When I was in my late teens in the very early 1980s, the Scottish singer Sheena Easton hit the charts in Australia for the first time with her song ‘Morning Train.’ She followed that huge hit with another popular song, ‘Modern Girl.’
I remember thinking that the character in the second song sounded sad and even a little lonely, in spite of the appeal of her freedom as a ‘modern girl.’ The lyrics seemed to suggest to me that despite all of the hype about her being a modern woman, it didn’t bring her any kind of long-term satisfaction or contentment.
Beginning with the song’s main character waking in the morning next to a man in her bed, it soon became evident that she wished he would hurry up and leave. Her sexual promiscuity seemed to be a regular routine of her life.
Despite her protestations that she was free to do as she pleased, her independence and sexual freedom did not make her happy. Later it transpired that she preferred an evening at home watching TV by herself, rather than finding another sexual encounter.
I felt a kinship with the character when in my early twenties, not because I was promiscuous, but because all of the world’s promises weren’t bringing me any kind of fulfilment or contentment either. Certainly short-term pleasure could be found, but it was without value.
One night, at a crowded nightclub, I recall looking around at the throngs of people, desperately trying to have fun, most often by drinking too much. For the first time I was able to put my concerns into words, “If trying to have fun is all there is, then it’s not enough.”
A couple of years after that, I became a Christian.
I’ve met many people in the intervening years, frantically pursuing the world’s promise of happiness through sex, drunkenness, wealth, drugs, having fun etc. Some of these people had reached their sixties and seventies and still hadn’t achieved the happiness that those pursuits had promised. I figure that if they hadn’t found it by that age, then it’s unlikely the world and its promises were ever going to fulfil them.
This fruitless pursuit of happiness has left many people unsatisfied, incomplete, hardened and sometimes even broken in spirit.
The world still dangles the promise of happiness in front of people, like a glittering bauble to a child. It’s so enticing that every new generation is likely to be succumbed by its allure and few seem able to resist it, including even some Christians.
Our Sinful Nature
The call of the world is strong and entices our innate sinful nature to yield to its call, and there are several Biblical passages that speak about this. In Romans chapter seven, Paul spoke about his continual battle with his own sinful nature:
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” [NLT]
Paul later continued on with this subject in his letter to the church in Ephesus, and provided examples of the way we should live as ‘Children of the Light:’
“Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.
…And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4: 17b-32 [NLT]
Paul stated that the world deceives us, and what better way to do this than with our sexuality!
The world is rife with sexual imagery and enticements. There seem to be few cultures today where we are not surrounded by sexualised imagery, and while the world would have us believe that sex is not a sin (which is correct), there is a vast difference between what God says is good for us and what the world says is good for us when it comes to our sexuality.
What Does This Mean for Christians?
The world would tell us that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t indulge; that it’s harmful to our bodies and our minds if we are not sexually active or that we are missing out on something good.
Since we are still influenced by our own sinful nature, does that mean we might as well give up and give in? To answer this, we must refer back to our source of the truth. As mentioned earlier, the Bible is clear about our sinful nature (Romans chapter seven):
“Live no longer as the Gentiles do…” “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live.” [NLT]
The Bible is quite clear that the normal sexual relationship between a husband and wife (as illustrated by Adam and Eve,) is not a sin but that we should seriously consider anything outside of that relationship, including indulging in sexual thoughts, as not part of God’s plan for us.
The Bible often puts together the two words ‘immorality’ and ‘sexual,’ in reference to our sinful nature. In the table on the right are just a few examples from the New Testament:
1 Corinthians 6:12-18 is very clear about sexual immorality and our bodies:
“You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though some day God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.
Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the
Can we honestly read either of these two passages and still claim that God says that anything sexual outside of the marriage relationship, as acceptable? Why do you think that our world has become so focused on sex? It’s because it’s one of the toughest ones to overcome and Satan knows it!
If we go back to Genesis, we can see that right from the beginning Satan twisted God’s words, and this trend has continued to the present time. Satan encourages mankind to live only for ourselves and our own pleasure, and the sad reality is that many people have never even heard God’s words because they’ve been drowned out by Satan’s deafening cries to give into our own selfish desires.
