable. Remember:
- It’s no sin to be sexual. You were created that way.
- It’s no sin to be sexually tempted. How you respond to the temptation determines whether or not you’ve sinned.
- When temptation begins (stimulation) your goal is to decide not to entertain the stimulation.
Can you? Without question. Let’s remember two hopeful and astute observations Paul made about sin, and its relation to you as a Player:
“For sin shall not have dominion over you.” -Romans 6: 14
It will be present, in other words, but not all-powerful. It will be with you – enticing and distracting – but you aren’t doomed to indulge in it.
Why? Because, as he confidently points out one book later:
“God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” -I Corinthians 10:13
May the God who is faithful strengthen our ability to grasp these promises, and to act on them faithfully.