By Hugh Houston
What makes a temptation tempting? I’ve mulled this over in my head over the past twelve years. Why am I not tempted to smoke a cigarette or to drink a beer? I see those things and I don’t give them a second thought. Some people struggle for years to give up these habits. The difference lies in the desire. I am only tempted by the things I desire. I believe we create, or at least we permit our own temptations.
If this is the case, then the key to victory in this battle against sin and temptation is to attack our desires. It is essential to work at changing or controlling our desires. Today I can’t tell you I’m no longer tempted in the area of lust, but the degree to which I am tempted has diminished dramatically. God created us as beings with many capacities. Change is not easy, as you already know from your own experience. How many people sign up at a gym in January with a determination to get in shape, but by March have already lost their drive?
The Bible tells us that God always provides a way out when we are tempted to sin:
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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 endure it.”
1 Corinthians 10:13
Change is possible. This is not an impossible task. Sin comes along and offers what looks enticing. And like a fish looking at the worm in the water, we can’t see the hook that lies underneath. Through prayer and by focusing on what we know to be true and right, over time we will see the worm and think about the hook and all of the pain it will bring. By intentionally focusing our thoughts on good things, our desire for what is wrong will diminish and no longer run rampant, dominating our minds. One of the greatest blessings I’ve gained now that I’ve found this new freedom is to have a clear head, with clean thoughts.
In 1988, Iron Eyes Cody told this old Indian legend in Guideposts magazine. (published in Wisdom Well Said, 2009 Levine Mesa Press):
Many years ago, Indian youth went away in solitude to prepare for manhood. He hiked into a beautiful valley. There he fasted. But on the third day, as he looked up at the surrounding mountains, he noticed one tall rugged peak, capped with dazzling snow. I will test myself against that mountain, he thought. He put on his buffalo-hide shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders and set off to climb the peak. When he reached the top he stood on the rim of the world. He could see forever, and his heart swelled with pride. Then he heard a rustle at his feet, and looking down, he saw a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke.
“I am about to die,” said the snake. “It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing. There is no food and I am starving. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.”
“No,” said the youth. “I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite, and your bite will kill me.”
“Not so,” said the snake. “I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you will be special. I will not harm you.”
The youth resisted awhile, but this was a very persuasive snake. At last, the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass, when suddenly the snake coiled, rattled, and leapt, biting him on the leg.
“But you promised…” cried the youth.
“You knew what I was when you picked me up.” said the snake as it slithered away.
It is up to me to recognize my own weaknesses and know where the danger lies. Temptations begin inside of my own heart. It is essential for me to look honestly inside of my soul and admit that I am only tempted when the desire to sin dwells within me. This means it is essential for me to develop a strategy to replace these desires for harmful activities, with a desire to seek the Lord. This transformation in my thought process will not happen in one day or in one week or even in one month. But modifying my thoughts is the only way to develop a new life, a life worth living.
John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Temptations cannot be toyed with. The hook is always there to destroy us. But with God’s help, over time, it is possible to kill these desires that lead to sin. The Bible gives us this ray of hope in the book of James:
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
If your thoughts are bad tenants, evict them before they destroy the house. Kicking them out and keeping them out is a full-time job, especially in the beginning. Yet as time goes on and you acquire new habits, you will find this whole process gets much easier.
Matthew Henry wrote:
“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”
The best way to avoid the hook is to find our satisfaction and pleasure in Jesus. Then the hook of lust will have no power to lure us away from the Lord. Counterfeit joy is no match for the true joy which only the Lord can offer.
This blog originally appeared on Jesus Is The Best
About Hugh Houston: I chose to write using a pen name in order to share my most intimate thoughts while maintaining my privacy. My wife and I have been missionaries for most of our adult lives. We have four adult children. This is my story and I pray that it will help you with your story. May we all find the freedom from sin that Jesus offers us and walk in the light day by day. You can find my book “JESUS IS BETTER THAN PORN: How I Confessed my Addiction to My Wife and Found a New Life” on Amazon.