“But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13b).
Adam and Eve were lucky, weren’t they? They didn’t have to think about staying pure before marriage. God just plopped Eve onto Adam’s lap, they knew they were meant for each other, and God told them to be fruitful and multiply!
How lucky can you get?
But staying pure isn’t easy for any of us, even for Adam and Eve.
In the next sentence of their story, Satan came onto the scene and started asking questions: “Did God really say…?”
This is one of Satan’s most effective strategies for taking us down: to get us to question what God said—even though what God said may have been perfectly clear at the time. God had told Adam that he could eat from any tree in the garden except one, because if he ate from it, he would die. Later, Satan simply asked them:
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1b).
Well, no, that’s not what God really said (see Genesis 3), but it was enough to catch Adam and Eve off guard. They began to wonder if there might be a way around what God really did say in order to get what they wanted. Although initially they fought it, eventually they fell for it.
So did I.
Guessing at God’s Intentions
Even though I grew up going to church, when I got to high school, I found myself torn between wanting to indulge my sexual desires and knowing that it wouldn’t be right to do so. I began to give in, a little bit at a time. By the time I graduated from college, I was well down the road of sexual indulgence.
Lana followed a similar path. When she started dating, she wasn’t quite sure where God wanted her to draw the line physically with the guys she was dating. As she would come to a new boundary line in her physical relationships, she would wonder if she should cross it or not. Each time she came back to the conclusion that God wanted her to be happy—and what she was doing made her really happy! So she guessed that what she was doing must be okay.
Lana and I both found out that once we were able to justify crossing one boundary, it was easier to cross the next. While the fear of pregnancy kept us both from engaging in full sexual intercourse with anyone before marriage, we didn’t understand that the things we were doing were still setting us up for potential physical problems down the road—and guaranteed heartbreak—both of which could have been avoided.
Lana was right that God did want her to be happy! But the way to be truly happy is to be truly holy—staying pure in the eyes of God as well as your own. Like Adam and Eve found out, when we just guess at what God might say about how to be happy, instead of finding out what God really does say, we’ll soon find that what we thought would make us happy is very short-lived—and can actually cause more unhappiness than we could have imagined.
From our human point of view, some of the sexual activities in which people engage may not seem to be clear misuses of sex. But when we swirl around and take a look at them from God’s viewpoint, the uses and misuses of sex become much more apparent.
We bought some dog treats one day to help train our new puppy. We thought they’d encourage her to do some things that were good for both her and us. We also had a toddler at the time who happened to find the treats! She started feeding them to the puppy one after another after another. Our puppy thought it was great! She got to eat all the treats she wanted! But how do you think it made us feel? We wanted the puppy to get the treats at some point—we obviously bought them for her—but the way in which she was getting them undermined the purpose for which we bought them in the first place.
God must feel the same way when we engage in sex in ways that don’t fulfill His purposes for creating it. He wants us to enjoy the treat of sex at some point—He obviously designed it to be enjoyable for us—but He doesn’t want us to engage in sex in ways which undermine the purposes for which He designed it in the first place.
The best way to stay pure before and within marriage is to swirl around and take a look at sex from God’s point of view. You can usually see in a heartbeat if what you’re doing is just for the sake of the treat, or for God’s sake.
Here are two questions you can ask yourself to help decide if something you’re doing, or considering doing, is in line with God’s desires for you or not:
- Will this lead to greater intimacy with the husband or wife God has created for me?
- Will this lead to greater fruitfulness with the husband or wife God has created for me?
If any activity doesn’t lead you into greater intimacy or fruitfulness with your spouse, it’s more likely to destroy intimacy or fruitfulness.
A Way Out
I know how hard it can be to hold back from things that are sexually enticing. But as I mentioned before, God not only wants us to stay pure, He will also help us to stay pure.
Jesus is not some guy who’s “out there” and who doesn’t have a clue about the struggles we face. The Bible says this about Jesus, who is described here as our high priest:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus knows and understands what it’s like to be tempted. But He also shows us that God always provides us a way out of temptation.
