Scripture says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Only by exercising self-control and being on alert can we expect to resist the enemy’s plan to lead us into sin. Satan “scouts us out” and knows only too well the chinks in the armor of every Christian. His aim is deadly, he excels at tailor-made temptations, and it is at our points of greatest vulnerability that he will attack.
But we shouldn’t forget that “the one [Christ] who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). As powerful as the evil one is to tempt us, God is infinitely more powerful to deliver us and has given us in Christ all the resources we need to live godly lives (2 Peter 1:3-4).
So how do we resist the devil, particularly in the area of sexual temptation? We all have to learn the skills of resisting temptation, because we’re not naturally good at it. I’ve seen a lot of Christians, younger and middle aged and older, end up in sexual immorality. I’ve seen marriages and lives destroyed.
What strikes me most in what I’ve seen over the years is not just how wrong sin is, but how stupid it is: “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:27-29).
I vividly remember a particular counseling appointment as a young pastor. Eric stormed into my office and flopped into a chair. “I’m really mad at God.”
I was startled because Eric was one of the happiest young men I knew. He grew up in a strong churchgoing family, married a Christian woman, and seemed to have a sincere love for Christ.
I asked him why he was mad at God. He explained that for months he’d felt a strong attraction to a woman at his office. She felt the same. He’d prayed earnestly that God would keep him from immorality.
“Did you ask your wife to pray for you?” I said. “Did you stay away from the woman?”
“Well . . . no. We went out for lunch almost every day. And . . . we committed adultery.”
I looked at Eric and slowly pushed a big book across my desk. As it inched closer to the edge, I prayed aloud, “Lord, please keep this book from falling!”
I kept pushing and praying. Sure enough, God didn’t suspend the law of gravity, and the book fell.
“I’m mad at God,” I said to Eric. “I asked him to keep my book from falling . . . but he didn’t answer my prayer!”
I can still hear the sound of that book hitting the floor. It was a symbol of Eric’s life. Instead of calling on God to empower him as he took decisive steps to resist temptation, he kept making unwise choices while asking to be delivered from their natural consequences. Eric went from genuine happiness to misery in a period of just a few years, and eventually he went to jail for sexual crimes. His immorality and sexual abuse didn’t come out of the blue. They were the cumulative product of minuscule daily compromises and choices that sabotaged his righteousness and happiness.
Contrast Eric with his friend Rocky. Raised in an unbelieving home, he’d had sex with many women and later came to faith in Christ. Rocky made new choices in keeping with his new nature: immersing himself in the daily meditation of God’s Word, joining Bible studies, learning to pray, sharing his faith, and reading great Christian books. He fled from sexual temptations that came his way and guarded his heart and mind. In the process of knowing Christ and following him, he became one of the happiest and most Christ-honoring people I’ve ever known. His marriage, family, church involvement, and service to others display the fruit of his wise choices.
Both Eric and Rocky showed a sincere love for Jesus. Both asked God to help them live righteously. But Eric expected God to save him from the consequences of his wrong choices, while Rocky called on God for strength as he did all he could to make right choices.
Both men were defined by their daily choices and by how they chose to respond to temptation, which cumulatively produced sin and misery for one, and righteousness and happiness for the other.
In this video clip, I share some thoughts about preemptively avoiding temptation:
Here are some more ideas about this, and about how to resist sexual temptation: