Chapter 5: How to Have Victory Over Temptation Every Time
What one of us has not succumbed to temptation? We can all relate to temptation’s deceitful lure and overpowering magnetism. Nothing is more frustrating to the Christian than to be hopelessly and helplessly locked into a cycle of repetitive sin followed by yet another, “I’m so sorry Lord, please forgive me” confession. How can we get victory over this temptation thing right from the start?
It used to be said in days gone by that prevention was the best medicine. Take smoking as an example. Obviously, you would never be tempted to have another cigarette if you didn’t have a first one. Furthermore, you wouldn’t have to deal with the devastating health effects of prolonged tobacco use if you never took that initial puff. The point is once you dive into the deep end, you’re going to get wet-absolutely, unequivocally wet.
So what can help us successfully resist temptation’s overwhelming power? I think that by now you should be able to venture a very good guess. Make the conscious choice to go vertical! What we want to do in this chapter is look into the stories of two famous Bible characters that encountered strikingly similar temptations. This particular kind of temptation is without doubt one of the most intense any man could come up against. What we are going to observe in these examples is first, an amazing vertical response to temptation and second, a tragic horizontal response to the immediate attractiveness of sin.
A. JOSEPH’S AMAZING VERTICAL RESPONSE TO TEMPTATION
I believe Joseph to be one of the most heroic and honorable God-followers ever written about in the pages of Scripture. There is no way you can read his story without being impressed by his spiritual perspective and godly attitude. Without question, Joseph’s life was marked by the utmost integrity. But wait just a minute. Have you ever taken the time to realize things could have been much different with Joseph? The fact is his life could have easily turned out to be a total spiritual bust.
Consider this. After Joseph’s brothers sold him to Midianite slave traders in a fit of jealous rage, Joseph had every opportunity right then and there to forever turn his back on Jehovah God. How could this sovereign, all-powerful God permit such injustice to invade his life? Furthermore, Joseph was transported into a pantheistic culture where, even apart from his agonizing circumstances, he could easily have abandoned his faith in the one true God. But the real test of what Joseph would do in a foreign and hostile environment landed on his doorstep not too long after he arrived in Egypt.
In Genesis 39, the curtains open and we step back into a scenario that would indeed become Joseph’s defining moment. Since arriving in Egypt, Joseph had become a slave to Potiphar, a man of political prominence in Egypt. God’s blessing immediately fell upon Joseph to such a great extent that he rose to a position of high authority within Potiphar’s house. This positive turn of events, in and of itself, was far more than Joseph could have ever imagined possible when he was embarking, as a slave, on his journey of hopeless despair into a foreign land.
Now what’s particularly important for us to observe is the reality of God’s divine involvement with Joseph at this stage of his life. God was intricately active in Joseph’s life. He was sovereignly orchestrating events behind the scenes. He was causing Joseph to prosper, and even Potiphar himself had become the beneficiary (Gen. 39:2-5).
However, often testing comes right on the heels of blessing. When we experience temporal horizontal success, the tendency is for us to become self-congratulatory and self-sufficient. In our newfound security, we begin to believe we can begin to handle life on our own without God.
Scripture makes it clear that God does not tempt us to sin (Jas. 1:13-15). But God does permit earthly realities to take their course in order to test the true level of our commitment to Him. What were the earthly realities that tested Joseph’s faithfulness to his God?
First, Joseph had become far more than just a slave in Potiphar’s house. He had a high profile, both is position and in power. Second, the text tells us that Joseph was one handsome guy (Gen. 39:6). He was what girls in my teenage years used to call a “hunk.” Putting both of those positive factors together was somebody in Potiphar’s house had already done - Potiphar’s wife. To Mrs. Potiphar, Joseph had become a very desirable item. This prompted her to communicate just three words that had the power to shape Joseph’s destiny in ways he never could have predicted. She said, “Lie with me” (Gen. 39:7).
Those words had the power to steamroll Joseph like an eighteen-wheel transport truck barreling down the highway at one hundred miles per hour. What you have got to remember is that Joseph was a normal, red-blooded young male. It is one thing to fantasize in one’s adolescence about a sexual encounter, but it is quite another thing to have it presented to you as an immediate option, free for the taking. Now that’s temptation!