I used to love to play a computer game called Dark Castle. The purpose was to try to escape from a castle in which you were trapped. Each room in the castle had a different challenge. Sometimes you had to throw rocks at bats, jump across moving stones, or duck out of the way of flying objects.
In each room there was something special to help you through it: a bag of rocks to throw, a special keystroke to help you jump higher, or a jet pack to help you fly. I would look around each room until I found the way of escape. When I found it, I would take it and move on to the next room. Eventually, I made it to the end. I defeated the enemy, escaped from the castle and was finally free.
God has promised that whenever we face a temptation, He has provided a way of escape. We may not always see it right away, or even want to see it, but it’s always there. 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).
A friend of mine was traveling in another country when he was tempted to go into an area of a town that was known for all kinds of sexual activity. He said he just wanted to see what it was like. As he got onto the subway, he said a short prayer, asking God to provide a way out if God didn’t want him to do this.
When the train stopped at his destination, he stepped onto the platform and was soon surrounded by a group of people who asked him to come with them. Although he had trouble understanding their language, he could tell they must be Christians and that they were inviting him to their church. Remembering his prayer, he decided to go with them instead of going to where he had originally planned. Amazingly, when he got to their church, they baptized him. They gave him a cup of hot tea and another subway ticket to get back home—which he promptly used for that purpose!
Of course, it would have been easier if my friend had simply not gotten on the train when he first thought about heading into sin. But the fact that God still answered his prayer and provided him yet another way out, is a demonstration of the lengths to which God will go to lead us out of temptation.
Jesus knew how real and significant our temptations would be. He knew that it was so important that He included it in His model prayer that He taught to His disciples to pray, which we now call the Lord’s Prayer. It says, in part: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
The Apostle Paul felt that resisting temptation was so important that he wrote to the people living in Corinth: “Flee from sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18a).
Joseph felt that fleeing from temptation was so important that when temptation came to him, he ran the other way! Take a look at what Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him: “She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” (Genesis 39:12). Joseph got thrown into jail for running away, but jail was nothing compared to the price he would have paid if he had stayed! In the end, God honored Joseph’s obedience and made him second in command over all of Egypt.
When we’re tempted, God always provides a way of escape—even if it’s just to turn and run—and He wants us to take it every time.
One of the best ways to deal with temptation is to remove ourselves from its path as much as possible. Although we can’t eliminate all temptations, we have more control over them than we might think.
I found this out for myself when I put into practice something else that I learned from my conversation with John Smid. After talking about the way I treated others physically, the conversation turned to the way I treated myself physically. John asked me whether or not I still masturbated, which is a way of touching yourself that stimulates your sexual organs to an orgasm without having sexual intercourse with someone. I said that I did. Even though I had wondered what God thought of masturbation, I was never able to find enough evidence against it in the Bible to convince me to stop.
John told me that the reason he asked about masturbation wasn’t so much about the issue of masturbation itself, but about the issue of self-control—because self-control is specifically mentioned in the Bible:
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
John went on to say that he had found that masturbation was not only an issue for those who were single, but also for those who were married. If people regularly masturbated before they got married, they would usually continue to masturbate after they got married. The struggle over masturbation is not a struggle over sexual release, but a struggle over self-control.
When John interviewed several wives to ask what they would think if they knew their husbands were still masturbating after they got married, not one of the women responded with a positive view of it. The responses ranged from wondering what they, as wives, might be doing wrong sexually, to wondering what else their husbands might be doing if they weren’t able to control themselves in this way.
Then John said something that inspired me: he told me that he—and many other people that he knew—had made a commitment to give up masturbation completely. Each of them could testify to the tremendous difference it had made in their lives. He had thrown down a gauntlet, a challenge that I had to decide whether or not I was going to pick up and apply to my own life.
I decided it was worth a try. So I made the commitment to myself and to Lana that I was going to try to give up masturbation completely, even before we got married. And as a way to hold myself accountable to that commitment, I told her that if I ever did give in to masturbation, I would confess it to her before the end of that same day.
