"But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Tim. 6:11-12).
During my career as a behaviorist and researcher, I have met and interviewed hundreds of Christian men who are convinced that overcoming temptation and managing their "dark sides" are impossible goals—at least this side of heaven.
So instead of fighting the good fight, as Scripture instructs us to do, too many men have given up. Some—and I hate to admit it, but myself included—find themselves embracing soul-robbing choices, telling themselves two deadly lies: (1) "I don't really have a problem," and (2) "I can handle this alone."
We all have at least one thing that is so desirous, so attractive to our nature that even the mere thought of it is enough to tip us over the edge. Like an evil spell, our proximity to it immobilizes our senses. It seems to own us. It often calls out to us, and when it presents itself, we are completely undone. Sadly, if we desire something long enough, we'll deceive whomever we have to in order to get it. Usually the first person we deceive is ourselves.
The Bible warns that temptation comes in many forms. Sometimes it's disguised as a lover and friend. Sometimes it appears to be clothed even in light—coming to us with seemingly innocent intentions. Temptation is always stealthy, always deceptive ... kind of like a certain snake that entered a certain garden long, long ago.
But here's a little secret about our sinful desires: They are quite predictable, always attacking our brains in the same way. In fact, James—a half-brother of Jesus—knew this all too well, and he observed four stages in the temptation cycle: enticement, conception, birth and death.
James was convinced that the more we understand these four stages, the better we can put up a fight. In his letter to early Christians he said this: "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:13-15).
The good news is, you and I don't have to be defeated by sin. We can manage our dark sides and fight the good fight for the true faith. These five essential steps can help:
Admit to God that something needs to change and confess your struggles to Him.
Accept the Lord's forgiveness and stop beating yourself up for your failures. If you let it, toxic shame will always pull you into a downward spiral ... and back into sin.
Find someone you can trust and talk honestly about your struggles.
Acknowledge daily before Christ your lack of power to control your dark side, and pray that He will empower you to avoid temptation to sin by turning to healthy, wholesome triggers.
Set your mind on Scripture all throughout the day. Only truth can undo untruth.