Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Importance of Taking Steps to Avoid Temptation

Various biblical passages make it clear that it is normal for Christians to be tempted. 

In 1 Corinthians 10:13, for example, Paul tells the church in Corinth: 
‘No temptation has overtaken you except what is common for human beings.’ 
Similarly, in Hebrews 4:15 the author writes: 
‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in every way as we are . . .’ 
1 Thessalonians 3:5, Hebrews 2:18 and James 1:13-15 are some of the other passages that refer to Christians being tempted.

It is, of course, yielding to temptation that is sinful.  Being tempted is not a sin in itself.  However, knowing this, many Christians make the mistake of doing little to avoid situations in which they are likely to be tempted.

In fact, Scripture makes it clear that normal Christian living should involve taking steps, sometimes radical steps, to avoid temptations when possible. 

Matthew 18:8-9

In Matthew 18:8-9 (paralleled in Mark 9:43-47) Jesus speaks powerfully on this subject: 
‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell fire.’ 
This is a very striking way of putting things, and Jesus’ instructions here are clearly not meant to be taken literally.  However, when reading something in the Bible that contains hyperbole, i.e., language that is deliberately exaggerated for effect, Christians can often fail to take what is said as seriously as they should.  An over-compensation for the hyperbole can occur when interpreting, with the result that the forcefulness of the words is not properly recognised. 

When we take proper account of the hyperbole in this passage, we see that Jesus is stressing how serious sin is.  But He is also making it clear that if necessary His followers should be taking radical steps to avoid sinning. 

1 Corinthians 7:5

In 1 Corinthians 7:5 Paul tells married Christians in the church in Corinth: 
‘Don’t deprive each other [of sexual relations], except by agreement for a time so that you can devote yourselves to prayer.  Then you should come together again, so that Satan does not tempt you through your lack of self-control.’ 
Note how Paul instructs his readers to take steps to avoid temptation.

Galatians 6:1

In Galatians 6:1 Paul writes: 
‘Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person gently.  And watch yourself, so that you are not also tempted.’ 
Again, Paul tells his readers to act to avoid being tempted.

What we should do

All of us are vulnerable to temptations in various ways, and we will be aware of at least some of the sins we are most in danger of committing.  We should therefore ask ourselves if we are doing what we can to avoid getting into situations where we are tempted. 

In some circumstances, we might find that there is not much we can do, such as when the temptations concern only thoughts in our minds.  However, even in situations like these we can experiment to see if doing anything helps us to avoid being tempted.  For example, we might find that trying to fix our mind on something good is a help.

When temptations concern actions, it is much more likely that we will be able to take steps to greatly reduce the amount we are tempted.  And some of these steps might need to be radical. 

I know of Christians, for instance, who found that they were giving in to temptations to watch bad content on TV, or to watch more TV than they should, and who got rid of their TVs as a result. 

I also know of Christians who were dating, realised that they were in danger of yielding to temptations to sleep together before they were married, and who therefore decided only to meet in public places.

I think these are good examples of how the biblical teaching quoted above can be put into practice in the modern day. 

It is not enough for us to fight temptations that we experience.  We should also be taking steps, radical steps at times, to avoid being tempted in the first place.

See also: