Temptation Is No Simple Enemy
Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org
Temptation often prevails against us because of our simple and naive assumptions about temptation.
We expect temptation will march through the front door, dressed like a wolf, announcing itself loudly as it comes. But temptation often prefers the back door, and the bedroom window, and that crack between the floorboards. Temptation relies on subtlety and nuance, on deception and surprise, on ignorance and naivete. To begin to taste victory, we have to start treating the war like a war. We have to study the enemy of our souls.
We remember the story of Samson and Delilah because she overpowered the strongest man alive. But have we ever stopped to really ask how? How did Delilah subdue a man who had just killed a thousand men? When we unravel the secrets of her seduction, they can become weapons for us against whatever temptation we face.
The Ambition of Temptation
The first step in taking temptation more seriously is to remember that temptation has a mission: to ruin your soul and rob you of God. No temptation is innocent or trivial. All temptation schemes and plots for this one end: your never-ending misery. Temptation will please you to abuse you, seduce you to undo you, distract you to destroy you.
Delilah may have been motivated by money rather than hatred, but she was still every bit as determined to destroy Samson. The Philistines, his murderous enemies, said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him” (Judges 16:5). Just verses earlier, Samson had killed a thousand of them with only a jawbone (Judges 15:16). These men were thirsty for blood, his blood, and Delilah was all too willing to prepare the slaughter.
Like the forbidden woman, the lips of temptation drip honey, “but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:4). Temptation robs us of honor and squanders our lives (Proverbs 5:9); it spoils our strength and ruins our work (Proverbs 5:10); it ends only in futility and regret (Proverbs 5:11). “The thief,” Jesus says, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). That is the mission of temptation, however sweet and pleasant it may seem for the moment.
So, how did Delilah seek to destroy Samson? How did temptation overcome even the strongest man?
Temptation Leads with Pleasure
The first lesson may seem obvious: temptation seduces us by holding out pleasure. “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him” (Judges 16:5). Before temptation can betray us to destruction, it must woo us with some promise of satisfaction.
“Please tell me where your great strength lies,” Delilah says to Samson, “and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you” (Judges 16:6). We might expect her to flatter or flirt, but instead she asks him directly for his secret. In black and white on the page, it may not even sound like seduction. But this kind of knowledge is intimacy. To ask was to test his love, and to invite him deeper into love with her.
Clearly, Samson didn’t fully trust her (he lied to her), but he also clearly enjoyed her attention and affection. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have had a second hearing. He entertained her games because he had tasted her love — an empty love, to be sure, but one that pleased him all the same. All sin hangs on such love. As John Piper says, “The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier. No one sins out of a sense of duty.” What sins have beset you, and what happiness have they promised?
Sinful pleasure will always be appealing if we have not set our hearts on a superior pleasure. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Fullness of joy, not the fractions we often settle for with sin. Pleasures forevermore, not the short-lived thrills of lust, or greed, or laziness, or envy. The power of temptation relies on us believing that sin is better than full and forever. It rests on us being tired or bored of God, the deepest, strongest pleasure in the universe.
Temptation Heaps on Shame
If sin cannot lure us with pleasure, it will assault us with shame. Delilah wasn’t making progress through seduction, so she started questioning Samson’s integrity instead. She said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies” (Judges 16:15). Do you hear the irony in her strategy? “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” All while her heart is in the pockets of the dangerous men outside.
Like Delilah, temptation hides its own murderous motives in order to shame its target. Temptation may not say, with Delilah, “How can you say you love me?” but it may ask, “How can you say you love God?”
One reason some give in so often is because they have believed that sin is who they are. Satan is an accuser. And he does not accuse occasionally, but day and night (Revelation 12:10). If he can convince you that you’re still that same old person — enslaved to pornography, consumed with envy, enraged with anger, defenseless before sloth — he can convince you to do almost anything. Our shame and self-pity are Satan’s food. Without them he, and all his schemes, will starve and expire.
When Satan comes to accuse you — “How can you say you love God?” — know beforehand how you will answer. “I am not who I was (2 Corinthians 5:17). I have been crucified with my King (Galatians 2:20). My sin has been canceled (Colossians 2:14), and it no longer rules over me (Romans 6:14). In Christ, there is now no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1). God has given me all I need to resist temptation (2 Peter 1:3; 1 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, I will not be put to shame (Romans 10:11).”
Temptation Wears You Out
Delilah seduced Samson, then she shamed him, and eventually she exhausted him. “When she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). What began as playful flirtation ended in fatigue and despair. She pressed and pleaded, pressed and pleaded, until he (even he!) could not bear the weight of her advances. Has temptation ever felt like that for you?
Maybe you resisted blowing up in anger at your spouse at first, but he would not relent. Maybe you refused to click on that website at first, but a couple of hours later you were more tired and vulnerable. Maybe you worked hard all week and didn’t give in to laziness, only to crumble into more weekend binge-watching. Maybe you ate with self-control for several weeks, but the cravings slowly overwhelmed you. Temptation is rarely a single arrow to be avoided, but far more often a wide and prolonged wave of warfare meant to wear us down until we surrender.
If temptation depends on exhaustion, the battle against temptation must be more than dos and don’ts in the moment. Alongside the weapons most of us are familiar with — the word of God, prayer and fasting, fellowship and accountability — our ability to withstand temptation’s attacks rests, at least in part, on the health and vitality of our bodies. Good sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise are far more effective weapons against our besetting sins than we may realize or expect. If we neglect or despise them, we invite Satan to wreak his havoc.
So, if we want to overcome temptation, we must study temptation — its seducing, its shaming, its exhausting — and prepare our souls for warfare. Immerse yourself in a superior Joy, anchor your identity and security in who God says you are, and then get some sleep. Temptation is not a simple enemy, so ours will not be a simple victory. But in Christ it will be sure.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis.