“Who can say, I have cleansed my heart; I am pure and free from sin?” Proverbs 20:9 NLT
The topic of temptation, particularly sexual temptation, has been described as “every man’s battle.” In my in-depth conversations many men have admitted that my struggle has also been their struggle. While we may never have technically violated our vow of sexual fidelity, we all admit that at points we definitely could have!
Sexual temptation is sly. You can be minding your own business when you’re suddenly distracted. It happened to me on a speaking trip to Florida. I had just finished preaching in multiple services for a large church and was relaxing alone on the veranda of a Tampa hotel looking forward to the warm embrace of my wife that night. That’s when an attractive gal suddenly showed up and sat down near me. She wasn’t subtle, it was clear that she was interested in more than mere conversation. Ironically it happened on the seventh day of the month; therefore, I had just been warned about her when reading the seventh chapter of Proverbs early that morning. “The woman approached him, seductively dressed and sly of heart.” Proverbs 7:10 NLT
I’ve penciled in my Bible the names of several key kingdom leaders who have recently succumbed to sexual temptation. They’re listed along side the warnings of Proverbs 5-7 as a warning to me! “For she has been the ruin of many; many men have become her victims.” (Proverbs 7:26).
No Christian man wants to become a “victim,” but all too many have. To be clear, they haven’t technically been victimized or fallen into sin. At some point they willfully have stepped into it! Perhaps it was at the gym, or at work or even with an attractive someone they met through the church. No one is exempt from the attraction to beauty. All normal men are hard wired to appreciate the female form and to be drawn to those with attractive personalities. These sorts of attractions and temptations are not sin. It’s what happens next.
The pattern of temptation is progressive; sometimes moving this way: appreciation > attraction > obsession > degradation.
- Appreciation - Acknowledging God designed beauty.
- Attraction - Lingering visually on the beauty.
- Obsession - Cultivating fantasies about the beauty.
- Degradation - Embracing immorality with the beauty.
Immorality is always a choice. Psychologist Jay Lindsay once shared his observations about immorality first with me and then with our church in what he called: “The Twelve Step Affair Process.” Here’s what he saw with many who had welcomed ruin into their relationships. It went this way:
- Readiness >
- Alertness >
- Innocent Meeting >
- Intentional Meeting >
- Public Lingering >
- Private Lingering >
- Purposeful Isolating >
- Pleasurable Isolating >
- Affectionate Embracing >
- Passionate Embracing >
- Capitulation >
C.S. Lewis said, “No man suddenly becomes base.” It’s a process, and according to the experts the only difference in our culture is that the speed of the process has radically accelerated. For example, during the 2020 pandemic one porn website reported a 600% increase in use. Pornography is a plague bringing ruin to our culture, with even over half of Christian men regularly opening the door of their hearts to the devastation of the devil. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Take heart. While sexual enticements are rooted in our humanity; sexual immorality does not have to be our destiny!
- “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will provide a way out so you can stand up under it.” I Corinthians 10:11-13)
- “… the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” I John 4:4 NLT
- “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
It’s been said that all relationships are going somewhere…. That somewhere may be very good or even very bad. I once heard a sociologist say that the average man “falls in love” seven times before he gets married, and then seven more times after he gets married! If so, that’s not a matter of our destiny but a matter of our humanity! Many men have confided that physical attraction led to an emotional connection; however, for some it was just the opposite, the emotional connection came first. Either way, for some the extra ingredient of alcohol accelerated their descent into immorality.
Temptation is always a topic in the safe setting of a Covenant Group. Everything mentioned briefly here is expanded on there with great soberness and soul searching. This always leads to catalytic conversations and even to humble confessions. As one pastor said, “This is holy ground … I don’t know where else I could go to engage in a conversation like this!” Indeed, it’s led to some leaders recognizing the dangerous path they were on and humbly repenting.
Now all temptations are not the same, and certainly not all temptations are sexual ones. Again, In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis once wrote:
“Though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the center of Christian morality is not there. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing … and backbiting; the pleasure of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside of me… they are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two.”
So what is your most stubborn temptation? We’re all tempted every day. Some of those temptations come to me from without, but most others come from within. While at times I may be visually tempted at the gym, it’s more common for me to be tempted when I’m alone in the privacy of my own home as I face frustrations at my own desk! I can feel safe and secure in my study and then suddenly erupt with irritation because of some interruption or IT malfunction! I can take personal offense when I’m surprised by extra demands, and especially technological challenges. What about you?
Just as Jesus was tempted after His baptism, so are we all! I owe a great debt to Henri Nouwen who helped me to see how the three great temptations faced by our Lord are common for us all to some degree. He calls them “the three compulsions of the world.”
- To be relevant (“turn stones into loaves”)
- To be spectacular (“throw yourself down”)
- To be powerful (“I will give you all of these kingdoms”)
I know which one is the most currently tempting to me. As I read and reflect on God’s Word each day it’s not hard to see the application to my own life. I crave my early morning time, without it I would be far more vulnerable than I already am. As John Flavel has observed: “They that know God will be humble; they that know themselves cannot be proud.”
Purity must be my daily pursuit! So I close this with the same words that I repeat multiple times every day: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me!”