How do you react when you see a lingerie ad?
A. Look away and try not to think about it. B. Avert your eyes, then look some more while seeming to look at something at the side. C. Openly check it out and let your imagination run wild. D. Dwell on it a bit longer, then feel guilty and lousy and repent and pray for forgiveness. E. Look and feel ashamed or embarrassed about how your own body looks.
Depending on your gender and beliefs (religious or otherwise), your answer may be one or a combination of the above. Somehow, I don’t think the first reaction will simply be an assessment of the quality of the actual lingerie, but more often an appraisal of the model wearing it.
When we speak of temptation, sex often comes to mind. No doubt there could be other forms, but sexual temptation is by far one that is most dangerous and damaging.
These days, temptation is all around us. You see ads like these in shopping malls, at bus stops, on the covers of newspapers, at the top or side as you are checking your email or searching for something online.
The danger of temptation is that it always starts innocent. You could have absolutely no intention of looking for it but suddenly find yourself mired in it.
Like you could be reading a novel or what seems like a personal sharing of an experience and as the account unfolds realise that it is actually a graphic love scene or a piece of erotic literature. But it’s far too juicy to stop by then, so you read on. Or you could be researching something medical and come across “educational” pictures of people who happen to be nude. Do you close the book or window, or try to press on and stave off the temptation to dwell further on the image that you’ve seen?
So often in marriages that are experiencing challenges, one or both spouses wind up in an affair not because they wanted to do so, but because they hoped to improve their marriage through sharing their woes and seeking counsel from a member of the opposite sex, perhaps a friend or a co-worker. One thing leads to another, and before they know it an emotional connection becomes something much more.
Temptation affects all ages, all nationalities. I read about the worrying figures of a 2011 study that reported 40 per cent of people in Hong Kong as having had premarital sex, with the figures going up to 70 per cent in mainland China and 90 per cent in the US. Our children and youth today face great pressure in battling temptation.
Many people think that the way to combat temptation is to simply take a strong stance, pledge against it, cut it off and focus on building better character. Sadly, this rarely works on a lasting basis. Our willpower is simply no match for temptation.
So what is? The answer lies in the grace of God and our identity in Christ: knowing who we are and what we have as Christians.
People become open and give in to temptation out of a sense of insecurity, fear or guilt.
Girls dress revealingly or sign up to become lingerie models or post provocative photos of themselves on Instagram to get attention because they don’t feel confident about how they look, even if they are beautiful. People take up smoking or drugs or get into gangs because they want to feel cool and accepted by the crowd.
People give themselves away before marriage because they’re afraid they’ll lose the love of their partner or they’d be missing out otherwise from what everybody else is apparently enjoying. Or they get into gambling because they are afraid they won’t have enough or that they’ll miss that winning chance to strike it rich.
Those who have given in to temptation end up becoming bound in addictions or further bad choices because they already feel lousy about themselves and think there’s no point trying to get out of it.
But the fleeting attention and compliments received doesn’t make us more secure. The guilt of indulging in premarital sex only brings worries, sorrows and disenchantment into marriage. The momentary highs and pleasures from indulgence continuing into addiction or destructive lifestyles doesn’t satisfy and only makes us feel lousier and emptier.
Trying to resist or overcome temptation through sheer will, cold turkey efforts, or psyching ourselves that we’re better than this has no enduring power; it may work for a while, but there’ll always be another temptation lurking somewhere down the road. And even if we manage to control it outwardly, the mental battle with the inner desires, urges and fantasies is usually a losing one.
Only God’s gift of eternal forgiveness and righteousness through Jesus Christ can give rock solid security. Only God’s perfect love can cast out all fear. Only the grace of the Lord Jesus can cause sin and temptation to have no more power over us.
When we know we HAVE forgiveness of our sins – past, present, and future – through Jesus’s finished work, we will have the confidence to run to God, who’s our very present help in time of need, when we fail and strength to move on past our failure.
When we know we ARE the righteousness of God in Christ – present and continuous – even when we fail, guilt and condemnation cannot have a lasting hold on us and the cycle of temptation and sin will inevitably be broken.
When we know how much we ARE the beloved son or daughter of God – present and continuous – our worth will no longer be built on the people around us or what they think. His unconditional and unwavering love gives us the assurance that He sees us beautiful and spotless always, and He will look after us, and deliver us out of any trouble or challenge we are facing.
The more we realise our wealth and standing in Christ, the more we will begin to act like the princes and princesses that we already are to bring honour and glory to God, not because He commands us to, but because we want to behave like who we really are.
God promises that sin shall not have dominion over us, because we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14). When we rest in the saving grace of Jesus, His grace in us will give us the power to overcome sin and temptation supernaturally and effortlessly. The power of His word and His promise guarantees it.
Sure, it may not happen immediately. But it will surely happen. Numerous testimonies of people who have been set free from addictions and even the urge to give in to temptation attest to this.
Back to the lingerie ad. What if you have already succumbed? That’s the time to remember and remind yourself that you are still forgiven and righteous in Christ. And that God still loves you the same right then, just as you are. You may not feel anything like it. But that’s what you need to do.
Even if you may succumb again and again, and have to remind yourself again and again, keep pressing on. Keep confessing your righteous and beloved identity in Christ, and let Jesus break that temptation as only He can do. And one day before you know it, it will.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.