It has been rightly observed that the devil seeks to bring together sinful desires and opportunities to fulfil those desires. As Christians we need to ensure they do not meet.
We can think about this in terms of food and gluttony, drink and drunkenness, wealth and spending money on luxuries, and many other areas of life as well. But one of the most obvious and important is sexual morality.
Joseph sought to avoid even being with Potiphar’s wife, and when one day she grabbed him, he fled from her. There was opportunity, but his sexual desires were strictly under control. And how could he do such a wicked thing and sin against God?
Tragically, on the other hand, that’s exactly what David did when he saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing while her husband was away at war. He summoned her and slept with her. Solomon, although hardly a model of self-control, recognised the follies and dangers of adultery. In Proverbs he warned his sons not to go near the house of an adulterous woman. They were to keep a safe distance lest they should be enticed.
Billy Graham, the well-known evangelist, resolved he would not meet with a woman, other than his wife, alone. This was partly to avoid temptation and partly to ensure it was transparent that he was behaving with integrity. This seems a wise rule of thumb, and men and women need to be wary of situations (perhaps in a working context, perhaps at church) where they are regularly spending time one to one with a member of the opposite sex, especially if they are unobserved.
There are several reasons, however, why seeking to put sinful desires to death is more important than avoiding opportunities for sin.
First, circumstances are sometimes beyond our control. While Jesus was resting at a well in Samaria by himself, a woman arrived alone to draw water. Although this woman had a sexual history, Jesus did not shun her but spoke the gospel to her. This surprised his disciples, for he was violating the cultural norms of the day. Billy Graham’s rule may be a wise one but it can hardly be an absolute biblical requirement, if only because circumstances are sometimes beyond our control.
Second, it is only if we are cultivating the right desires and killing off the wrong ones that we will want to put space between us and temptations, whether those temptations be illicit sex, drunkenness, gluttony, or extravagance on luxuries.
Third, our desires are more fundamental in the sight of God. It is not enough, Jesus made clear, not to commit adultery. We must not think about it either. Otherwise, we really just have a mindset where we’d like to do what’s wrong if only we could get away with it.
How do we cultivate holy desires and kill off sinful ones? Treatises have been written about this and certainly the Bible seeks to help us on page after page.
One way we kill off sinful desires is by not feeding them with stories or images that stimulate them, perhaps cookery programmes for those struggling with gluttony, catalogues or shop websites for those fighting ‘retail therapy’ and extravagance – and of course there’s pornography.
Positively, we need to recognise that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’. The married need to value and care for their marriages, the wealthy need to appreciate that ‘it’s more blessed to give than receive’, and so on.
We also need to meditate on the goodness, grace, and glory of Jesus and the gospel. The Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers spoke about ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’. If we become obsessed with becoming physically fit, we will more than likely give up smoking. If we are captivated by Jesus Christ then the things of the world will lose their appeal to us. Personal Bible study, prayer, and especially gathering with other Christians for worship and fellowship are the means God has appointed to help us here.
Mark Richards, pastor of Newtown Baptist Church, Chesham.