The media has informed us about a spate of moral failures of late. Perhaps the most well-known is that of SC governor Mark Sanford and his adulterous relationship with an Argentinean woman. This is particularly surprising and shameful because Sanford claims to be a Christian and an ardent defender of family values. Now he’s the butt of jokes a prime example of hypocrisy for liberals to criticize.
Others have recently fallen into similar sins. Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who is married and has four children, admitted involvement with an “escort” service. Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada, a leading conservative and potential presidential candidate, recently admitted an affair with a campaign staffer who was the wife of a close friend. John Edwards, former VP candidate, had an illicit affair while his wife was struggling with cancer. Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was shot and killed recently, apparently by his 20-year-old girlfriend, a former waitress. McNair was 36 years old, married, and had four sons. He was known not only as a great athlete but also as a generous and caring man, an exemplary citizen. Yet he was carrying on an adulterous affair with this girl little more than half his age. McNair’s wife didn’t find out about the affair until she heard about her husband’s death.
In each of these stories, we find intelligent, talented, professional men who risked their careers and family lives for temporary pleasure. In McNair’s case, his philandering cost him his life. It remains to be seen how these adulterous affairs will affect the politicians involved. Years ago, such affairs would mean the end of their political careers (e.g., the name Gary Hart may ring a bell). Today, after 8 years of Bill Clinton as president, such affairs are mostly shrugged off and ignored by the public. People almost expect politicians to have affairs, and when they do, it’s no big deal. Personal lives and public lives are separate.
These men, and the women involved with them, gave in to temptation. Circumstances presented opportunities to them to gratify their passions and lusts, and they gave in.
Quote from Gene Lyons’ recent article: 1 [Mark Sanford] married [into] money, went into real estate, then politics. Like many South Carolina aristocrats, he’s an Episcopalian. However, like most Southern Republicans, Sanford talked like a biblical fundamentalist, piously condemning others’ sexual sins and boasting about his own righteousness. Such simple-minded certitudes often fail to survive exposure to the wider world. One dark-eyed temptress and it all comes undone.
It’s not only politicians and athletes who succumb to “dark-eyed temptresses” of the world. Self-professed Biblical fundamentalists, who piously condemn others’ sins, give in to temptation and ruin their lives as well. How many pastors have taken off with the church secretaries? How many have been ruined by pornography? E.g., Bob Gray in Florida.
None of us are beyond temptation— Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. 1Co 10:12
In light of these events, I thought it might be helpful for us to consider what the Bible says about temptation and how to deal with it.
- Define temptation
- Temptation is essentially a solicitation or enticement to sin.
James 1:13-14 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
- The biblical word “tempt” can refer to a trial or a testing of one’s faith. E.g., God tested Abraham’s faith when he told him to sacrifice Isaac. This was a test, not a solicitation/enticement to do evil. God never tempts anyone to sin, never entices anyone to sin.
- I’ll be using the word “temptation” in the sense of “enticed to sin,” not in the sense of a test or trial of faith. However, every solicitation to sin is a test or trial of our faith. Not every test/trial is an enticement to sin.
- Facts about temptation
- Temptation is universal. “Every man is tempted” (James 1:14). Temptation is “common to man” (1 Cor 10:13). We live with temptations every day. Even Jesus was tempted.
We perhaps think that we live at a time when temptation is more strong or powerful than ever before. But that’s not really true. Think of society under pagan cultures—Greeks, Romans, Chinese—east Asians, etc. In some cultures, there are virtually no limitations on immorality—it’s open, blatant, and expected. E.g., temple of Aphrodite at Corinth, 1000 prostitutes; fertility religions were common.
Temptation has been common in all cultures and times. Our own western culture is rather tame compared to some others. I admit that it’s getting worse all the time. But it’s not as bad as it could be.
- Temptation is not sin. Jesus was “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Yielding is sin.
- Temptation may be satanic. Satan is called “the tempter” (cf. Mt 4:3; 1 Thes 3:5). He is the father of temptation; he originated the idea.
- We often think of Satan tempting us, but there is only one of him, and he can be in only one place at a time.
