Sexual temptation: It’s a heavy pastoral topic and challenging to address in any context. But, it’s a topic that every pastor regularly encounters in ministry and it is a growing pastoral concern in China today.
How do Chinese Christians face sexual temptation? Pastor Chen Fengsheng, a Three-Self Church pastor in Wenzhou, shares sorely needed but rare guidance on how he has pastored those who face sexual temptation. He highlights common struggles and gives practical application to combat sexual temptation.
Sex Education: How Do We Face Temptation?
How Do We Face Temptation?
Over the course of my ministry, I have worked most extensively with young people: those born in the 80s, 90s, and nowadays the 2000s as well. Their common struggles with friendship, love, and marriage drive me, as a pastoral figure in their lives, to keep learning and growing as I serve them. In the last ten years, these brothers have experienced increasingly obvious struggles with sexual temptation. This is such a widespread problem in the body of Christ that I have felt compelled to begin paying attention to sexual temptation and related issues.
The Reality of Failure: When “Every Fight Is a Defeat.”
Young Christian men have come to me and bravely revealed their struggles with sexual temptation—not only that they were struggling, but that they had sunk full-on into quite a bad place. Finding themselves helpless to get free, they were reaching out for help. Most of these brothers, tempted by their desire and lust, had fought—and lost—countless battles
Believers who face this fight range from boys barely in adolescence to married men. Of course, no man whether young or old is immune to sexual temptation. Just recently, the news reported an 80-year-old man who sexually abused an 8-year-old girl—just another demonstration that sexual temptation is a universal struggle.
Today’s young men face unprecedented sexual temptation. Once when I was speaking on marriage, I did a quick survey of those present who had married 30, 40 years ago, in comparison with today’s youth. The earlier generation had reached physical maturity later and gotten married earlier, so they faced comparatively less sexual temptation. One 66-year-old brother commented, “I married at 24, but I only really started to mature at 18 or 19. I didn’t have sexual temptation then because before I got married, even talking to or glancing at a girl would turn my face red.” In today’s society, it is a different story. In a sexually open culture with rampant pornography, men run much more easily into sexual temptation.
Helplessness: Surrendering before the Battle Begins
Many brothers experience numerous failures in their struggle with temptation, and they begin to feel like they will never overcome it. On top of that, social media and other media have no problem with pornography and the sexual addiction that it fosters, creating a sense of conflict and confusion in believers who don’t know if what they’re doing is wrong. Recently, one brother asked me directly, “Is masturbation sin?” I answered, “After masturbating do you feel guilty?”
Many people see their own failures and get down on themselves, frequently sending cries for help. Many people ask the Lord to remove the temptation, and even more ask him to give them strength to overcome it, but they still live in failure. The reason? When they pray, they hope the Lord will do all the work for them and solve every problem without any effort on their part. This only means that before the next battle is even begun they have raised the white flag of surrender.
So why do they call out to Jesus? I think it’s because everybody knows Jesus’ power and hopes that he can solve our problems. Christians, especially those who have reached the end of their rope, pray, “Lord, please take away my [lustful] desires!” On the one hand, this expresses the Christian’s hope for victory. But on the other hand, this kind of prayer reveals that he believes he has no way of resisting his desires—I can’t fight it, so please just take it away! We see in the Bible that Jesus also faced temptations of every kind, which must have included sexual temptations. But the Bible also tells us that in all his temptations, Jesus never sinned.
We suffer from an inconsistency: we ask the Lord to solve all of our problems, but we have already resigned ourselves to never achieving victory. The Lord Jesus is powerful and he overcame all temptations—so are we to look at his example and conclude that people have no way of resisting temptation? I believe Jesus’ purpose was to become an example to us and remind us that we, too, can overcome in Christ. So never hoist that white flag in the face of temptation.
Keep Fighting: “Fight through Every Defeat”
The Lord Jesus is our example, and his victory becomes the strength for our victory. Even if “every fight is a defeat,” we must still “fight through every defeat.” The saying, “every fight is a defeat” is a declaration of our (very real) helplessness, but the cry to “fight through every defeat” is a declaration of resolve: resolve to do battle against temptation. We must not declare defeat before the battle is even begun, for then we guarantee our failure. It is only in fighting through the defeats and continuing to make war on temptation that we can achieve victory.
Paul writes this encouragement to all of us who face temptation.
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:20-22).
As the scripture makes clear, the secret to casting off temptation is to purify yourself. This is the essence of what we have discussed above: declaring war on temptation and refusing to give up.
Purity demands that we oppose our selfish desires, indeed, that we oppose our very selves. To use Paul’s words, we must seize control of our bodies and make them our servants. We experience temptation largely because we serve the flesh and follow our own [lustful] desires. Paul reminds us to "cleanse [ourselves] from what is dishonorable.” This means we cannot simply surrender after we give our burden to the Lord, and neglect to give him time to work in us. We need to both ask for the Lord’s help and learn how to purify ourselves. As we face temptation, we must learn to deal with ourselves and put to death the “old man.” In doing so, we must not declare surrender so lightly—let us rather fight at all costs, and ask the Lord to increase our strength.
Here are some practical steps: flee and equip.
Paul first gives us a negative command, “flee.” Avoid evil as you avoid the fires of hell. “Flee from youthful passions.” Many people admit they are weak in the face of temptation, so here is a great solution—avoid temptation in the first place! By contrast, many people ask the Lord to take away temptation, and then they themselves create the environment for that temptation! How sad that is! The Lord’s Prayer says, “lead us not into temptation,” meaning let us not become ensnared by temptation. How then can so many people who know they are weak still voluntarily put themselves in the way of temptation?
Paul’s second strategy for facing temptation is to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” This is a positive command. We pursue these four things in order to equip ourselves with the strength to resist temptation. The psalmist writes, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” He who neglects to read Scripture and listen to the preaching of the word, is doomed to fail under temptation.
Let me close by summarizing. The Lord Jesus overcame temptation, and therefore we do not need to ask him to do the work for us. Rather, let his victory give us faith for our own. Let us ask him for strength and rely on him to overcome temptation, not fearing failure. When we face temptation, it is good to know when we don’t have strength to resist—but don’t just surrender! It is good to give it to the Lord and ask him for strength, but we must make efforts ourselves to resist. Know your limits, but do not give up so lightly. Ask the Lord to give you strength, and then fight with everything you’ve got.
Original Article: 丰盛“书”房
Image Credit: karenoch, via Flickr.
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