The scriptures have a great deal to say about temptations. You and I are under similar temptations in one form or another on a daily basis. But why are some Christians doing better than the others when it comes to overcoming temptation? What are their secrets?
It might be embarrassing to ask them for tips. And they probably do not have a clear 2 lines answers for you.
How to overcome temptation is a world of knowledge. There’s no simple, one dimensional answer.
In the Bible, numerous bible verses contains some shred of tips on how to live a holy life. But there’s no condensed formula.
The best way to make one thing right is to make everything right.
Our five senses, daily routines, belief, thinking, friends, focus, and lifestyle, almost everything contributes to the outcome in our battles with sexual temptations.
Good news! There are principles that determines the outcome of our battles with temptations. Once we have a firm grasp with these principles, and change our lifestyle according to them, it will be much easier to live a holier life.
Let’s get into everything the Bible says about temptations and see what the principles are:
Escape, not fight
God promised that a Christian will always find a way to escape from temptations. But He never promised that we can confront a temptation and beat it with willpower.
Even if we pray for strength, we will never change this escape-not-fight reality. It’s not a head-on fight, but it’s how well you practice the art of escape.
Ya, the fact isn’t exciting. I know. It took me many years to accept that too.
Let’s look at the following passages from 1 Corinthians 10:13
13No 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 also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Therefore, the first thing is to admit that we are all weak. We will commit any sin if the situation is right. But God will not allow us to be in a situation where things are too much for us to bear.
That also means we have no excuse when we sin. It’s a fair game, because God never allowed challenges that were too much for us. If we felt like we had tried our best, but still got defeated, it was because we missed the escape routes that God had prepared for us.
Let’s identify some escape routes that are hidden in the bible verses we are so familiar with! Talk about hidden under your noise!
The Bible gives us stern warning about desires of the eyes:
9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth;
Walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes;
But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. Ecclesiastes 11:9
The Bible admits that we have desires, and that our eyes love attractive things, and we can fulfill them moderately or excessively. How we choose to fulfill the desires of our heart and our eyes will determine whether God is happy with us or not.
I believe desires work in quota, so if we fulfill the desires in wholesome ways, we will minimize the risk of falling into indulgences for fulfillment.
Take a walk in the nature. Watch the beautiful sunset or sunrise. Develop a visual hobby such as photography or drawing.
The root of pornography is a combination of human’s aesthetic need, and of course many other needs such as need for intimacy, thrills, and pleasures. These are legitimate needs, but if you are not living according to the Holy Spirit, it’s easy to twist these needs into lust.
But if you fulfill all the needs with God-allowed, or God driven activities, you will have a much easier time dealing with sexual temptations.
Replacement is better than deprivation.
If you deprive yourself of a sinful indulgence but not replace it with the godly or healthy alternatives, chances are you will fall into even worst indulgences. (Luke 11:24-26)
Food For Lust
Pornography, dirty jokes or conversation, rock music, clubbing, casual dating, and sensual reading material are food for lust. The scripture tells us not to “make provisions for the flesh”(Romans 13:14). Provision means “supplies such as food, drink, or equipments.” Don’t feed lust to make it strong!
Anyone who feeds his or her lust will never have freedom!
In my university years, I used to take regular walks in the park, and pray as I walk. The nature was my source of comforts. It gives me quietness and relaxation.
There were times when I would make music for the Lord during my “prayer walk”. My Christian friends liked my music.
However, instead of being contend about where I was spiritually, I felt guilty because some Christians criticized me for not working hard enough in school, but spent the time making music and taking random walks. The criticisms sunk in.
I started to force myself to sit more, because I thought that would make me focus more on my study and not being so lazy.
I deprived myself of a spiritual discipline that I enjoy, but forced myself to sit and work, and that created a major void that invited the horror…
I never really used computers before I was 24 years old, except for gaming, schoolwork, and checking emails. I never had vivid, graphical, and lustful fantasy before 24 years old.
At 24 I fell into an lustful habit that began on a strange night, and after that I started to browse pornographic sites. Later I bought my first laptop. When I started to use the Internet more the problem of lust escalated.
The more I sat, the more I fell into Internet porn.
I had never seen so much graphical details prior to 24 years old. How I wished I had kept it that way before getting married! What a shame!
Those are memories I wish I could unlearn. Unlearn it I will, but it takes time.
Now I know better! Making music for the Lord, and spending large chunk of time for personal devotions may not feel like productive, but are critically important in my walk with God.
Had I been confident about the spiritual disciplines and not get swayed by others…
Holy Spirit had forewarned me!
But I can’t really blame others. It was me. Holy Spirit had already warned me of lust 6 months before I first fell into lust: That fateful night at 24!
Be careful how you live, and be diligent in keeping your lifestyle pure! For me, sticking with the computer for too long is oftentime unproductive, and create boredom and fatigue that invite temptations.
Trying too hard and working too long can create unintended consequences! A healthy adult need to walk 10,000 steps per day in order to stay healthy.
Don’t use the Internet unless you use it for work. If you have to use it for wholesome sites, use RSS reader to consolidate all the contents of your favorite sites so you can read all the necessary materials without leaving a safe place (i.e. your RSS reader).
Now I no longer visit porn sites. I haven’t done that for more than 6 months now. Even while I still had that problem, I did it sporadically.
Interestingly, it was when I resumed my walks in the nature when the problem with porn started to diminished.
It was by God’s grace that this problem shrunk. It could have been worst. Much worst.
