The Bible says, "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." (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).
That is a marvelous promise, but if it is true, why do we fail so often? I am not referring to those who are outside of Christ; they do what comes natural.
Rather, I am addressing that question to those of us who claim to know Christ, yet deal daily with failure when it comes to this area of temptation. The promise is there: why then does it seem so impossible to succeed when it comes to temptation?
In fall 1982, Leadership Journal published an article, "The War Within: An Anatomy of Lust," by an author who chose to remain anonymous. The reason for the anonymity was the nature of the article. The man was caught in the grip of an insatiable desire for pornography. Describing the intense battle within himself he wrote, "Lust is the ape that gibbers in our loins. Tame him as we will by day, he rages all the wilder in our dreams by night.
"Just when we think we are safe from him, he raises up his ugly head and smirks, and there's no river in the world flows cold enough and strong enough to strike him down.".
The man's struggle began innocently enough. While away from home on a conference, he decided that he needed to "see for himself" the attraction pornography had on men. The reason he pens the article anonymously is because he was a pastor. This pastor succumbed to temptation when he convinced himself that in order to understand the struggle, he had to experience it for himself.
He thought he was strong enough to handle it. He thought that it would be a one-time experiment that would make him better able to minister to those in his congregation who struggled in this area.
He was away far from home in a town where no one knew him. He felt he could safely experience the pull of the adult entertainment industry without becoming trapped in the vice. He was wrong. The article in Leadership Journal chronicled his secret downward spiral and now his guilt-ridden struggle to gain relief and release.
You, who may be struggling with holding out against temptation or with the guilt of succumbing to some temptation (yet again), look at that verse above one more time. Allow me to spend the rest of this article unpacking it for you.
Notice first that the Apostle under the guidance of the Holy Spirit makes a very candid statement that I fear we often overlook, namely, that you are not alone in your struggle. Temptation is a battle everyone everywhere endures.
One of the most disquieting feelings when it comes to this area of temptation is the feeling that somehow we alone are failures. Now, we may fail, but we are not alone in the struggle. Many give up on themselves because they feel that something is horribly wrong with them if the succumb to some temptation. Not so. We are all in this together. Don't get too down on yourself.
Second, note that God is faithful even when we fall prey to temptation. Another passage tells us, "If we are not faithful, he will still be faithful, because he must be true to who he is." (2 Timothy 2:13, NCV).
Third, this faithful God promises us that he always provides a way out of the temptation. This is the hard part of the equation. For myself, many times I find that I can clearly see the path out of the forest of temptation; I simply choose not to take it.
The problem then is not with God's promise but with my own heart. My love for a particular pleasure at that point becomes greater than my love for God. I don't "fall into sin," as much as I choose to go where I should not go.
Final thought. Even when we do go where we ought not to have gone, the promise is, God will still make a way out; we can still come back to Him and find forgiveness and acceptance, because Christ himself intercedes for us.
You who are struggling today. Take heart. Don't give up on yourself. God hasn't given up on you.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.