I remember when my husband first confessed to me that he had an attraction to another woman. I responded, “Temptation is not a problem. It’s what you do with that temptation.”
At that time, we sought counseling. I allowed him to talk about his feelings openly, acting as a counselor to him myself. I did everything I knew to do to help him fight his feelings for this other woman. However, instead of fighting his feelings, he was feeding them—in the quiet recesses of his mind, thinking about her, dreaming about her.
And that was the genesis of his affair…
We all face temptations. Some are the little things that tempt us: just another bite of dessert when we know we are full, an extra Diet Coke when we know it’s not good for us, staying up too late to watch TV when we know we need to be up early. Then there are the big temptations: the adulterous relationship, a sexual relationship when you aren’t married, addictions.
The truth is, there is nothing wrong with temptation. We all face them—even Jesus. The problem comes when we give in to temptation, allow ourselves to fall into sin rather than resisting temptation.
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. James 1:14-15
When we choose not to resist temptation, there will be consequences. Maybe the consequences aren’t immediate; maybe they are. But, James 1 tells us that it is a progression: from temptation to sinful actions to death. Perhaps it’s physical death. Maybe death of a relationship. No matter what sin, you will always experience spiritual death—a distance that develops between you and God, an inability to hear His tender voice whispering to your heart as you quench the fire of His Holy Spirit burning within you.
During the last few weeks, I have been fighting the battle of temptation. I have been separated/divorced for almost five years. I have not dated anyone in over 4 ½ years. I am sure that I could have had dates if I wanted, but I chose to ask God not to bring anyone into my life unless he is the one God wants for me until death do we part. I do not want to give my heart away to anyone unless they have an unparalleled passion for Christ and ministry.
And it gets lonely…
Although I know how blessed I am and although I love my life, I still long for that special someone. I’m tired of being alone. I long to share my hopes and dreams with that someone special. I long to walk hand-in-hand through the mall. I long to have him reach over and put his arm around me as we worship together at church. I long to snuggle up next to him on a rainy night as we watch a movie together. I long for the gentle touch, the tender caress, the simple kiss.
Normally, I’m too busy to dwell on it. But, this summer has been different. My children have been away for nearly five weeks, and it has left me with time that I don’t normally have to myself. I’ve also experienced some relationship fractures because not everyone understands my attempts to walk by faith and not by sight. While a little peace and quiet is a good thing, too much leaves me experiencing loneliness.
And what happens? Along comes a man. A really nice man. A really great single dad. He loves life. He’s a hard worker. Responsible. Enjoys working out. Some absolutely great qualities.
But, is he passionate about God? Is he passionate about ministry? Is he seeking God daily? Does he understand my commitment to Christ, my attempts to walk in all the fullness of God? Is he as committed to purity before marriage as I am?
Honestly, I’ve found myself hiding who I truly am because I know the answers to the above questions. I have not let him know about my blog, my writing, my ministry. He’s not seen me overcome with emotion as I lose myself in worship. He doesn’t know about recent radio interview about how God has carried me through this painful experience. He doesn’t know because I know that he will walk away when he discovers who I truly am—and it feels so good to have male companionship!
The temptation has been growing. I’ve found myself thinking about how nice it would be to hold his hand, to have a hug. I find myself wanting it to progress beyond friendship—and yet I don’t. I know that by giving into this temptation, I will be short-changing myself on God’s best for my life. I know that I might find myself compromising on my values, on what I know God has called me to.
And so, I find myself fighting temptation with every ounce of my being. I cry out to God frequently, asking Him to show me the way out. I beg Him to give me strength to keep this at a friendship level, to show who I truly am. I ask Him to let His love and light shine through me so that I can lead this man to a deeper knowledge of the One who is my everything.
Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. 1 Corinthians 10:11-13
How do I defeat the temptation? That has become the pervading question in my mind. Scripture tells me to stand firm lest I fall. It tells me that God always has a way out. My challenge has been to find that way out, and of course I’ve found a few nuggets that might help.
Determine in my heart not to sin. When Daniel was taken captive in Babylon, he was selected for a special assignment: to become one of the wise men of the kingdom. With the privilege came a very rich diet that would have been counter to Daniel’s religious diet regulations. So he determined in his heart that he would not sin (Daniel 1:8).
Job had a similar commitment. In Job 31:1, he said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust at a young woman.” It was a determination, a plan, a firm commitment. He chose not to be naïve or self-confident. He recognized that he was as capable of sin as everyone else. But he decided, determined, committed not to fall to temptation.
If we are to defeat temptation in our lives, we must set our minds to walking in purity. We must decide that we will not even flirt with those things that tempt us, that we will draw firm boundaries around our lives allowing plenty of safe space between us and temptation. By setting our minds on the right things and creating margin in our lives, we give ourselves a much greater ability to resist.
Use the Word. Temptation is a normal part of life and even Jesus faced temptation. But, He is the only one who successfully navigated all temptations without failing. Of course, we know that in the face of temptation, he always quoted scripture. As it is written… He began (Matthew 4).
A few nights ago, as I was thinking about this temptation, I grabbed my computer and went straight to BibleGateway.com. I began to google temptation in the scriptures. I was amazed at how few times the word temptation is actually mentioned. I began to look at the stories of the Bible and realized how often people fell to temptation. I was searching for clues on how to fight temptation.
And that’s when it happened. As I turned to scripture to understand temptation, all temptations faded from my mind. Turning to the word, filling my mind with the word…the cure for temptation.
Run for your life. Occasionally, even when we set our minds on obedience and fill our minds with scripture, we can still find ourselves in situations where temptation rears its ugly head. Look at Joseph. He was going about his business, living with integrity. That’s when his master’s wife began to tempt to him.
Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man, and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.
But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”
She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible. One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house. Genesis 39:6-12
Joseph could have chosen to sleep with her, assuming that no one would ever know. He could have entertained the temptation. Instead, he stayed out of her way as much as possible. When placed in the most difficult situation, he simply fled.
The rest of the story is difficult to swallow: Joseph was still accused. He spent time in prison. His name was smeared. But, he walked with integrity before his God. He knew the truth. And, he knew that in time God would restore him and redeem the situation—which He did. Perhaps you have fled and have been wrongfully accused anyway. Trust me, I understand. But remember that God sees and knows the truth. In the end, He will use it for His glory.
You know, after weeks of working to overcome… after weeks of crying out to God every time a temptation came to mind… after weeks of searching scriptures… after weeks of setting boundaries… Something happened. I cannot explain it, but I know the explanation.
As I was driving to work earlier this week, I was asking God—again—to show me the way out of this temptation. I was telling Him that I want His plan more than I want the immediate gratification of having someone—anyone—now. I was telling Him that I do not want to short-change His plans for my life. In an instant, without any fanfare or even any gentle whispers, a quiet peace came over me. The temptation faded. My mindset changed. I have a new friend, but nothing more. And I am good with that.
Temptation has been defeated…for now.