Must We Struggle with Sin?
There is nothing easier than addiction. All we have to do is follow the trail of our desires. It all comes so naturally. In fact, it is so natural that one of our reasons for giving ourselves over to our desires is, “I am only human.” If God enters into our thinking, we suspect even he might be understanding and lenient because he created us this way. Look at the numbers: is there a sentient male who has not struggled with sexual sin? The problem seems to go much deeper than what we do. The problem is who we are.
Sexual addiction asks us to consider what it means to be truly human. When you read the biographies of the Old Testament, humanness seems to mean that we are constitutionally programmed to sin. Like a foe who is stronger, sexual sin will overtake us in the end. We might be able to escape it for a time, but defeat is inevitable. So, we put up a good effort, try to keep the really bad sexual sins at bay, recognize that we are going to be defeated, then, when we are, dust ourselves off and start all over again. There is, of course, some truth to this, but it isn’t the whole story.
Then came THE man. Jesus is the one who revealed true humanness. Jesus showed us how we were intended to be, and, apparently, the way we deal with temptation is a critical feature of the way we were intended to be. Immediately after being formally proclaimed as the eternal son at his baptism, Jesus’ first act as recorded in Mark’s gospel was to go out into the wilderness for the very purpose of being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:9-13). He had some undoing to do. He was going to say “no” where we said “yes.”
The last bivouac into the wilderness by God’s people was a train wreck. It was a time of idolatry followed by a bacchanalian festival, complaining, rebellion against God and his appointed leaders, and essentially saying “yes” to Satan at every mile marker. It is with this failure in mind that Jesus voluntarily walked into the wilderness, said “no” to temptations that are stronger than anything we will experience, and, in so doing changed everything.
He didn’t change the fact that we will encounter Satan during our vulnerable times. On this side of heaven spiritual battle is the norm. The balance of power, however, has changed. The second Adam won, and we too will win as we are given his Spirit. True humanness is, to our surprise, not about giving in to temptation. Instead, we are created to say “no” to both Satan’s devices and our own desires that oppose the character of God.
What difference does this make? Try it and see. Try meditating on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Consider how he did it as our representative, succeeding where we had failed, and he did it as our example, revealing to us our true design. Notice how you find a certain satisfaction when you resist temptation. It isn’t easy, but it is good, right and natural. When we give ourselves to our desires we feel robotic, more akin to instinct-driven animals than liberated humans. When we say “yes” to Jesus and engage the battle with our entire being, we get tired but the fatigue is like the contentment of a good day’s work.
Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D. is a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). Ed has been counseling for over thirty years and has written many books and articles on biblical counseling, including When People Are Big and God Is Small; Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave; Blame It on the Brain?; Depression; Running Scared; Shame Interrupted; and Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love. He and his wife, Sheri, have two married daughters and eight grandchildren.