Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary
the devil walks about like a roaring lion,
seeking whom he may devour.
1 Peter 5:8
It was on a day over 50 years ago that an eight-year-old boy walked into the house of a friend for a morning of innocent play. While he did not realize it at the time—not for a minute—what happened that morning would, to some degree, become a decisive, though not defining, moment in his life. It decisively put into place an intrusive influence that he would recurrently face as he grew older, though not defining his destiny nor ruling the choices that he would make as year followed year.
I was that eight-year-old boy. Much of what follows in this book flows out of the struggle of forces that that intrusion characterized and that my decisions eventually neutralized—by the grace and power of God.
My friend Don and I were sitting opposite one another in his living room, poring over a board game—probably Monopoly—and strategizing our next moves. We looked up when his teenage brother entered the room and sat down. He took out some pages from a folder that he was obviously hiding and furtively looked around—scanning the kitchen door where his and Don’s mother was busy. Then quickly he handed us two pages and said, “Here, read this.” He watched us with a smirk, exerting his teenage superiority and influence over us.
It was clear that we were being offered a secret—an inside track to something for “older boys.” We both took the bait and began to read. The pages had been clipped from a book and described in lurid detail a crude, corrupt encounter between a man at a restaurant table and a waitress who had snuggled up beside him. Immediately, sexual exchanges began between them. While by today’s standards the story would be relatively tame, it was nonetheless filthy, lewd and perverse.
Neither my eight-year-old mind nor my experience had any context for what I read, even though my basic awareness of the “birds and bees” of human sexuality was in place by this time. But youthful curiosity is powerful, and whispered hints of what really goes on between older boys and girls make a child a vulnerable target for almost anything that will even slightly increase his or her bank of information in this area. Both Don and I were incredibly ripe subjects for such a moment. Even now, I can remember it so clearly.
I was just a young child, but I still recall the way my heart rate increased to near explosion and how my head spun with the heat of the imaginary excitement. Yet what was being generated at both the emotional and physical dimensions wasn’t the heat of a little boy who knew nothing of depth regarding human sexuality or sexual passion; it was the heat ignited by another source—the heat of hell.
I didn’t laugh at the time—none of us did. Don’s older brother revealed his smugness by virtue of superiority in years, but he was like most teenage boys of that time—with barely more knowledge than Don or I, and no more experience.
In the wake of those few moments, we all knew that we had been confronted with something new and—however filthy—intensely exciting to our youthful sensitivities. What I didn’t know, and would not come to understand until years later, was that what took place in those brief moments that morning had registered a point of spiritual bondage in my life—a snare that would not be uncovered until three decades later.
I have never spent a dime on pornography. Yet well into my adult years, I kept finding myself engaged in a peculiar tug-of-war—one that always attempted to pull me in a direction I had firmly committed myself not to go. I never once gave in to that thing, yet my soul was repeatedly confronted with scuffles and skirmishes over it, much like being drawn against one’s will into a wrestling match. I struggled with this problem as an adult, never realizing that a trap—one lined as if with the softness of velvet, seductive and sensuous—had been laid, and that it had snapped shut upon my innocent venturing and had ensnared a part of my soul.
Eventually, by the precious, discerning work of the Holy Spirit, I was led out—in one moment—through the labyrinthine ways of the mind in which (1) the memory of that morning was brought back to my consciousness, (2) I understood how infecting it had become, and (3) I saw how wonderfully Christ could spring the trap.
By using the term “ensnared,” I want to be clear from the beginning about what must be acknowledged regarding the seductive potential of any violation of God’s divine order for our human sexuality. At any level of exposure to the disobedient, the corrupt or the rebellious, not only are human mental, emotional and physical responses at work, but so are spiritual forces, which the Bible calls “seducing spirits” (1 Tim. 4:1, KJV).
There is only one biblical word to describe the nature of such spiritual intrusiveness into the human life or personality: “bondage.” It may be deep or superficial, it may be fascinating or tormenting, but it is real. And what I discovered was that, even as an innocent eight-year-old, I had been seduced—initiated into the corrupt by a cleverly devised plot of the merciless and fierce Adversary of human souls. That Adversary manipulated the soul and the polluted mind of a writer of cheap pornography, and by his tawdry skill, eventuated the placement of the man’s product into the hand of a teenage boy, and thereby subtly used that child’s hand to plant such trash into the minds of two younger children. Thus, by the interplay of so many hands, a point of very real bondage was affixed into the soul of at least one child: mine.