In the table on the right, let’s compare what God wants for us, and how Satan has twisted those concepts:
The difference is that as Christians, God has changed our hearts and lives through Christ (as Paul discussed) and while we have an ongoing battle with our own sinful nature, those who live in the world have little willpower or the desire to overcome it.
Personally I have struggled in various areas with my own sinful nature, ever since I became a Christian in 1986. For many years, certain passages in the Bible condemned me with words that told me that since I was a new creation, I should no longer have been subject to my sinful nature. They reminded me that our old selves were crucified and we should no longer be a slave to sin. Why then did my own thoughts and sometimes my own actions fail me? Why did I give in so easily to sin?
Untruths Regarding Sexual Sin
There are some fallacies when it comes to sexual sin. Consider the following:
We believe that even though we are a Christian, sinning proves there is something wrong with us and our walk:
There would be some Christians who would suggest that we’re still immature if we’re still failing, and yet we have an amazing example in the Bible of a mature Christian who clearly talked about his own ongoing struggle with his sinful nature. We can almost hear the anguish in Paul’s voice as he spoke about his personal struggle in the New Testament:
“Oh, what a miserable person I am!” [NLT]
We believe that our sexuality should be easy to switch off, at least until we’re married:
We are sexual beings – that is part of the human journey. Our sexuality is not a bad thing, because God made us that way for a purpose – as part of a physical relationship with a spouse.
Temptation itself is not a sin, but giving into our sexual desires through masturbation, sexual intercourse, indulging in sexual fantasies, and watching pornography is the sin.
While some people do find it easier to ‘switch off’ or at least reduce this part of themselves, for many people, it remains an ongoing battle to resist.
We believe that it’s the physical act of sex which is the sin:
First comes the temptation, then comes the physical, sexual act right? Nope. In between is a very important step: allowing our minds to dwell on sexual thoughts – this is often where sin begins. It is in our mind where the temptation is allowed to flourish into something more; it is in the mind where the battle to deal with temptation takes place; it is in our mind where we must be prepared to do battle first.
We believe that God condemns us because of our sexual sin:
While God does hate sin, He does not hate us. While on the one hand, God would certainly prefer that we don’t sin, He also understands that we will sometimes sin and fail Him because we have sinful bodies, minds and spirits, and we live in a sinful world, full of temptation.
On the other hand, He also expect us to try to resist it, and provides strength through His Holy Spirit.
We believe that we are the only one struggling so badly with sexual sin:
Satan takes great delight in making us believe that we’re on our own when it comes to battling sexual temptation, as if we are failures or more weak than other Christians. If we believe this lie, then we will certainly feel alone and weak and like a failure, and we’ll be more prone to give into temptation, believing that we are incapable of overcoming it.
We believe that this is the worst possible sin, and other Christians would criticise and reject us if they knew about this ongoing problem:
There is only one sin which Jesus says is unforgiveable: blaspheming of the Holy Spirit.
This sin is mentioned in reference to a miracle Jesus performed after which the religious leaders claimed that the power Jesus used to heal a blind, mute man, came from Satan.
This unforgiveable sin is when a person deliberately insults the work of the Holy Spirit, such as claiming it is from Satan, even though the person is likely aware that what they’re saying isn’t true. It’s a response to a deliberate hardening of a person’s heart.
Sexual intercourse or masturbation is therefore, not an unforgiveable sin.
Some of God’s best people sinned, and yet God not only loved them, He forgave them and they still continued doing His work:
Be aware that many other Christians have battles with sexual temptations. In fact, other Christians have battles with many forms of temptation, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. While some Christians may find it easier to resist sexual temptation than other Christians, the fact is, we all battle temptations of different kinds.
You are not alone. You are no less worthy of being called a son/daughter of God than any other Christian. We are all forgiven equally, no matter our sin.
We believe that it’s unfair that God would allow us to be tempted in such a way:
I am a diabetic. I could allow myself to feel angry and upset by all the temptations around me to eat sweets or other foods that send my blood-sugar high. Instead, I have come to accept that this health issue is part of my struggle as a human being. I work hard at trying to restrict my diet to things that won’t adversely affect my blood-sugars, and I try to avoid places or situations where I will be strongly tempted.
