One of the many realities of life I have learned from teaching perspective ministers, professional counselors, and aspiring lay folks is that sexual temptation knows no boundaries. While the essence of this blog is the core of a homework handout utilized with counselees caught in the jaws of sexual deviation of one kind or another, it may well be useful for anyone who asks the question, “How ought I to walk to please God and do His will?” This process can help to achieve sanctification by abstaining from sexual immorality at any level of intensity (See I Thess 4:1-8).
Read this four-step biblical process and then write a personal plan to implement them. Share your plan with a trusted friend and request that he/she (man-on-man and woman-on-woman) hold you accountable.
There is a story of man who, while sitting against a tree deep in the south Georgia woods eating his lunch, was confronted by a wild dog. The dog lunged at him. He managed to get his hands around its neck and choke it to death. Did it happen? It does not matter. It illustrates the point. The best defense against temptation is to choke, now!
Sexual temptation is like that wild dog. It can come as it were, out of nowhere. I once had a young man come for counseling who was thoroughly frightened. He was about to ask his girlfriend to marry him when another young woman propositioned him. He initially embraced her and then realized what was happening. He pushed her away and ran from the situation. The Scriptures liken Satan to a close and ever present lion seeking out whom he can devour. Paul tells us to flee youthful lust and James tell us to resist Satan. My young counselee resisted, though he briefly tasted. Then he fled. That was good! But there is a better way.
1. Run to God
As the dark hour of temptation fell upon Jesus’s disciples, he told them twice to “pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40, 46). He knew the pressure they were about to face, and so he reminded them, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
In Pure in Heart, pastor J. Garrett Kell shares his own struggles with sexual sin and invites readers to join him in making a lifelong commitment to pursue sexual purity through the power of the gospel.
If Jesus told his disciples to pray before temptation comes, how much more do we need to pray once it arrives? When temptation calls, you must pray. You need divine intervention to deliver you from the venom of the tempter. You do not need elaborate prayers, just desperate prayers delivered in faith. The Scriptures provide an abundance of examples:
“Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30).
“Lord, help me” (Matt. 15:25).
“Jesus, Master, have mercy” (Luke 17:13).
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” (Ps. 116:4).
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! / O Lord, hear my voice!” (Ps. 130:1–2).
“Lead [me] not into temptation, / but deliver [me] from evil” (Matt. 6:13).
Lord, you promised not to “let [me] be tempted beyond [my] ability,” but to “provide the way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13—in context 10:1-17). Show me the escape!
“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
Prayer lifts our eyes off sin’s disorienting offer and places it on Jesus (Heb. 12:2). Through prayer we “resist the devil” and “draw near to God” (James. 4:7–8). Through it we confess our desire to sin and plead for help to resist it. We ask God to give us strength to choke out the temptation so that sin cannot strike us. When you are tempted, pray to God. He is the one who helps us and will keep us from falling.
2. Run from temptation
Joseph was handsome, and his master’s wife couldn’t help but notice. As lust burned in her heart, she offered him an opportunity for a secret affair. But Joseph resisted. He was loyal to his master and, beyond that, said, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Yet her advances continued “day after day” until she finally cornered him alone. She seized him by his garment and said, “Lie with me.” Rather than entertain her offer, “he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house” (Gen. 39:6–12).
Joseph ran because he had no other option. He knew he was too weak to resist temptation. He was alone with his master’s wife. Hence, he choked the temptation—not by staying and fighting, but by fleeing. We must do the same. When temptation corners you, don’t flirt with it—flee from it.
Sin wants to convince you that one more click in the search engine or one more minute on the couch or one more round of inappropriate conversation is manageable. But entertained temptation is like kryptonite to our sinful flesh. The longer we let it linger, the weaker our resolve becomes.
Thus, Paul told Timothy to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:22). Do whatever is necessary to get away from what is tempting you. Close the computer. Delete the app. Turn off the phone. Run outside. Get in the car and drive. Do whatever you need to do to flee the voice of temptation. Paul directed the Corinthians in the same manner when he wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry! (I Cor 10:14).
3. Run to a confidant
Emily felt overwhelmed by temptation’s onslaught to drink her way through the lonely weekend. Being alone offered so many ways to sin. But rather than fight alone, she called a sister from church. She explained how weak she felt and asked for help. Her friend told her to pack a bag and stay with her for the weekend. Emily agreed and, with her friend’s help, avoided Satan’s snare.
You cannot fight sin by yourself. God commands us to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). Sin assures us that asking for help is weakness, shameful, and unnecessary. But this is just one more lie from Satan, who is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Sin cannot live in the light. When temptation strikes, reach out to a friend, and plead for help. Do not make excuses. Send a text or email or make a call immediately. Tell your friend that you need help. Say something like, “Would you pray for me? I’m feeling weak toward temptation, and I need your help.”
Sin cannot live in the light. Drag the temptation into the light of fellowship and enlist others for help. If the person you called doesn’t take you seriously, plead more urgently or call someone else. Don’t give in to discouragement. Keep fighting, but don’t fight alone.
4. Run by deploying a Long-term plan
When I was young, we moved to the Ozark mountains. I had never seen a snake, but now it seemed they were everywhere. My father and I often took walks in the woods near our house. During our first walk, he taught me an important lesson: when you come to a fallen tree on the path, step on it to step over it. He explained that snakes often rest under fallen trees, so if we stepped right over a tree, we might startle the snake and get bitten. But if we stepped on the tree and then over it, we’d create enough distance to evade the strike of most snakes. Today I can’t walk along a path in the woods without remembering this lesson.
Avoiding a snake’s strike once is good. Developing a pattern to avoid these strikes forever is better. We cannot, of course, keep the tempter from tempting, but we must develop a plan not to go near his den (Prov. 5:8). Over the years, I have developed an intentional plan to “make no provision for the flesh” and thereby guard my walk with Jesus (Rom. 13:14).
Radical amputation was the exhortation of Jesus. He put it this way. “Cut off” whatever might lead us to sin against God (Matt. 5:28–30). I have set up numerous barbwire-like protections to make acting out sinful desires difficult. I encourage you to grab a friend and develop a similar strategy. The following questions might help you get started.
How are you cultivating hope and delight in Jesus?
What joy-stealing sins are you most prone to give in to?
If Satan were to tempt you, how might he do it?
If you were going to access sin, how would you find it?
How can you dumb down your electronic devices to make sinning in certain ways an impossibility?
Are there subscriptions you need to cancel? And phone numbers you need to delete?
Are there accountability subscriptions you should set up?
When are you most susceptible to temptation? How can you prepare for these times?
What passages of Scripture have you memorized or marked to quickly access in times of temptation?
What lies are you most prone to believe, and what passages of Scripture can you fight them with?
To whom are you regularly confessing your sins? Whom can you call when you are feeling tempted?
This exercise will help you learn to live without regrets.
God rarely touches our lives in such a way that we stop loving sin immediately. But as we fight sin and pursue him, he changes our affections. We begin to love what he loves and hate what he hates. Our dependence on willpower fades, and our hope focuses on Jesus, who was tempted and yet resisted in all the ways we have not (Heb. 4:15).
As you (or a friend you may counsel) begin or continue to fight afresh for joy in God, remember that sin steals your joy. You will never regret resisting sin. You will always regret giving in to sin. Choke temptation by taking refuge in Jesus and the means of grace he provides, pray to God, flee the scene, call a friend, develop a plan.
1 This plan is an extrapolation and development of a seminal work done by a student whose identity I have long forgotten. The computer file identified it as being of student origin. Therefore, to whomever that student is, I say thank you for stimulating my thinking.