Do you ever experience those moments of intense temptation to sin (whether it’s worry, anger, lust, etc.) and find that, although you know you need to set your mind on Christ, you cannot think of the biblical truths necessary to do battle in your heart? In those moments you need God’s concrete promises, the specifics of the gospel, but for one reason or another everything that enters your mind is like a cloud coming of the coast that dissipates in the summer sun.
I have found that the best way to handle those moments is not to waste valuable fighting-time wandering around in your mind until you find something solid and pertinent to your struggle, but rather to create a stack of 3″ x 5″ cards that help you make war with your sin. I know this is old school (I’m sure you can do this with an app of some kind if you’d like), but I find that I need to act fast when I’m being tempted and these pre-written truths help me cut through the ambiguity. In order to do this it would, first, be helpful to know what sins you struggle with most, so you can better tailor the cards to your precise needs.
Here are the categories of cards that I am using currently:
- Bible verses – Remember, these verses do not have to use the name of the sin you struggle with in order to help you. So, don’t just look in the concordance in the back of your Bible and copy down the verses under “fear” or “bitterness”. Use texts that remind you who God is and what Jesus has done for you.
- Wise words – These are pithy statements of wisdom in reference to my sin struggles that I have collected from Christian books or blogs.
- Instructions – These are simple, direct instructions to myself (based on Scripture), telling me to do something specific in service to Christ. Often times, battling temptation keeps us so focused on the fight that we are hindered from practicing active obedience to God, when that may be just what we need to draw near to him in faithfulness. Tip: make sure that if your heart is not in the “doing” that you ask God’s forgiveness and prayer that he would bring it in line with your actions.
- Prayers for others – Since sin is ultimately proud and selfish, praying for others can helps direct our focus away from ourselves.
A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a men’s conference called Pure Life: Cleansing the Heart of Sexual Lust. One of the other speakers at the conference was Keith Palmer, associate pastor at Grace Bible Church in Granbury, TX. Keith’s message at that conference continues to minister to me as one of the most biblically-practical presentations on how to battle sexual lust.
In the message, Keith gives several strategies to help men create a battle plan for fighting lust in their hearts. One of those strategies is one I haven’t heard recommended in the past: “Load your iPod (smartphone, iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.) with Christ-exalting, Word-saturated, flesh-battling Christian hymns and songs.” With the goal of battling temptation in mind, Keith says that one of the playlists he has created is made up of songs specifically chosen to “set [his] heart right”. “A good Christian song”, he says, “burns theology into your affections.”
I have experienced the value of what Keith is suggesting and find it helpful not just as I battle lust in my heart, but anxiety, despair, and anger too. It can be a help with any temptation to sin and so I second what Keith is advocating. Also, in case you’re interested, here are some albums I would recommend for this purpose:
This weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a seminar with two other pastors called Pure Life: Cleansing the Heart of Sexual Lust (Click here for the audio – session 1, session 2, and session 3). One of the other pastors, Keith Palmer from Grace Bible Church in Granbury, TX, spoke on the nuts and bolts of how men can and should battle sexual temptation. One aspect of his message that I thought was particularly helpful was his counsel on how to battle the lustful images that so often enter into our hearts and minds.
At least for men, our temptation to lust is frequently associated with images, even when we aren’t looking at a sexual image in the moment. Because we live in a sinful world, our minds remember images from days past or even from years past, and in all actuality, we don’t even have to see a real image in order to lust because our imaginations can simply manufacture them on their own. So, how can we battle the onslaught of unrighteous images?
Keith reminded us of the principle of “put off/put on” found in Ephesians 4:22-24:
…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
If we want to move forward in our pursuit of holiness for the sake of Christ, we must replace unrighteousness in our minds with righteousness; we cannot simply stop thinking about sinful things and hope that all will be well. So, Keith’s prescription was simple: replace unrighteous images with righteous ones. When your heart attacks you with a sexual image, then replace that image with an image of… let’s say…your kids. Or images of how you serve in whatever ministry you are currently active. For me, I often think of the different aspects of my wife’s beauty, both physically and spiritually. This helps me to think of the ways in which God’s gift to me in her are better than what my flesh wants.
What righteous images will you use?
Last night a friend and I had a helpful conversation about responding to temptation. Part of the discussion focused on the specifics of what we should think and believe in those instances when we are confronted with lustful images on the magazine rack while waiting in line at Walmart. Two truths came out of that discussion that I think are particularly important:
- We must remember that the lustful image is telling us a lie. With exposed skin, seductive eyes, and airbrushing the image is saying, “I am what is most desirable”, and because we have sinful hearts we are tempted to believe the lie and turn an accidental glance into an all-out gaze. In this moment of temptation, in your mind and heart, the lie needs to be confronted with the truth: “In your (God’s) presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more” (Psalm 16:11).