- Can demons tempt us? I am unaware of any biblical text that suggests that.
- The emphasis in the Bible is temptation is the enticement to sin that corresponds to our own sinful nature, particularly, our desires. Satan is not involved in most instances of temptation.
- Nevertheless, temptation is satanic in origin.
- Temptation is closely associated with desire/lust. Temptation works by appealing to something inherent or organic within humanity.
Jas 1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
- The passions of the flesh or our appetites, in and of themselves, are not wrong. They are God-given as part of humanity. E.g., we have a natural desire to eat and to sleep. But if we eat or sleep too much, it’s sin. We have a natural desire for companionship with the opposite sex. Marriage is God’s program to fulfill that desire. If we fulfill that desire outside of marriage, it’s sinful.
- In our sinfulness, we tend to corrupt God’s plan or program for fulfilling our natural desires. E.g., the men I mentioned earlier were all married, yet sought to fulfill their appetites outside of marriage.
- Our minds have a hard time controlling the lusts of the flesh. Our appetites can become so strong that they almost bypass our minds. Once we start giving in to the flesh, our appetites have the capacity to override our common sense.
E.g., Sanford—telling everyone he was hiking in the mountains when he was down in Argentina, thinking no one would find out??? That’s just plain stupid.
E.g., Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of NY, and the former DA of NY, allegedly met regularly with “escorts” for 1.5 years before he was identified and forced to resign.
E.g., Steve McNair carrying on with this 20-year-old when he had 4 kids and a wife at home.
Ridiculous, stupid, irrational. The appetites take over and the rational mind seems to shut down.
Read Prov 7:5ff (esp. vss. 22-23)
- Temptation usually follows a pattern.
James 1:14-15 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
- The process of giving in to temptation often starts in very small ways. First we make quite minor compromises before moving on to greater and greater sins.
- Quote: “Nearly every grave moral failure begins with a small sin. Because there comes a time, after we toy with sin, when one pull of the flesh causes us to cross the line, to disengage from reason, and to follow our appetites wherever they may lead.” 2
E.g., King David—he merely caught a glimpse of a woman, and it led to multiple sins—adultery and murder among them.
- It’s very easy to toy with sin these days. With all the different media outlets providing loads of ungodly materials, you have to be very careful to avoid exposure.
- So flagrant sin usually starts with small compromises. You being toying with sin, entertaining sinful thoughts, indulging the flesh in small ways. Soon you can tolerate more sin, you rationalize it away, and eventually your flesh overcomes all restraint. Your fleshly appetites overwhelm your normal self-control and you indulge in blatant sin with no regard for the consequences.
- Strategies to overcome temptation
We know that we will face temptations daily. We know that we struggle to control our natural human appetites. We know that flagrant sin often starts with small compromises. What else do we need to know to overcome temptation?
- Recognize and admit your human frailties and weaknesses.
- Mt 26:41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed [is] willing, but the flesh [is] weak.
- Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. 1Co 10:12
- We may think that we are somehow beyond temptation. That’s not true. Given the right set of circumstances and pressures, we very well might give in/yield to temptation.
- E.g., David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel,” the great king. No one would have expected him to do what he did. But given the right set of circumstances, he sinned grievously.
- Rely on God’s strength and the resources He provides. 1 Cor 10:13
- “God is faithful”
- The solution to the problem is God. God provides all the resources we need to overcome temptation.
- It follows, then, that the solution is not within ourselves. It’s not merely a matter of will power or self-control. We must bring God into the equation. We must rely on His power to get us thru temptations.
- God has promised not to allow temptations beyond our ability to withstand it. I.e., we are not victims. We can’t claim that we had no choice—“I was overwhelmed; I couldn’t control myself.” Not true.
- Remember that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil 4:13).
- Contrary to what some people tell us, we are not mere animals who must follow our instincts. With God’s help, we can control ourselves. Self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit.
- God will provide a way to escape or a way to bear with the temptation.
- Escape is a good strategy for dealing with temptation. “Flee youthful lusts” (James 4:7). E.g., Joseph ran away from Pot’s wife.
