It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable….. 1Thessalonians 4:3-4
The growing moral breakdown among Christians is alarming. The church in western societies has been so inundated with sexual stimuli that it is now open to direct attack by Satan in this area. No longer limited to subtle temptations, he now blatantly tempts to immorality in ways that would have been ineffective only a few years ago.
Each of us is responsible, not only to engage personally in spiritual warfare to resist Satan’s sexual temptations, but to help others to effectively do battle in this arena.
Please not that some of the principles and issues in this article will be different for singles than for married people.
Be Aware of the Danger
The first step in resisting temptation is to be aware of Satan’s strategies. Paul spoke of being alert, “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Let’s be aware of his schemes for trying to destroy God’s work during these days. One of his primary strategies is to convince us that we could never sink so low as to commit sexual sin.
I believe that those most susceptible to sexual temptation are the ones who think that it could never happen to them. They believe the possibility is unthinkable. In counseling several Christians who had committed adultery or fornication, I found that not one had considered himself vulnerable to immorality.
You are probably acquainted with 1 Corinthians 10:13, and claim its precious promises. “No temptation has seized you except what is common t 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.” But do you also know and apply the preceding verse? “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” The Holy Spirit gave us this stern warning immediately before the promises, and both must be taken together. We cannot safely rest in God’s promise of help in temptation if we naively think we can stand without taking great care.
“Those most susceptible to sexual temptation are the ones who think that it could never happen to them.”
We need to face the facts. Each one of us is vulnerable to sexual temptation, no matter what our age, marital status or maturity. You may be tempted to indulge in pornography. Or you may find yourself tempted to “play games” with persons to whom you are attracted, without actual sexual involvement. Incredibly, many Christians struggle with severe temptations to commit adultery, fornication, homosexual acts and even incest or child molestation. Tragically, many of them succumb.
What about you? Will you be one of those who end up as a lamb in Satan’s slaughterhouse? Or will you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, aware of the dangers and repaired to victoriously do battle with the forces of evil?
Understand the Dynamics of Sexual Temptation
Many Christians do not understand the powerful dynamics of sexual temptation. As you understand these dynamics, you are able to recognize forces and processes within you and take action to resist them. Here are a few principles to keep in mind:
1. We don’t “fall” into sin; we slide into it.
When someone commits sexual sin, we tend to think of them as suddenly falling off the cliff into an abyss. This is rarely, if ever the case. An act of sexual sin is the ultimate and logical result of long-term habit patterns of giving in to temptations to less obvious sins. According to our Lord, sexual sin originates in the heart (Matt. 15:19). Th embers of adultery may smolder in the heart for months or even years before they burst into the flame of action. See Matt. 5:8,28; 12: 35-36; Prov. 4:23, 6:18, 23:26-28.
2. The beginnings of the “slide” into immorality often seem so harmless that we may not even be aware of them. We live in a sex-saturated world. Each time we are exposed to a TV program, movie, magazine or pornography on the Internet which appeals even slightly to our sexual desires, a powerful, unconscious process evolves.
The process is often so slow and subtle that we are rarely aware of what is happening; but as the years pass, our hatred of sexual sin is gradually lost. In fact, the process has been going on in our society long enough that many young Christians have never developed that abhorrence. And so the seeds of personal sexual sin have been sown deep in most of our hearts, without our even realizing it.
3. Our capacity for self-deceit is virtually limitless, according to Jeremiah 17:9. Being a Christian does not diminish this capacity! While we rejoice in God’s indwelling power over sin, we must be constantly aware of the power of our hearts to deceive us. If we fail to accept this difficult truth about ourselves, we stand in great danger of sexual sin.
As a counselor, I know of no area in which the power of self-deceit is stronger than in the sexual area. Most of us know of believers who tried to continue serving God while living in secret immorality, and who “repented” only after getting caught. See 1 Cor. 3:18; Gal 6:7-8; Eph. 5:6; Jas. 1:22 and 1 John 8.