The dimensions and impact of that moment would only become fully discerned and understood years later. Understanding and discernment are very much involved in my relaying the life-liberating and soul-defending principles we will study together.
Later I would learn how pornography is not only words or pictures but also a spirit motivated by a demon out of hell. I came to see principles that relate to all of us: how transactions often conducted unwittingly on our part (as well as consciously) lead nonetheless into a velvet-lined trap of seduction—a trap that is so smooth and deceitful, yet with such strength of grip, that it is seldom fully realized for the awesome power it wields over us until it begins to overtake and subvert so much that is good, righteous and life-giving in a well-intending person.
The story of how that happened to me is indicative of what happens to many people—often with tragic long-term consequences. A bend in the road at an impressionable age can turn the life of a precious young person far away from the future and hope that God promises His people in Jeremiah 29:11. The same story has had, for me, a glorious ending—not because evil was not the intended goal, but because the grace of God, joined to other godly influences in my life, brought a wonderful deliverance from the bondage that that childhood snare established and from the viciously intended plan that would otherwise have been the product of the snare’s intrusion into my life.
Hellish intrusion is always at hand. It is the relentless and calculated objective of a very real Being, and of the host of cohorts at his command, as our common Adversary makes his approach. He is ever and always merciless—his victims being targeted irrespective of age and without consideration for the rich and wonderful purposes of God for each human being.
Our Lord Jesus identifies our enemy, Satan, as a thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy (see John 10:10). Satan brutally seeks this objective at every point of human experience, existence and enterprise. He seeks to destroy domestically (ruining homes and marriages); economically (draining resources and bankrupting business pursuits); professionally (removing the prospects of fruitfulness and effectiveness in one’s labors); physically (encumbering with affliction, sickness and death); and on and on.
Behind this Destroyer lies a trail of destruction as he works his wiles, brutalizing minds and emotions along the way and especially manipulating our vulnerability at that fundamental point of our identity—our sexuality. Once we have been seduced and snared at any point—and especially when we are caught in the velvet-lined trap of sexual bondage—the Enemy of our souls
• floods people with shame and guilt in order to steal their confidence and peace;
• deceives people into adopting habits that kill effective discipleship; and
• neutralizes believers’ testimonies in order to destroy the life-transmitting power of their witness, their “ministry.”
As I have elaborated with completeness and clarity in this book’s companion, Fatal Attractions, the power of sexual sin and bondage is too profound for sexual sin to be considered “simply another kind of failure” or to be trivialized as “risky entertainment” or “just playing around.”
I want to underline these realities for you, especially if you are a vibrant young person just coming into adulthood. You may be wondering why it’s so important to defend yourself against the seducing influences of the world, when that means going against the rip-roaring tide of everything that is presented as desirable by the icons of popular culture. More than a generation ago, our society absorbed into its rhetoric the slogan, “If it feels good, do it,” elevating the sensual over the spiritual, and enshrining covetousness and lust over wisdom and morality. Today, it barely takes watching network television, viewing a supposed-to-be family film, glancing at a magazine or tuning in to a three-minute MTV clip to be bombarded by the glamorization of immoral lifestyle choices and sexual images.
Learn it early, dear one: The agenda here is not hidden. The intended objective has become clear and unapologetic: to excite to sexual arousal (in the name of “informing” or “educating”) and to entice to sexual indulgence (by suggesting that to be sexually disciplined is to be “inactive” and to be sexually indulgent is to be “active”). The result is the formation of a matrix of thought that reduces true humanity to something other than “persons” and that binds soul and body onward and downward toward the pit at the end of seduction’s dead-end path.
This seduction may not involve a believer’s consideration of an outright or blatant expression of sexual immorality. Rather, it may be the subtle deception that a select portion of the Enemy’s tempting bait can be accessed without getting caught in his trap: lingering on the adult cable station while channel surfing, failing to be discriminating in the kinds of reading material permitted in the home, engaging in chatty flirtation over the Internet or entertaining one’s sexual fantasies and imagination. It may be the temptation to compromise in subtle ways, having been deceived by the Adversary into valuating some sin as “not so bad” or not even as sin at all.
Or the seduction may be the blatantly inappropriate indulgences of fondling or French kissing a person who is not your spouse—practices that have gone from the restricted to the recreational. Today, we are witnessing at pervasive and disturbing dimensions (especially as it relates to teens and even preteens) the absorption of homosexuality, masturbation and oral sex into our culture, stamped with society’s seal of approval. Tragically, this view has, at times, been validated by some in Christian circles.