I’m not strong-willed when it comes to sweets and chocolates and junk-food, so I try to make sure I’m not hungry when I go to the supermarket and I also try to avoid the lolly aisle. I find ways to overcome my sweet-tooth by finding an alternative to take its place, such as home-made desserts made with stevia instead of sugar that won’t impact on my blood-sugar levels.
Sexual temptation is similar. There are always going to be temptations around, so we should avoid putting ourselves in situations or places where we are likely to be even more tempted than usual. That includes avoiding sexually suggestive music, books, TV or movies, etc or being too physically intimate with someone, all of which are likely to stimulate our sexual desires.
When we are dating, we should have clearly defined boundaries about what is acceptable and what will put us in danger of yielding to sexual temptation. For some of us, kissing is enough to make us sexually aroused!
So what are ways that we can ensure we are not tempted to go too far? In fact, have we clearly defined in our own mind, what is ‘too far?’ Have we set clear boundaries for ourselves?
Even when we are married, we should avoid unhealthy sexual imagery and ideas that the world tries to tell us are ok. God wants us to endeavour to maintain healthy, sexual thoughts because He knows how easily these can be perverted by what the world tries to force upon us under the guise that they are normal, healthy and natural.
Unfortunately, once we see and know certain sexual images and ideas, it is impossible to ‘unsee’ them and to close the door on those images in our mind. How much better it would have been for us to not put ourselves in that situation in the first place!
How Do We Overcome This Temptation?
While we may still believe that we fail as Christians, especially when it comes to our sexuality, we should understand that as new creations in Christ, our sinful nature is not supposed to be a part of our true selves in Him. We can find joy in the promise that God is growing us into someone better and stronger, day by day.
We should never be content with our walk and mistakenly believe that we have ever overcome any sin. We must be ready and willing to do battle each day with our sinful nature – we can’t become complacent. We should stay away from people, places and situations that may tempt us to sin.
Perhaps the verses about putting on our armour can be used as a reminder about this ongoing battle (Ephesians 6:10-18.) It reminds us twice that we need to put on all of our armour, so it’s clear that this is no half-hearted attempt at armour. Neither then should our battle with our sinful nature be half-hearted:
then we are only putting on a portion of our armour. It is only when we wear the full armour of God, that we can become stronger and learn to overcome.
I like Steve Furtick’s quote:
“We come to God not just to feel better about our symptoms. We come to break the cycles of thoughts, attitudes and actions that keep us trapped.”
There are some further encouraging words in Ephesians 2:
“18. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
19: So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.
20: Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.” [NLT]
In verse 18, we are reminded of the promise that we have access to our Heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit because of Christ’s sacrifice. We are promised audience with Him when we seek strength, help and encouragement. Every time we pray, we are speaking to the Great High God!
In verse 19 we are reminded that we aren’t alone nor isolated. We are sharing this journey and these struggles together, in a family of fellow-sufferers. Ask God to help you find a compassionate, non-judgemental, mature Christian mentor who you can phone or talk to whenever you are struggling with temptation.
If you are serious about overcoming this problem, you need to find someone with whom you can be accountable; that you can meet with regularly. Pray for a helping-friend and talk to your Pastor.
Although we aren’t often strong on our own, and don’t have the human strength to overcome sin, in verse 20 it reminds us about who forms the foundation of our strong tower: Jesus Christ and the apostles! Our fellow believers are part of God’s church, so this reminds us that our brothers and sisters can help and uplift us during times of difficulty, and it is through Christ and the Holy Spirit that we can have strength to resist.
God recognises that we are weak on our own – we must go to Him for strength. The moment that temptation crops up, we must instantly learn to recognise it, and stop the temptation from developing into sin with prayer – talk to God about it. Find ways to combat it! Distract ourselves, or phone a Christian friend. If we don’t feel comfortable sharing the details of our temptation with a Christian friend, just talking to them may help to distract our thoughts.
We will never be perfect in this life, but God promises to continue working in us, and growing us, as long we are willing. While we can never completely conquer our sinful nature, as we mature in our Christian walk, we are also developing resistance to temptation. Just as a labourer develops calluses to protect his skin, we too can develop toughness in areas where we need it.
There is joy and promise in the fact that one day, we will be able to leave all of our failings and all of that temptation, far, far behind us. Thank goodness! What a wonderful promise that is to cling to, especially when we are struggling.