My problem with porn had lasted for two years.
So how did God cleanse me? What exactly did God do to set me free and keep me free? The answer is, everything I have mentioned in this article thus far and what I am going to share for the rest of this series! So let us keep going!
Our tongues control our whole persons. It can make a person unclean:
17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man ‘unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ” Matthew 15:16-20
Christians are to avoid all “hints of sexual immorality”, which include: “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking” (Ephesians 5:3-4)
Workplace and high school are perhaps the most vicious place when it comes to immoral talks.
I don’t know how, but I adopted an escape mechanism, when someone or a group of people do obscene jesting, my mind would automatically zone out, and by the time I “wake up”, all I see are the evil smiles on people’s face.
When you really want to avoid temptations, and God see your sincerity, He will use divine mean to keep you from harm’s way. And when that happen you might not realize how many temptations have passed you by.
The key is humility. Admit that you’re not sinning at the moment because of God’s divine intervention. If the situation is right, anyone can commit any sin.
Give thanks when you’re not sinning!
Curses, Music, and the Media…
The world is full of messages. Messages that come from TV, newspapers, commercials, novel, the Internet, music, and many other media contain messages have huge influences on us.
If someone tells you to do something, or put subtle suggestions in your mind, but you don’t have other messages (such as God’s word) within you that nullify it, you will be manipulated, like what happens in hypnotism.
You may not feel the power of evil influences the world can have on you because it happens all the time that you probably feel numb to it already. You maybe used to evil and violence you encounter daily from cable TV or computer games, and think they have no influence on your behaviors.
But whatever goes into our mind changes us. The more we spend time with someone or something, the more we are influenced by it.
We can’t expect ourselves to live a clean life if we go to church only one day per week but expose ourselves to evil for the rest of the days.
Remember I told you in a paragraph above that the Holy Spirit had warned me of lust 6 months before I fell into it?
Long before I had a problem with lust I already had read some good books on how to overcome temptations, such as Praying God’s Word Day by Day (Beth Moore), The Eagle Story (Institute In Basic Life Principles), The Bondage Breaker(Neil. T Anderson), and The Normal Christian Life (Watchman Nee).
Foresights and good books were not enough to keep me from harms. During that 6 months(2005 Fall) I watched some cable TV shows, which had violence and sexual contents. I guess that was one factor that brought me down.
But that was not all that brought me down. One time I went to a Christian bookstore and read a book that talked about Christian purity, and it contained detailed description of a sinful addiction that I was ignorant of before. I wished I hadn’t learned those details from the book.
Months later, in a strange night when I was away from home to attend a conference, alone in a motel room, I did what that book “taught” me and adopted that lustful habit since. Prior to that I had never experienced self-arousal ever.
How ironic, I learned a sinful habit not from secular movies or books, but from a Christian book!
The lesson is: The is no end all be all solutions in any book. Purity is a constant path. As long as we live in this world, we have to pursue holiness continuously. Keep praying. Keep asking God’s guidance. Be vigilant!
We live in a world full of curses…
This is not the Lord Of The Rings or Dungeon & Dragon. I am talking about the real world we are living in. Even our family can pass on curses to us:
7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. Exodus 34:7
Harsh words that our family members have said to us, deceptions or compromises that our parents, great parents, or great grand parents made or chose to accept, and consequences of their decisions, have long term impacts on us.
The weakness of parents will likely pass on to the children.
Some people swore they will never be like their parents, but they ended up being exactly the same or the opposite.
My great grand father had two wives at the same time (It was legal and common at the time). The first one was my great grand mother. The second wife left with another man at some point. But my great grand mother was still very bitter because of this polygamous situation, and this caused her to berate my great grand father every single day for the rest of his life. This ended until my great grand father died of cancer.
But the hateful words have a lasting impact on my mother, who had heard the bitter words everyday while growing up. That bitterness and its long term effects still persist in my family today.
The bitter words of my great grant mother were verbal curses! Every words that come out of our mouths will have eternal consequences. (Proverbs 18:21)
Fortunately, the Lord has given us powerful solutions that can override all curses: the Bible, His numerous promises, prayers, blessings, salvation, fellowship of the church, and many more.
We have to actively use what God has given us, or we will be overpowered by curses that are so overwhelming in this world.
Spiritual weapons are rarely automatic. We have to put them on everyday and wield them to fight.
If you are struggling with certain areas such as lust, but can never conquer it despite years of spiritual disciplines, the root cause of your failures could be hidden curses that you are not aware of.
To cure the problem of lust, you need to get into the roots of the problem. Has you father kept a hidden stash of porn somewhere in the house? Has anyone hurt you deeply with verbal curses? Are you in a dating relationship that involved ungodly activities?
Confess every sin in your life, and reflect on where that sin came from. Was it from your dad? mom? peers? TV?
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
Trace every sin to its root, and replace it with spiritual discipline. For example, if someone curses you, you should return him or her with blessings (1 Peter 3:9) and overcome evil with good. If you harbor bitterness and grudge, the curses will have influences on you.
I have said enough about the our senses and how they related to lust. Next I am going to talk about how to avoid lust easily by serving God!
If you fight with lust, it will always be more relentless and more powerful than you are. But if you replace your focus with God given responsibilities, wonderful things will happen. You don’t need to consciously resist lust if your focus isn’t there.
In the upcoming installments, I am also going to share about hopes and how they give us power to persist in staying pure.