Furthermore, Joseph was in an environment where he could have easily rationalized away the impropriety of Mrs. Potiphar’s immoral proposition. He was locked into a foreign culture far away from the positive, restraining influences of home. Joseph could have thought, “Like, who will ever know. And I don’t have to worry about disappointing my Dad. He doesn’t even know where I am, and I will probably never see him again.”
However, what transpired next was one of the most remarkable, honorable responses ever recorded in human history:
But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from be but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:8,9).
What enabled Joseph to resist this intense temptation to gratify his earthly senses? First, he recognized his horizontal responsibility to his earthly master, Potiphar. Then he acknowledged his vertical responsibility to his heavenly master - God. Joseph went vertical! He made the conscious choice to fear his earthly master but even more importantly to fear his Heavenly Master: “Yes, there is a God who exists outside the parameters of this immediate situation to Whom I am immediately and ultimately accountable for everything I do.”
To experience consistent victory over temptation, we must be continually practicing a conscious awareness of the immediate relevance and irrevocable authority of God before temptation strikes. Furthermore, we must be cognizant of the fact that the choice to go vertical and obey God will likely cost us something in the temporal realm of our existence. For Joseph, it was having to bypass a great opportunity to experience sensual pleasure.
We also need to remember that this temptation was not a one-time event. Joseph encountered Mrs. Potiphar’s immoral advances day after day. Joseph, therefore, was continually confronted with the choice to go vertical or to finally succumb to the horizontal pressure to sin (Gen. 39:10). Ultimately, his resolve to remain morally pure cost him everything he gained up to that point in time in Egypt. When Mrs. Potiphar propositioned Joseph still yet on another day, Joseph ran away but she was able to get hold of his garment and use it to falsely accuse him of a crime he did not commit.
What was the result? Joseph wound up in jail. Humanly speaking, Joseph’s decision to go vertical did not seem to make sense. Look where it got him! Most people would say he might as well have indulged his physical senses and experienced titillating satisfaction. But remember, it’s always better to be an Abel than a Cain. Little could Joseph predict how that would come true in his then uncertain future.
B. DAVID’S TRAGIC HORIZONTAL RESPONSE TO TEMPTATION
David’s story is strikingly similar to Joseph’s. He too faced an intense sexual temptation. However, everything else about David’s story stands in stark contrast to that of Joseph. Joseph was the unwilling target of a woman’s sexual advances. Conversely, David was the instigator of his immoral sexual encounter. Let’s set the scene: In the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all of Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 11:1).
What we need to realize here is that a king usually led his troops into battle in the spring of the year because of the good weather and available food along his army’s path. However, for whatever reason, the text specifies that David decided to stay at home.
Much has been made of the fact that this was an irresponsible action on David’s part. Suffice it to say that the old adage “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” was dead on when it came to the temptation David was about to face. Verse two seems to verify this: “Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house” (2 Sam. 11:2).
The fact is, if you’re a king, you pretty much have everything done for you, and therefore you have plenty of free time on your hands. Therefore, because David wasn’t out leading his troops into battle, he didn’t have much else to occupy his time. So one evening, most likely restless from inactivity and unable to sleep, he decided to get some fresh air on his roof. Little did he know how this seemingly harmless and insignificant decision would drastically alter the rest of his life.
While on his kingly stroll, his eyes happened to fall upon a beautiful woman bathing on the roof top of an adjacent house. Now here was the moment of decision, that crucial moment in time where the choice is made to go vertical or to respond horizontally. Remember, our fallen humanity is easily dominated by our earthly senses - what we can see, touch, taste, smell, and hear. David allowed his earthly senses to avalanche him. He immediately imagined what it would feel like to be with this woman, to see her beautiful body up close, to taste the sweetness of her lips, and to smell her freshly bathed body enveloped in his embrace.
A horizontal perspective of life makes it easy to fall prey to abandoned indulgence in immediate pleasure. Satisfaction in the “here and now” consistently takes pre-eminence over the possibility of any anticipated long-term adverse consequences. This is precisely why sexual temptation holds such power over men. There is a heightened mental stimulation and intense physical gratification in the sexual experience. Add to this the fact that, because David was king, he could have pretty much anything he wanted – anywhere and anytime. Power was inherent in his position as Israel’s monarch.