Yet if these seductions and deceptions were not detrimental to what Father God, our Creator, intended for our lives, He would not have provided in His Word warning after warning about sexual immorality, as well as the admonition that believers in Jesus Christ are to be holy—a way of living that is both possible and rewarding.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:13-16).
Holy living is not beyond our ability, because it is Christ in us who enables that holy living. Our ability to live holy lives is dependent only on the degree of our submission to Christ in us. Holy living is desirable because of the abundant harvest of spiritual fruit that such discipleship produces. Purity and self-control are among the foundational characteristics of believers in Jesus Christ who have genuinely given their lives to the Lord and who now live enabled and empowered by His Holy Spirit and not by their own inclinations (see Gal. 5:22-23).
For a number of believers, even those who walk in moral purity and those who enter purely into the covenant relationship of marriage, there come situations in which everything that’s in us seems to be tested in the face of temptation. The Bible does not teach that we will never be tempted, but it does teach that we are fully equipped by the Word of God and the power of God to resist the temptation: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. -- Proverbs 4:23
Seduction is the tactic of intentionally drawing us away from the purpose and will of God in our lives. While seduction is romanticized by our worldly culture, it is a powerful bait of the Adversary in his insatiable quest to steal the glorious fulfillment that God has designed and intended for us as His children.
One of the most telling portions of the Bible with regard to seduction is found in the book of Proverbs. In the opening chapters of Proverbs, two “women” are described: one is the personification of wisdom, and the other is the personification of sexual sin, depicted as a harlot and adulteress. While Proverbs also refers to this evil person in the male form (see 2:12), none of these passages is speaking more negatively (or positively) about either gender.
Let me make it clear that women are neither more capable of wisdom than men nor are they more guilty of being seducers than men. Only human posturing of gender superiority—practiced by both men and women—breeds the unkind comparisons and destructive competitiveness that have prevailed and that still do in today’s world. God never does that—He specializes in people—and He has created both genders with equal and glorious potential. So when uniqueness exists in either, it is for the betterment of the opposite gender, not for its dominance.
Thus, in this passage in Proverbs, the manifold blessings and benefits of a relationship with wisdom, which is depicted as a woman, are described:
When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you. Happy is the man who finds wisdom (2:10-11; 3:13).
The other woman—the figure luring us away from wisdom—is described as “the immoral woman, . . . the seductress who flatters with her words” (Prov. 2:16). She clearly represents those things that entice us with false promises, drawing the soul away from the purity and perfection of God’s intent for our lives. In the King James Version, this verse calls her “strange,” in Hebrew zuwr, meaning foreign. She is not foreign in terms of ethnology; she is foreign to, distant from and alien to, God’s created purposes for humankind’s best interests. This “wisdom” is apart from the Lord, since she “forgets the covenant of her God” (v. 17). In other words, she no longer is of a mind-set ordered by the Creator’s designs. And all of this is followed by the warning that to follow her leads to destruction: “For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life” (vv. 18-19).
How many of us have, at one time or another, put God’s wisdom on the back burner to embrace the world’s so-called wisdom and found ourselves at a dead end? Nowhere in our lives is that more horribly damaging than when we have followed the seducer of our souls into sexual sin.
“Keep your heart with all diligence,” the book of Proverbs (4:23) counsels. And immediately, in the three ensuing chapters, it gives recurring warnings against that flattery and seduction that beguile the soul into sexual sin (see 5:20; 6:24; 7:5,21). These warnings are repeated because the consequences of being seduced can be so severe: “As an ox goes to the slaughter, . . . as a bird hastens to the snare, [the individual] did not know it would cost his life” (7:22-23, emphasis added).
For in the image of God He made man. -- Genesis 9:6
Fundamental always in discussing these themes is the issue of humankind’s identity and purpose as designed by our Creator. With all the lures that modern society flings at human beings, our primary understanding of who we are intended to be is often mixed up, even for some believers. All humankind has been created in the image of God. That image—tarnished in fallen man—was restored through the death and resurrection of Jesus and is progressively being recovered in people who have welcomed Him into their lives. While the lust for many things is seducing—power, prestige and money being among the most potent—nothing more devastatingly corrupts God’s high destiny for us at our most fundamental core of identity and purpose than yielding to sexual temptation or to the lure of indulgence.
As you begin this book, it’s obvious that you are seeking to successfully navigate the minefield of temptation that today’s culture spreads before all of us. You may be looking for help in discerning issues, addressing questions or defending against failure. It’s possible that you are seeking answers to minister to precious people who have not yet surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. Without receiving the gift of God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is specifically called “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24), none of us has a truly dynamic resource to counter the “wisdom” that the world argues in its program of deception. As believers, it is absolutely necessary to be equipped with God’s strength in order to distinguish the deceptive ploys of the Enemy and to withstand them, and to receive the Holy Spirit’s help in assisting or ministering to others trapped by them.
