The question arises in the downfall of generals, presidents, and church leaders: Is there a man on the planet who, hotly pursued by a tart half his age, will not succumb? Can any hot-blooded male resist a set-up like that? Upon reflection, I believe the answer is yes—but only if the temptation is disabled forthwith.
James reveals four stages to disaster: Desire enters. Desire not rebuked conceives. Conception naturally births sin. Sin’s final stage is death (James 1:14-15). Notice the initial step in that schema, where desire is not yet sin, and sin is not yet inevitable.
I personally would prefer a different reality: My husband saying, “Honey, you are so fantastic that there is not another woman in the world who could possibly tempt me.” But that’s not Realville. “Temptations to sin are sure to come” (Luke 17:1). Realville is admitting “when I was a child I thought like a child” and handling with skill the lurking temptations.
I know a woman who, when an ungodly thought enters her head, says immediately: “You get outta here, Satan! That ain’t me talkin’! I don’t think that way anymore, I’m a new creation! In Jesus’ Name!” Behold a theologian par excellence. She knows what Martin Luther knew, that the bird that lands on your head is not your fault unless you let it build a nest there. She knows the power of instant prayer. She turns temptation into triumph.
The successful dispatching of temptation cannot be done by men sunk into the easy chair of “cheap grace.” There is a conscious aspect of faith to be appraised, an awareness of red-flag feelings to be developed, an instantaneousness in warfare to be learned. Only authentic living keeps you “from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words” (Proverbs 7:5). All the real action in the Christian life is at the cellular level.
One woman shared with me a case in point. Sally (not her real name) stopped by her friend’s house to drop something off, but the friend wasn’t home, though the husband was, and he was woodworking. Sally complimented him on his artistry and showed interest in his hobby, and they chatted for a whole hour. Then he said, “Thanks for listening. My wife never lets me ramble on like this.” Driving home, something told Sally not to make any more unannounced visits to her friend’s house.
That something was “discernment” (Philippians 1:9). It enables us to “approve what is excellent” and to “be pure and blameless” (v. 10). Sally sensed a neediness in him, and an intoxicating frisson of flattery and superiority in her own heart, and she was appalled. “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), Paul warns.
Now Joseph was a man who fled sexual immorality and escaped harm. If you think he didn’t escape harm just because he went to prison, I’ll bet he would argue that a few years in a dungeon is a pretty good deal compared to what he would have incurred for a momentary roll in the hay with Potiphar’s loyalty-challenged wife: “Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27). God was on Joseph’s mind (Genesis 39:9).
King David, on the other hand, was in spiritual slippage when the roaring lion came to devour. Our hint is the adverbial phrases introducing the tale: “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle” (2 Samuel 11:1). Why wasn’t the king out to battle? Instead we find him idly pacing his balcony following an afternoon nap (v. 2).
Proverbs is all about two kinds of fools. One is the high-handed fool, the other the simpleton. The simpleton doesn’t rebel against God with malice aforethought. He just doesn’t pick up on the warning signs, and finishes little better off than the high-handed fool: “Many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng” (7:26).
Everything you need to know about avoiding the wayward waif is in the first four verses of Proverbs 7: Obey God’s commands. They are guardrails. They are escape hatches and safe havens. Take them seriously and you will never “give your honor to others, and your years to the merciless” (Proverbs 5:9).