I wish I could say I have been perfect in my resolve on this issue, too, but I can’t! But I can say that I have kept my commitment to telling Lana before the day was out whenever I have given in. After just a few times of having to make that embarrassing confession, my resolve was set for good. This doesn’t mean that the temptation has gone away or that I wouldn’t like to give in to those temptations, but it does mean that my desire for self-control has overtaken my desire for giving in.
Drawing a Line in the Heart
That one decision has kept me pure in more ways than one over the years.
When I happened to run into John Smid again, sixteen years later, I showed him a picture of my family, which was still just a glimmer in my eye at the time when we had first talked. I thanked him for the nuggets of truth he had shared with me and told him about how my decision to stop masturbating had kept me pure in other ways, too.
Gaining control over masturbation has kept me from other sexual activities that are more serious and are clearly condemned in Scripture, such as:
- Adultery, which involves sex with someone who isn’t your husband or wife, and is listed as one of the top Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
- Prostitution, which involves paying someone to have sex with you: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (1 Corinthians 6:15-16).
- and Pornography, which involves looking at things like books, magazines, pictures, tapes, or movies that are designed to arouse you sexually. Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-29).
A question people often ask is, “How far can I go?” meaning, “How far can I go with someone physically before God considers it a sin?” It’s a common question, but I think it’s the wrong question. Jesus, in his quote about adultery, reveals that the sin doesn’t occur just when we cross a physical boundary, but when we cross a boundary in our heart. The best place to draw the line is not in the flesh, but in the heart, because once a line has been crossed in the heart, it’s that much easier to cross it in the flesh. The Bible explains how these wrongful desires of our heart can lead us into wrongful actions, which can lead to destruction:
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).
Tim Wilkins, Executive Director of Cross Ministry, which also helps people overcome their sexual struggles, tells this helpful story for dealing with temptation:
An affluent, aristocratic woman reviews resumés from potential chauffeurs to drive her Rolls Royce. She narrows the applicants to three men and invites them to her palatial home.
She escorts each one individually to her driveway and the brick wall beside it.
She asks, “If you were driving my Rolls, how close do you think you could come to that brick wall without scratching my car?”
The first applicant says, “I can drive within a foot of that wall and not damage your Rolls.”
She brings out the second applicant and asks, “If you were driving my Rolls, how close do you think you could come to that brick wall without scratching my car?”
He scratches his head and says, “I can drive within six inches of that wall and not damage your car.”
She invites the third applicant and asks, “If you were driving my Rolls, how close do you think you could come to that brick wall without scratching my car?”
He does not hesitate, “Ma’am, I do not know how close I could come to the wall without damaging your car, but if I was driving your car, I would stay as far away as possible from the wall so as not to damage your car.”
Guess who got the job?
Tim adds, “When addressing sexual temptation, the point is not how close one can get to the temptation without getting ‘scratched,’ but staying as far away as possible. ‘Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house…’ (Proverbs 5:8).”
For me, by drawing a line in the sand way back at masturbation, I have been able to keep from being drawn into activities that are further down the road and that could be much more destructive to God’s desires—and my desires—for my life and my marriage. It has helped me to keep my thoughts in check, knowing that there’s no need to linger on a tempting thought for more than a moment because I know I won’t be following through on that thought, even if it were “only” through masturbation.
John Smid said that he continues to recommend that people give up masturbation, especially if they struggle with other sexual temptations, for two reasons: 1) because it builds a person’s confidence in their ability to gain control over their own body, and 2) because even if they do occasionally fail in this struggle, the results are not as devastating as if they fall into more serious temptations.
This one nugget of truth, related to controlling our bodies and based on the Word of God, has saved me, my wife and my family from a lifetime of grief. No wonder I love the Bible so much!
The Bible takes the guesswork out of wondering what God says about sex. In the next chapter, I’ll share the first thing I read in the Bible as an adult regarding sex, something which turned out to be one of the most significant turning points of my life.
1. What is one of Satan’s most effective strategies to get us to sin? (Genesis 3:1)
2. What two questions can you ask yourself to help determine if a sexually stimulating activity is in line with God’s purposes or not?
3. When you are tempted to sin, what does God say He will always do for you? (1 Corinthians 10:13)
4. What does God want us to learn to control? (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)