“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…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5;7)
Sexual immorality is a “twice threefold” attack on our souls.
First of all, it comes from three different fronts. It can be one of the most common temptations we face from our sinful nature – and one of the most difficult to overcome. Mind, spirit and flesh often work together against us to draw us into this uniquely powerful sin. While battling this temptation within our own hearts, we face constant bombardment from a society and world obsessed with perversion and sensuality, making the struggle that much more difficult. And the Devil is ever on the prowl, ready to use our own weakness and the corruption and permissiveness of a promiscuous society against us by very intentionally leading us into sexual temptation.
Not only is the threat of this temptation threefold in how we are drawn into sin, but also in the effects this sin has on our life. For one thing, sexual sins open the doors to all kinds of other rebellion and disobedience: deceit, anger, jealousy, slander, and violence to name just a few. Not only that, but the earthly consequences of sexual sins are generally unparalleled: broken relationships, lack of trust, personal shame, loss of reputation, diseases, and even murder. Furthermore, sexual sins have the tendency to wreak havoc on our relationship with God as we try to hide or justify our wrongdoing from Him and others, slip further and further into sin and guilt, and eventually reject the need for forgiveness or despair of the hope of His mercy.
There is no denying that this six-headed monster is one of the most powerful foes we face in our daily spiritual warfare. So what advice does God give to His brave warriors for when they encounter this deadly adversary?
Run. Flee. Retreat. Hightail it out of there. As Adam Clarke said, “If you parley you are undone; reason not, but Fly!” Scripture tells us plainly, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18); “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Which of God’s spiritual weapons can help us to escape this fiend and beat a hasty retreat? Which armaments will best protect us and keep us from being cornered by this beast in the first place? As Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians, self-control is an obvious choice for warriors who find themselves embattled with this particular temptation.
So how do we develop self-control in the context of lust or sexual temptation? Love is the key – not the “love” that we find in modern romance novels and movies (a mere pretext for infatuation and sexual desire), but the selfless love that God teaches us by His own example. Setting our hearts and minds more on God and less on earthly desires, pleasures, and pursuits goes a long way in avoiding such carnal lusts. Seeing our neighbors (especially those who have the potential to become the objects of our sexual desire) as God’s precious children and our brothers and sisters in faith will also help us to interact with them within the framework of God’s will rather than our own perverse cravings. If we truly seek what is good, right, and holy for their sake and put our own wants behind us to genuinely serve them, we will be proof against the combined attacks of Satan, the world, and our own sinful nature.
As Paul reminds Timothy (see above verse), the breastplate of righteousness is also particularly useful against sexual temptation – not only to ward off the Devil’s attacks as we live just and holy lives in God’s sight, but also to defend us from the despair we might face in our failures if we did not have Christ’s own righteousness. The shield of faith can also block the fiery lies and accusations of the Devil as we look to God’s grace alone for our salvation. Keeping our feet fitted with the Gospel of peace can help us to be ever ready to flee from earthly temptations and prevent us from stumbling or being swayed by our own sinful passions. Equipped with these arms, we can escape the threefold ambush of sexual immorality, defend ourselves from falling, and strike back against an evil that rages out of control in our dark world.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to live a pure and holy life, filled with goodness and self-control. Forgive me for the times when I have failed, and grant that I may look at others only as objects of Your love and serve them with a pure heart; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord. Amen.