Have you ever noticed that behind temptation there is another, subtler temptation? It’s a whisper, really, and it goes something like this: “You’re feeling this temptation again, and you know what that means. It means you’re a failure.”
In the realm of sexual temptation, so many of us pine for a time when we will no longer experience the mental and physical pull toward the images and behaviors that have had a hold on us. Rightly, we seek Jesus and invite Him to reveal where all this started and what we’re really longing for. Still, temptations come.
A dear brother who has not viewed pornography in over a decade recently experienced a sleepless night of temptation. He was traveling for work, away from his friends, nervous about a presentation he was giving at the convention, and alone in a hotel room. “I turned on the television when I got to my room the first night and saw on the menu the name of a sexually explicit movie I had watched years ago.”
He didn’t take the bait. Instead, he turned off the TV, called his wife and a friend, prayed, and read in bed until he started falling asleep. But the moment he turned off the light and put his head on the pillow, he was assaulted with graphic memories of that old movie. Off and on for the next several hours, he moved between sleeping, waking, praying, and standing his ground. He awoke the next morning victorious but shaken. And tired. Not exactly in an ideal condition to give a presentation.
The day went…fine. Not great, but good enough.
As he reflected and prayed on all that had happened in the previous 24 hours, he felt disappointed. “I thought I was way past that kind of intense temptation,” he lamented to God.
Then in the silence that followed, he thought he heard a simple response: “Well done.”
Friends, that temptation behind the temptation—the accusation that being tempted means you’re failing, weak, immature, perverse, unhealed, a fake, or whatever—don’t take that bait either.
When you’re in the midst of resisting temptation, you are taking your place among the heroes of faith who have gone before you. It’s true. Hebrews 11 gives example after example of biblical heroes who walked by faith through intense loss and suffering. He names Abraham, Moses, David, Gideon, Rahab, and many more. Then he writes:
“Others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mocking and flogging, and further, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented (people of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts, on mountains, and sheltering in caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:35b-38, NASB)
Do you notice what’s right in the middle of this passage? They “were tempted.”
When you encounter temptation, endure through it, remembering that this is what the great men and women of faith have done through the ages. My friend arose the next morning tired and shaken, and he gave a presentation that wasn’t his best. None of that looked pretty from an earthly perspective, but to the great cloud of faithful witnesses who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), they had a behind-the-scenes view of a spiritual battle and his heroic victory.
Question: Have you experienced the “temptation behind temptation” that calls you a failure for even feeling tempted? How might it change things for you to think of enduring through temptation as taking your place among the heroes of faith who likewise have suffered for Christ?