4. Close personal relationships are vital in the Christian life. God created us with legitimate needs for intimacy, and to deny these needs may make us even more vulnerable to sexual temptation. For married persons, intimacy with one’s spouse must be primary, of course. But married and single persons alike need healthy, godly relationships with others. Intimacy and sexuality are not the same.
A healthy, biblical view of loving intimacy allows us to relate in mutually upbuilding ways without romantic or sexual involvement. Read through the Gospels to see Jesus’ model in his close friendships.
5. However, intimate relationships often do provide serious temptation to sin, and so they must be handled with great care and awareness of their dangers. Most Christians slide into sexual sin thorough relationships which begin very harmlessly, and even out of righteous motives. The process usually develops in these stages:
a. A man and woman are brought together naturally through work, common interest, or ministry.
b. They begin to spend more time together, and especially more time alone.
c. One or both begin to have deep emotional and /or spiritual needs met in the relationship.
d. At some point they begin to touch each other, sometimes beginning with right motives. But eventually the touching, combined with the meeting of significant needs, generates romantic and/or sexual feelings.
e. Powerful self-deception enables them to justify and rationalize what is happening in the relationship.
6. Once we have begun the slide, sexual temptation will probably be the strongest force we will ever experience. Its power can grow to the point that we become willing to give up everything to gratify it – relationship with Christ, spouse and children, home, ministry, reputation, friends, everything. And no believer is so spiritual that he is immune to its power.
Build a Strategy for Ongoing Moral Purity
Here are eleven principles to help you develop a strategy for avoiding sexual sin:
1. Accept your personal vulnerability to immorality, and continue to grow in understanding your own personal responses to the dynamics of sexual temptation.
2. If married, make your relationship with your spouse a high priority. Don’t let the stresses of life rob you of the rich, satisfying relationship God wants for you according to Proverbs 5:18-20.
3. Make a list of sinful practices in which you are or have been involved. These may include thoughts, fantasies, feelings and actions which stimulate or gratify you sexually, but which you know are sinful.
Then add to the list seemingly harmless practices in which you are engaged, but which you know do not contribute to a holy life. These might include thoughts, fantasies and feelings which are less explicit than those you first listed. They may also include TV programs and magazines which are not overtly pornographic, but which you know appeal to the flesh.
These activities may be permissible according to 1 Corinthians 6:12, but in time you can be enslaved to them, without even realizing it. They cause you t set your mind on the flesh rather than on the Spirit as described in Romans 8:5.
4. Make a commitment to Jesus Christ, and to your spouse, if married, to live a holy life free from sexual sin, even those sins which seem to be harmless. Write down your commitment and keep it where you will see if often. This is a one-time commitment which must be continually reaffirmed, sometimes on a moment-by moment basis.
5. Make a lifelong project of studying, memorizing, meditating on and applying Scriptures which speak to this area of life. See Psalm 119:9,11. A few key passages in this area are Proverbs 5; 6:20-35; Romans 6; 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20; Ephesians 5:3-12 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. God’s Word must be a major part of your strategy.
6. Rigorously practice Colossians 3:5. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires…” Also see Eph. 4:22. Ask God to forgive you, and to cleanse you of any practices you listed under point three. Then seek to achieve freedom from those things. This process will take time, and being human you will probably fail at times. But don’t give up in discouragement! Satan will try to convince you that it’s hopeless- that you will never make significant progress.
Timing is critical. When you are first aware of being tempted, reaffirm your commitment to Christ, and to putting your earthly nature to death. In this battle, even a few seconds of wavering or inaction can bake the difference between victory and defeat (Eccl. 8:11).
7. Continually work on being renewed in your mind, as described in Colossians 3:10 and Ephesians 4:23-24. This involves a commitment which must be reaffirmed often, especially when you first become aware of temptation. Scripture explains the process of being renewed in our minds in different ways, so that we are able to fully understand it. Study this process in the Word, beginning with Romans 8:5-8; 12:1-3; Philippians 4:4-8; Colossians 3:1-4 and 1Peter 1:13-17.
