Medieval architects had a fetish for light. Therefore, they attempted to build cathedrals with as many windows, and as large of windows, as possible. However, this soon led to a problem. Glass is weak, and vast walls composed of beautiful glass panels cannot support the weight of ponderous ceilings. The solution to the problem was an architectural device called a flying-buttress. By reinforcing walls from the outside, the feeble material of glass was strengthened and upheld.
Men need to realize that human willpower, even among Christians, is a fragile substance. While we need self-control, we ought not to depend on self-control alone to resist temptation. Instead, taking our cue from medieval architects, we need to think strategically about how to avoid a sudden collapse due to outside pressure. For starters, here are five spiritual tips to fortify self-control and to avoid sin.
1 – Avoid the Door of Temptation
In Proverbs 5:8 we are told not to go near the door of the seductress. The reason for this is obvious. The closer we allow ourselves to draw near to sin the more entangled we become with sinful desire. Sin is like a spider that casts a wide net. The best way to avoid getting caught in its web is by steering a wide course that avoids any sign of danger. David provides a classic illustration of this. The sin with Bathsheba began when he decided to hang out on the rooftop of his place snooping on neighbors when he ought to have been leading his men in the field of battle. If we willfully put ourselves in compromised situations, our will-power will never be sufficient to resist temptation.
2 – Resist Forcefully the First Movements of Sin
Pompey the Great was the greatest military leader of the ancient world besides Alexander. And yet he ended up being defeated by Julius Caesar and having his head cut off by the Egyptians. How did this happen? The catalyst of Pompey’s downfall occurred when rumors began to reach Rome that Caesar was moving with an army toward the city and Pompey casually did nothing. In fact, Pompey famously said, ‘If Pompey the Great stamps his feet, the people will run to assist him’ In fact, they didn’t. Pompey learned the hard way that early carelessness leads to final defeat. Many Christian men repeat the blunder. Rather than resist the first movement of sin, they toy will evil desire in the beginning, only to learn that what first looks like a cute lizard is in fact a deadly dragon.
3 – Confess Any Curiosity about Sin or Enjoying in Temptation to a Faithful Christian
The favored tactic of sin is to bypass thought and delay choice until the deep desires of the heart are captivated. Curiosity, interest, desire, imagining, delight – these are the tentacles of sin that silently stretch forth to strangle a man. Long before a man consents to having an affair, or rationalizes cheating on his wife, he first permits himself to linger in the space of temptation. He seeks out the company of a co-worker. He goes out to lunch. He replays the fun of hanging out in spare moments of the day. Curiosity and enjoyment are the gateway drugs to bigger and more destructive actions.
What can we do to counteract this? The answer is confession. We need to nip the bud of temptation by confessing to a brother the fact that a dangerous delight and curiosity has been conceived. The effect of this transparency will be that our eroding willpower is shored up by accountability. The man who walks alone is the man who plays with sin.
4 – Practice the Presence of God
The Roman philosopher Seneca used to tell his disciples that, in order to avoid vice, they ought to imagine themselves always to be in the company of three or four illustrious Romans. We can one up this as Christians by cultivating the habitual consciousness of living in the presence, not of holy men, but of a holy God. Most of us would behave differently if there was a cable television station dedicated to broadcasting our lives to the public, 24/7. The truth is even more unmasking than this. We live before a God who not only sees the outside, but the inside – our heart, mind, motivation, imagination, and will. The more attentive we are to the presence of God, the less powerful temptation will be. Satan loves nothing more than to convince Christians that the cameras of heaven are off and that no one is watching.
5 – Don’t Neglect the Means of Grace
King Saul made many mistakes during his reign. One of the worst was a rash vow in the midst of a heated battle that none of his soldiers could eat until evening. The effect of this vow was to cut men off from the very nourishment that they needed to persist in the fight. Sadly, a lot of Christian men repeat Saul’s error. They neglect the very resources that God uses to strengthen and fortify the faith and obedience of Christians. How many men are relaxed about skipping church, reading the Bible, or fellowshipping closely with other men? This behavior is every bit as foolish as fasting before a marathon. If men want to be strong when faced with severe temptation, they need to take every advantage given to be nourished in faith, hope, and love. The application of this is simple: don’t miss church, don’t not read the Bible, don’t not pray. Negligence is the first step toward sin.
For more teaching on this topic, visit the Cross Training Ministries YouTube channel.