Turn Right Between Desire and Action
We can choose to make positive choices before and after temptation
by Doug Rosenau
Part Six of the eight-part series.
Don't you just hate it when you miss your exit on the freeway and you're stuck driving for miles in the wrong direction? Well, the road we all travel between our temptations and the resulting sin isn't a freeway-we can turn around any time we choose to. So why don't we?
Carl confessed that Monday night it had seemed his car had a mind of its own, turning right into the parking lot of the convenience store. I knew this was where he bought his porn and asked why he was even near the store. He told me he was trying a short-cut home. Yeah, right!
Carl and I had discussed the sexual addiction concept of being "in the zone." This is when temptation and desire have already given birth to sin and it would take a team of wild horses to stop you. "But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after [evil] desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:14, 15 NIV)
Of course Carl was already deep in the zone by the time he got to the store. He had decided before he got near the store that he was going to buy porn and sexually act out. The time for positive choices was hours earlier.
What were those positive pre-zone choices Carl could have made? He could have called five different guys in his men's group and they would have encouraged and prayed for him. He could have gotten rid of stress by exercising over his lunch hour. He often called his wife Jenny and told her he was on his way home-that's great accountability.
Please understand-it's not the desires that are sinful. Desires often happen without any help on our part. Our sexual integrity depends on how we respond to those desires. Integrity requires self-awareness and making immediate positive choices. We must understand when we are vulnerable and choose to head temptation off at the pass. It's often just a matter of seconds or minutes before we are in the zone.
And, yes, it is possible to turn away from temptation, no matter how strong it is. First Corinthians 10:13 tells us, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to 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."
Give in or Turn Away: Our Choice
Christian men often get angry at God and complain that He has allowed temptation that they couldn't stand up under. The Bible says otherwise. The truth is that we simply did not make a series of right choices until it was too late. God can help us to stop temptation in its tracks if we ask for His wisdom. He didn't fail us. We failed to take the first four choices He gave us to keep from sinning.
Aren't we guys pretty predictable in our vulnerability? When we have idle time that's unaccounted for, when we feel stress and the need to alter our mood, when we're in situations where we're anonymous, when we feel our marital sex life is going poorly, when we feed our sexual fantasies with television. These are common temptations and to overcome them, we have to actively choose to take God's way out.
I had to laugh the other day at the wonderfully descriptive expression of one of my clients. Jordan is struggling with an undisciplined thought life and destructive masturbation. He was exclaiming over how much better he was doing. "It wasn't easy but I've fed the skinny dog all week. He's getting stronger."
Jordan knew that whatever he chose to feed would grow, and that making those willful choices would head off acting out. The "skinny dog" in his life was a deeper intimacy with God and his wife. It wasn't miraculous. He was choosing moment-by-moment to stay out of the zone and allow his good choices to gather steam. And as Jordan found out, it truly pays off. Our sexual integrity becomes very self-validating as God gives us joy and real intimacy with Him.
For us who have entered a personal relationship with Christ, the power of sin has been broken. We can appropriate God's help. He wants us to be wise. Accountability buddies and other resources can help, but they aren't magic. We still have to continue making the series of choices to use them.
After We've Blown It
Remember, too, that the post-temptation choices we make also help us maintain sexual integrity. After we've given in to temptation comes a critical time of decision. Are we going to allow a full-blown relapse as we indulge in guilt, self-pity and rationalization, or will we make positive choices to contain the damage and grow stronger?
God clearly wants to quickly restore our relationship with Him after we choose to sin. Scripture tells us, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) Again, it's a matter of choice. If we choose not to get centered back in God's way, however, we're back at the mercy of sin. Satan loves to work with secrets and guilt as they fester and gain power.
Here's a concrete example. It had been five months since Susan had discovered Hilton's affair. She still angrily confronted him occasionally but these eruptions had become fewer. Hilton knew there was positive growth evident in his life and the marriage. He just wasn't prepared for the tough process of changing his love and allegiance from his lover, Jenny, back to his wife, Susan.
Nip it in the Bud
But Hilton had to get a grip on his choices, because Jenny would call him, and all the thoughts and feelings would start to return. To help fight the temptation, I encouraged him to tell Susan every time Jenny called. He soon realized that he really could choose to stop the downward spiral of his fantasies. I laughed when he said that what really helped him was every time thoughts of Jenny came, he reached up and literally flicked his head hard with his finger.
The frequency and duration of relapse became less and less frequent with pre- and post-temptation choices. Hilton realized that if he immediately made choices to get back into God's "narrow way" with confession and accountability, it was easier for him to stay in love with Susan. He was so excited the day he actually stopped a beginning fantasy about Jenny and turned it into thoughts of his wife. Relapse confession had become relapse prevention.
Think about it: the quicker you begin making the right decisions, the more God can work. It's simply a matter of making the right choices early and often.
* Pick some aspect of your sexuality that you need to discipline better. Think through the choices you fail to make that could keep you from getting into the sinful zone of acting on the temptation.
* When is the last time that you caught yourself in the process of acting out or immediately after---and got centered in God again by confessing and repenting, without allowing yourself a full-blown relapse?
Skill Seven: Run to God's ER when broken
Missed earlier parts of this eight-article series? Just click on the skill you want to read-and learn everything you want to know about sexual integrity.
The Eight Skills for Sexual Integrity
Skill One: Plug into God's thinking and power
Skill Two: Meet nonsexual needs nonsexually
Skill Three: Discipline sexual fantasies and surges
Skill Four: Embrace masculinity and enjoy moms, sisters and daughters
Skill Five: Cultivate covenant monogamy and passionate intimacy
Skill Six: Make positive pre- and post-temptation choices
Skill Seven: Run to God's ER when broken
Skill Eight: Create practical theologies for doubtful issues
Dr. Doug Rosenau is a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist in Atlanta. He is the author of A Celebration of Sex (Thomas Nelson).
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