8. Develop a relationship of mutual accountability. We cannot hope to effectively handle sexual temptation alone. In fact, God didn’t design us to survive alone in this spiritual battle. Hebrews 3:12-13 indicates that we need close personal interaction with others in order not to be “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
It is frightening to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16). Yet, every one of us needs to regularly do just that. Nothing will cause an illicit attraction or fantasy to shatter in pieces as much as sharing it with a praying friend. Specific details need not normally be shared.
9. Develop your own “early warning system” to detect the first signs of temptation. Christians often slide into sexual sin without being aware of temptation until it is too late. Romans 6:12 warns us that we can become slaves to sin and lose our freedom to obey God. If you are married, the slightest physical or emotional attraction to a person of opposite sex should be dealt with immediately through prayer, application of God’s Word, and mutual accountability.
10. Know and avoid your danger zones. The situations we put ourselves in greatly affect our vulnerability to sexual temptation. To do battle effectively in this area, we need to know the situations that are dangerous to us. Then we must avoid them when possible. If that isn’t possible, we need to plan ahead for spiritual warfare, and take whatever steps necessary to insure victory.
Here are a few examples of possible danger zones:
a. Traveling alone, especially overseas.
b. Working alone with someone of the opposite sex.
c. Counseling or praying alone with someone of the opposite sex.
d. Meeting with a person of the opposite sex in a room where no one can see in.
e. Getting so over-stressed that the ability to fight temptation is diminished.
11. Understand cultural cues. If you are in another culture, learn which cues signal moral looseness and which signal moral purity. Here are four questions to ask:
a. What cues signal that a person is moral?
b. What cues signal that a person is not interested in another person?
c. What cues signal that a person is immoral?
d. What cues signal that a person is interested in another person?
Be very careful to avoid immoral cues, and practice those which signal an unwillingness to come involved in illicit relationships.
Sexual immorality is not the unforgivable sin. Forgiveness and healing are available through the blood of Christ. If you have been or are now caught up in immorality you can experience God’s forgiveness and cleansing though confession and repentance.
But to commit sexual immorality may be the most excruciatingly destructive experience that can happen in anyone’s life and ministry. Begin today to build your strategy for a lifetime of moral purity, knowing that you will battle great temptations along the way.
HOW AM I AT MAINTAINING MORAL PURITY?
1 = Hardly ever, 2 = Occasionally, 3 = Sometimes, 4 = Often, 5 = Nearly always
____ 1. I am consciously aware of my vulnerability to sexual sin.
____ 2. I have definite standards as to what I watch, listen to, and read, and I am careful to live by these standards.
____ 3. I am careful about how I touch people of the opposite sex.
____ 4. I meet with an accountability partner or partners regularly.
____ 5. My actions demonstrate that I am a moral person in whatever culture I’m in.
____ 6. When tempted to lust after someone, I “take captive” those thoughts and feelings, so that they “obey Christ.”
____ 7. I refrain from flirting.
____ 8. I refuse to be entertained by anything that offends God.
____ 9. If I feel attracted to someone, I am extremely careful to act in ways that will suppress emotional involvement on both of our parts.
____10. If I must go into morally high risk situations, I consciously recognize the risk before I go there, and plan on steps to protect myself.
____11. When I become aware that I am on the slide toward immorality, I take immediate steps to move back toward purity.
____12. I dress in such a way as to demonstrate my commitment to morality, both in my culture and in other cultures.
____13. I do whatever I can to see that my legitimate emotional needs are met in godly, healthy ways.
____14. I meditate on Scriptures that encourage me and strengthen me in maintaining moral purity.
____15. I maintain a love relationship with Christ that is so strong that engaging in any kind of immorality is abhorred.