- We must remember that the image we are tempted to stare at is a real person who may very well be going to hell. The person on the cover of that magazine is, most-likely, caught up in a lifestyle of lust, money, and self-glory that will lead her to experience God’s just anger, unless by God’s grace she repents and trusts in Jesus. This thought will help us to cut through the surface of make-up and wardrobe to the spiritual reality of that person’s spiritual state and the need she has for rescue. Hopefully, this thought will lead you to pray for her instead of fantasize about her.
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I have often asked myself the question, “What do I do when I’m tempted to sin?” It’s an important question considering the fact that we live as sinful people surrounded by other sinful people in a world where the devil is craftily seeking to lead us away from righteousness. In the many moments each day when temptation is bearing down on us, we need to know what to do in order to remain faithful to our gracious King. But this question should not be left alone, we should also ask, “What do I do when I’m not being tempted that will help me when I am being tempted?”
Our battle plan against temptation is far too often reactionary – “What do I do after the enemy strikes?” Any war strategist will tell you this is a perfect way to lose a battle. Any time a battle is fought in war there is a load of planning that comes before a bullet is ever shot. Generals and captains decide where the prime attack positions are and develop a strategy for what the troops that consists of specific orders that will form a well-orchestrated battle design.
Our approach to fighting temptation is similar in that we should be planning for its attack before it strikes and making certain preparations so that we are better equipped for the battle. Randy Alcorn, in his booklet, Sexual Temptation, insists that preparing for the battle means taking time to “cultivate your inner life”. For him, he admits this must include more than a daily quiet time. I agree with him. While I understand many Christians struggle to meet with God in his Word and in prayer just once a day for 20 or 30 minutes, we are actually called to meditate on God’s Word “day and night” (Joshua 1:8) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This does not mean that you have to be thinking about Scripture and praying every minute of the day, but it does mean that you should be returning to God in these ways at different points throughout the day instead of just having a brief chat before you start your day and saying goodbye until the next morning.
A way to help with this is to surround yourself with people, places, and things that will remind you of God and your need for him so that you will be propelled back to the Word and prayer. The apps you use, the music you listen to, the people you engage with on Facebook and Twitter, and where you choose to eat your lunch (i.e. – to get a good view of God’s creation) can all be used to help you cultivate a heart of love and devotion to God that will equip you for the fight against temptation when it occurs. Fighting temptation begins well before the battle ever begins, so pray for God to give you the motivation and discipline to prepare for attack. When this happens your reactions to temptation will only be quicker, more decisive, and more intentional.
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As I’ve said before, one of the many things I want to do with this blog is to help Christians fight temptation to sin. Temptation is an ever-nagging reality in this world because we will not be rid of our sinful hearts until the Lord brings us home, so please allow me to offer some further help toward saying “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus.
One of the reasons we can so easily give in to temptation is because we forget the severity of the nature of sin. Instead of looking at sin from God’s perspective, we look at it from a human perspective that only takes into account how our sin compares to other people’s sin and how the culture views the things God calls “wicked”. We forget that what God thinks of sin is what matters, because he is the one that sin offends directly, personally, and primarily. This is why we should use the reality of hell in our daily fight against sin. Reminding ourselves of hell helps us see sin the way God sees sin. If eternal agony in hell is the way God has chosen to punish people for sin, then we can never take an “oops” view of sin or a “boys will be boys” view of sin. If hell is the punishment, then it would be accurate for us to say that the crime is loathsome and abominable in God’s sight (Proverbs 6:16-19). If God’s sees it this way, then we should too because God’s perspective is the ultimate reality.
A few years ago, my wife told me of a truth that she often repeats to herself that I too have found to be a valuable weapon against temptation. It goes like this: at any given moment there are people who are in hell for committing the same sins I am guilty of as well. This truth is weaponized when it is used in the midst of temptation by changing the wording a bit: there are people in hell right now for committing the same sins that I am tempted to commit right now. Does this help you grasp the gravity of your sin? I hope so, but you can’t stop at reminding yourself that your sins deserve hell, there’s something else you’ve got to preach to yourself.
The reason why sin deserves hell is because sin is that bad, and sin is that bad because sin is against God and God is holy, holy, holy. If God were not holy, then sin would not be that bad. But because he is holy, hell is the punishment. However, as a Christian, you’ve got to remember that inside God’s holiness is not just justice and wrath, but mercy and grace as well. So, after you have reminded yourself of the hell that you deserve, remind yourself of the heaven you’ve been given through the blood of your Savior Jesus Christ in spite of your sin. Hell says that sin is exceedingly bad and God is exceedingly holy, but hell also says that God’s grace and mercy to believing sinners is exceedingly wonderful! The bad news has got to be bad for the good news to be good.
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