The starting place, of course, is to welcome Christ into our lives—to receive Him personally—because He is not only God’s Wisdom but also the only Savior, God’s gift from heaven to bring us home to the Father and into a life of fulfillment within His ways and wonderful purposes for us. If you are unsure about how you can receive God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, His Son, I have provided a guide to assist you in prayer—a way to honestly come to Him and begin life on His terms and in His love, today (see appendix 1). Let me urge you—before you go any further—to turn there and take the most important step that any of us could ever take: turning from our way and “wisdom” to Jesus, God’s Savior and humankind’s only hope for eternal wisdom.
Once we have received the gift of God’s redemptive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, we are called to walk obediently and to advance within the joys and principles that unfold His ways for life at its fullest (see 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Col. 1:10). Becoming a true disciple—a sincere follower of Jesus Christ—will free you from any shallow mentality about salvation’s goal. Too many people simply see salvation as a “quick dip” of God’s paint roller, painting over the dirt to make them “nice and clean.”
But two things must be kept in dynamic tension if we want to grow beyond spiritual infancy as followers of the Savior: First, God’s great gift of salvation—the forgiveness of our sins—is real and worthy of our timeless and everlasting rejoicing. And when we enter this covenant of salvation by receiving the Savior, full acceptance in His love and forgiveness is a “given”—given to us in Jesus, once and for all. Second, however, God has more in mind for us than just forgiving our sins. He’s very, very interested in growing up a family of sons and daughters who learn His ways, advance in them and lead others to do the same.
It is beyond our human capacity to realize the phenomenal magnitude of what God is saying about us when He declares that He has made us in His image. The Lord has created human beings with a high destiny, and He wants us to learn how to relate to that destiny at greater dimensions than we may have previously understood. Through Jesus Christ, we are not only admitted into the Kingdom of God, but we also are destined to become its inheritors, as well as its agents here on Earth (see Matt. 25:34; Gal. 5:19-21).
Thus, it becomes incumbent upon us to discover how the Enemy’s “agencies” seek to oppose and render ineffective our role as “agents” of Christ’s Kingdom. Defending our hearts against those things that contaminate and corrupt is a matter of discipleship for believers in Jesus Christ. In my book Living the Spirit-Formed Life, I have sought to define the kind of life, experience and witness that is described in the book of Acts—the normal Christian life as conceived by our Lord Jesus Christ, which extends beyond the covering of our sins and assurance of eternity in heaven. The steps forward to the Holy Spirit-formed life are clearly set forth in God’s Word:
1. Be Spirit-born by repenting for your sins and by putting your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, verifying the commitment by obeying Jesus Christ as Lord and being baptized in water (see Acts 2:38,39).
2. Be Spirit-filled by receiving the promise Jesus gave that His followers shall receive power—power to move in new dimensions of worship, praise, prayer, service and witness (see Acts 1:5-8; 2:1-4).
3. Be Spirit-formed by recognizing that the entry door of new birth and the birthright blessing of Holy Spirit fullness are only beginnings—both calling us as believers to growth in Christ’s likeness and discipleship under His lordship (see Rom. 12:1,2; Acts 2:42,46,47).1
Having lost the battle for our eternal souls, Satan’s unrelenting program of thievery is to diminish discipleship and Kingdom power among believers. To avoid becoming snared in his velvet-lined trap, it is imperative that we believers learn how to discern the bait of seduction and see beyond it. When our eyes are only on ourselves, all human beings invite the tragic possibilities of being “led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:6-7).
However, as we move into this study—as we resolve questions about the seductive nature of our present culture, especially its warped sexual values (or absence of values altogether)—I am specifically targeting the equipping of disciples like you with help in this distinct and demanding arena of warfare. With eyes fixed on God, and armed with His wisdom concerning how the temptation trap is constructed, believers can be enabled and empowered to be victorious overcomers against the deceitful nature of the Enemy’s enticements.
Discerning the temptation trap starts with understanding the process by which this velvet-lined trap is laid in order to seduce us away from purely worshiping Father God to placing on the throne of our lives other gods—most notably, ourselves (see Gal. 4:8). James 4:4 (KJV) puts it this way: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Understanding this process by which a believer’s affections can be diverted from the Lord begins with understanding the anatomy of adultery.