- “God is faithful”
- Recognize and admit your human frailties and weaknesses.
E.g., How Steve McNair should have reacted: met this waitress at a restaurant, finds her attractive and interesting, feels his lust kick in. What should he have done? Leave the place and never come back. He should not have entertained the idea in his mind.
- Sometimes we can’t escape from temptations. We can’t flee from some circumstances. And I admit that persevering under a long-standing temptation is very difficult. But it’s not impossible.
Jas 1:12 Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
Ge 39:10 And it came to pass, as [Potiphar’s wife] spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, [or] to be with her.
- It’s not impossible, but it’s pretty hard to yield to temptation immediately after you’ve prayed and asked God to help you resist temptation.
- Resist. James 4:7
- Resist means, “To set one’s self against, to withstand, to oppose.”
- It suggests active opposition, not merely holding steady.
- Resist. James 4:7
Illus.: think of a tug of war (not a perfect analogy, but close) —you don’t merely stand steady; that’s not the goal. You pull in the opposite direction.
- Similarly, in a temptation, we actively resist and oppose the devil. We pull back—oppose, not merely try to hold steady.
- Consider the consequences of giving in to temptation.
- If you are tempted by a piece of pie, the consequences of eating it will likely be rather minor—perhaps an extra pound or two.
- If you are tempted to steal something, the consequences may be rather significant.
- If you are tempted to commit adultery, the consequences may be monumental. Read Prov 5:3-5, 9-11, 21-23
- What were the consequences for David?
- Child died.
- Trouble in his family the rest of his life; i.e., misery and sorrow.
- Worst consequence: 2 Sam 12:14 by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, …
The enemies of God have a field day when self-proclaimed conservatives and Christians fall into sin. That’s exactly what the liberal media has done to Sanford.
- What were the consequences for Eliot Spitzer? Lost his job as governor, potentially a bid for the presidency. Sanford was thought of as a presidential contender; no more.
- The appeal of the fleshly passions is so strong that a person is often willing to sacrifice virtually everything to fulfill that desire. If you give yourself over to fulfilling the desires of the flesh, you eventually lose self-control.
- Fill your mind with the Word of God.
Ps 119:9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed [thereto] according to thy word.
Ps 119:11 ¶ Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Jesus provides a good example for us. When Satan tempted Jesus, how did he respond? “It is written…” (Mt 4:1f)
- Fulfill your appetites in appropriate ways.
- God has provided proper means of fulfilling our passions and desires. The Bible gives us full permission to fulfill those desires in proper ways.
- Unfortunately, the human heart has almost infinite capacities for sin, so even if you are seeking to fulfill your desires legitimately, it does not shield you completely from temptations. But it certainly helps.
- E.g., Prov 5:15-18
- E.g., what should David have done after lusting over Bathsheba? I don’t want to be crass here, but he could have called one of his wives; he easily could have expressed his physical desire legitimately with a woman he was already married to.
- Take practical steps to protect yourself.
- Seek an accountability partner. Cf. Prov 13:20
- Be careful who you spend time with. “Friends” can be a significant source of temptation.
- Prov 1:10 “If sinners entice thee…”
- 1Co 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
- Install safeguards like Internet filters and/or cable TV controls. Disconnect the cable at hotels.
- Keep yourself occupied. “Idol hands are the devil’s workshop.”
- Stay away from things that excite your lustful passions. E.g., the magazine rack in the book store, the TV, the computer, etc. cf. Prov 4:23 “Keep thy heart with all diligence…”
- Be sensitive about sin; don’t compromise or toy with it; don’t rationalize it or excuse it.
- If you do fall into sin, respond appropriately: confess the sin, forsake it, make amends for it if necessary, and put safeguards into place so you don’t give into temptation like that again.
- Fulfill your appetites in appropriate ways.
Conc: We live in a world that is full of temptations. Dark-eyed temptresses abound, enticing us with the prospect of forbidden pleasures. Yet we must not give in to temptation. We must remember that “God is faithful” and he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.