David took complete advantage of this. He inquired about the lady and had her brought to his palace. Bathsheba was not likely a willing participant in this escapade. After David got what he wanted, he just sent Bathsheba back home, proving his encounter with her was no more than unbridled indulgence in raw lust. Yes, David did get the thrill he was seeking for over a few minutes of time. However, immediately after experiencing temporal satisfaction, things only spiraled downhill rapidly in his life.
Before examining how the consequences played out in David’s life, there is something of crucial importance that we must not miss in 2 Samuel 11:27. At the very end of the chapter, we find the words: “But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.” From the very first moment David’s eyes focused upon Bathsheba to the time he took her as his wife, Jehovah God was entirely absent from David’s perspective.
David orchestrated and played out those events without one conscious thought of God. It’s as if David completely discounted the reality of God’s divine existence. God simply did not matter. In 2 Samuel 11, life was all about one person and his satisfaction and that person was David. However, as much as we may refuse to think vertically and acknowledge God, He certainly doesn’t cease to exist, nor does he respond with indifference to our sins. David obviously needed a huge wake-up call to these unchangeable realities.
How does this speak to us? We may insist on living out our lives indulging in temporal, horizontal ways, but vertical, eternal realities will never cease to hold sovereign power over our earthly actions. David would most certainly find that out. He could not have begun to imagine the future, tragic ramifications of those moments of ecstasy when he first held Bathsheba in his arms. Here’s the sad summary of what transpired throughout David’s life because he made the catastrophic choice to stay horizontal rather than go vertical.
CATASTROPHIC EFFECTS OF DAVID’S SIN
1. He practiced deceit. He tried to get Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) to have sexual relations with Bathsheba to protect himself from implication in her pregnancy (2 Sam. 11:6-13).
2. He conspired to commit murder. He had Uriah strategically placed at the battlefront where it was very likely he would lose his life and that’s indeed what happened (2 Sam. 11:14-25).
3. He was entirely numb to the gravity of his sins. After Bathsheba finished mourning over her husband’s death, David, without a second thought, simply took her to his house to be his wife (2 Sam. 12:26,27).
4. God took the life of his newborn son. This punishment was extremely harsh, but justifiable in the eyes of God (2 Sam. 12:15b-18).
5. David’s son Ammon raped his half-sister Tamar. This was very likely a continuance of sexual sin within David’s family line (2 Sam.13:1-21).
6. David’s son Absalom murdered Ammon out of revenge. This was the first fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy that bloodshed would never be absent among David’s posterity (2 Sam. 12:10, 13:23-33).
7. Absalom rebelled against his father and committed open acts of immorality. He committed treason and had public, immoral sexual relations with David’s concubines on the very rooftop where David fell into temptation (this was the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy in 2 Sam. 12:11,12) and was eventually killed by David’s general, Joab (2 Sam. 18:15).
What can we conclude from all of this? Going vertical when confronted with temptation is the only way to respond! Joseph’s amazing vertical response eventually opened up the pathway for his release from prison and unexpected elevation to great political power within the Egyptian kingdom. Furthermore, he showed yet another amazing vertical response when he forgave his brothers for their previous callous actions toward him. (Gen. 45:4-8, 50:15-21).
David, on the other hand, reaped many negative results from his horizontal response to temptation. Yes, he was a man after God’s own heart and the writer of numerous psalms that we cherish so much. But how much heartache he could have avoided if he had only gone vertical! What choice will we make when the next inevitable temptation comes knocking at the door of our lives? Let’s go vertical!
What’s the BLT? There are only two possible responses to temptation-horizontal or vertical. What will be my response when the next temptation comes across my path?
God, Please Change Me!
I really want to change,
So, God please help me!
No more excuses from this heart of mine,
I’m through with being up and down all the time.
I’ve tried to live out my Christianity
By pleasing God while pleasing me
But as long as I keep living this way,
Victory will always be another day away.
So Lord, I come to You now and repent.
No more lies or shallow sentiment,
No more sin and then confess,
I’m all for You, and nothing less.
When temptation comes,
I’ll say, “I’m dead to that.”
I don’t have to give in,
And that’s a fact.
Holy Spirit, You have the power,
That I need this very moment - yes, every hour.
It’s got to be all of You and none of me,
If like Jesus I’m truly going to be.
By faith, I will claim this reality:
Change is possible because You’re in me.
From now on this is my story:
Christ lives through me, God gets the glory.