Jamie* was reading a novel. She loved escaping from reality in a book. As she read, the male protagonist began touching the leading female character in a way that stirred longings and discontent in Jamie. Why couldn’t her husband do that? Why did she have such a cold stick for a husband? She read on, and the novel got steamier. She knew she should stop, but she breathlessly turned pages as she fell in love with the man in the book.
Ray* could hardly believe what he was seeing on the screen. The more he looked, the more lust he felt. He got more and more excited. He knew he should tear himself away and never look again. He knew it was wrong, but the images held him, and he kept lusting, kept on desiring. And, he knew he’d be back tomorrow.
Katie* hated her mom. It wasn’t that her mother mistreated her, but her mom was so controlling. She wouldn’t let her go to parties. She wouldn’t let her do sleepovers with her friends. She wouldn’t let her have . . . any . . . fun. Katie had an attitude as long as your arm, and she let her mother have it any time she could. She badmouthed her to her face, accused, talked back, sulked, and even did the silent treatment. She’d make her mother pay! Katie knew she was wrong down deep in her heart, but she was intent on revenge, and she’d do it her way.
Jamie, Ray, and Katie have real temptations. They’re typical problems. These people feel powerless to tear themselves away from their particular area of temptation—even though they know they're doing wrong. The Bible says, Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (James 4:17). God doesn’t chocolate cover this behavior. He calls it sin.
“Oh,” you might say, “I would never be like Jamie and keep reading a novel when it affected my thoughts. I would never look at porn. I would never be a rebellious teen.” The Bible says, Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). We can be tempted in ways we’d never dream—at the right time and in the right circumstance. That’s why we need God’s help.
It’s interesting to me that most people know how to discipline themselves in public. Jamie wouldn’t read that novel out loud to her kids. Ray wouldn’t look at those images in the family living room, and Katie wouldn’t mouth off to her mom in front of her father or peers. So, why can’t (don’t) we have that same self-control in private?
I believe it’s because we forget Who’s watching. For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings (Proverbs 5:21). The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3).
We can’t escape God’s presence. O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? (Psalm 139:1-7)
Temptation is real.
How can we exercise self-control? Here’s some biblical advice:
For Jamie: Avoid reading steamy, non-Christian romances altogether. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me (Psalm 101:3). Practice being content with your own husband and in the Lord. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Hebrews 13:5). Find your needs met in Christ. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
For Ray: Turn off the computer and buy and install a filter. Stay completely away from pornographic images. Make yourself accountable by using your computer only in public places. Substitute good for bad. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22). Meditate on Scripture. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee (Psalm 119:11).
For Katie: Honor your parents, simply because it’s right. You might not agree with their parenting, but they do it for your good and because they love you. Unless you are truly abused—in which case, get help—you should show your mother honor and respect. Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth (Ephesians 6:1-3).
I love the practical book of James! In one verse, he gives everyone a two-point outline for beating temptation. Here it is: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
- Submit to God.
- Resist the devil.
You can do right!
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man:
but God is faithful,
who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able;
but will with the temptation also make a way to escape,
that ye may be able to bear it.
(1 Corinthians 10:13).
* Names and situations are completely fictitious.