The Bible’s Answer to Sexual Temptation

Last week, I got a case of righteous indignation after learning that two couples I know have been impacted by adultery. I suggested that we need to stop talking about building a hedge for our marriage and instead erect a strong wall to keep out Satan’s attacks on our covenant. This week, I want to look at what the Bible says about what someone should do when directly faced with sexual temptation.

You can’t stay behind that wall all the time, of course. While I personally established The Rule that I will not be alone with a man who is neither my husband nor a male relative, that isn’t practical for everyone. I recognize that you may need to be with someone of the opposite sex for work or in other circumstances. You may even find yourself tempted by someone when in a group. You may be contacted on social media by a person from your past that brings up residual feelings. You may receive overt come-ons from someone when you didn’t ask for them. You are human. You were designed by God as a sexual being. You may one day be tempted to engage in flirtation, romance, or physical contact with someone other than your spouse.

So you should know how keep things on the up-and-up, you should have a ready response, you should prepare for battle . . . Nope. That isn’t it. We often think that the way to handle an adulterous opportunity is to talk our way out of it — explain to the presenting party that we love our spouse and we want to remain friends and nothing more, blah, blah, blah.

Hey, we are never instructed in Scripture to do hand-to-hand combat with sexual temptation! Do you know what the biblical teaching for such temptation is? FLEE. That’s right. Create distance between you and the temptation. Go away. Run for your life. Get the heck outta Dodge.

Joseph is the prime example for how to handle sexual temptation. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, he went to work in Egypt at Potiphar’s house. He is described in the Bible as “well-built and handsome.” So yeah, he was the Israelite version of Brad Pitt, Ian Somerhalder, Robert Pattison, or whoever you think makes nice-viewing. In fact, Scripture says that Potiphar’s wife “took notice” of that nice view. And then she made her move. At first, Joseph explains that he will not do that to her, his master, or his God. But that doesn’t do it, of course.

Joseph and Potiphar's wife - illustratoin

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Genesis 39:10-12: “And though [Potiphar’s wife] spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” Do you think Joseph would have stood a chance with Potiphar’s wife if he had kept trying to reason with her? To push his sexual desires aside when a beautiful woman begged him to sleep with her? To stay in close proximity to easy sexuality without lusting? Fleeing was the not simply the best, but the only option.

A few years down the road, the son of an adulterous relationship, Solomon, decides to instruct his son on sexual morality. You might think that his love of his mother Bathsheba and his father King David would sway him toward giving them a pass on their adultery. Things happen, right? King David wasn’t trying to be an adulterer; he just fell in love with Bathsheba one day, and there you go (never mind that he was supposed to be at war with his army).

But Solomon passes along the wisdom he received from God to his own son. Rather than telling him to “look but don’t touch” or “just stop before you doing anything really wrong” or giving him some speech about free milk and cows, Solomon says in Proverbs 5:8: “Keep to a path far from [the adulteress], do not go near the door of her house.” The entire chapter is worth reading, but the lesson Solomon wants his son to receive is that the only way to avoid sinning sexually is to avoid the temptation altogether. Just don’t get near it. If you find yourself on the wrong path, take a detour. Don’t go there.

One other verse from the New Testament puts this concept in as straightforward a manner as possible. In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul says: “Flee from sexual immorality.” The Greek word for “flee” here is pheugo, which means “to be saved by flight, to escape safely out of danger.” Sexual temptation is a danger zone. You don’t manage danger, so much as you get away from it. I don’t talk my way out of an oncoming car; I get out of the road!

So if you find yourself tempted (and it is my belief that almost every married individual will at one time or another), FLEE! That means that you cut off opposite-sex friendships that begin to include flirtation or feel too familiar (“do not go near”); you avoid places where you will run into those who may tempt you (“he refused to . . . even be with her”); you deal with come-ons with physical distance (“ran out of the house”); and you know your escape route (“flee from sexual immorality”).

Have you ever been in a tempting situation? Confession time: I have. When my marriage was struggling in prior years, I had a male friend whom I realized I enjoyed seeing a bit too much. Temptation to interact, flirt, or being physically close to someone outside marriage often happens when the marriage itself isn’t meeting your needs for safety and intimacy.

What did I do? I fled. I stopped spending time with this couple (I was never alone with him during this time, since I was following my own rule). Whenever a stray thought about him appeared, I pushed it out and refocused myself on my husband. I confessed my inappropriate thoughts to a close female friend who was clearly on the side of my marriage. I created physical and mental distance. And you know what? A few months later, I had no such feelings for the guy. The feelings untended simply went away.

Boy, am I glad that I didn’t confuse sexual temptation with covenant intimacy. I have a better marriage now than ever. God honored our faithfulness and commitment to one another by giving my husband and me a heart makeover that surpasses anything I had imagined.

Feeling tempted? Flee. That’s the Bible’s answer to sexual temptation.

34 thoughts on “The Bible’s Answer to Sexual Temptation

  1. Bonny Logsdon Burns

    Girlfriend, I pray that this message is absorbed into the heart of every married person, whether in a hurting marriage or healthy. Excuses and rationalizations can be easily made unless we are convicted. THANK YOU for sharing your personal experience.

  2. Greg

    Amen! Run, and keep surrounding yourself with the truth of God’s Word on every aspect of life.

    A newly introduced wrinkle though is “learn to avoid”–temptation in all forms–but especially technology–is rapidly becoming more blatant, aggressive, and invasive.

    1. J

      You are definitely right. These days sexual temptation chases us down in our own homes, and we must be very assertive in avoiding it. Great point, Greg.

  3. Jess+the Mess

    Great blog entry! My philosophy exactly. It is especially difficult to remain pure when your marriage is going through hard times and often you aren’t seeing things very clearly at that point as well with a clearly defined plan of action (such as fleeing) it’s hard to maintain those feelings with another person.

    1. J

      I think it’s the case of grass-greener-over-there perspective. Tend to your own grass, though, and it will stay green and beautiful. Thanks, Jess.

  4. Anonymous

    Hi J, just want to clarify that Solomon was not the son that was born to King David and Bathsheba and their adultery. That babe died as a result of their sin. Solomon was their son after David took Bathsheba as his wife (although, David had multiple wives. So, I guess technically, you could argue your point.)

    Good article and great advice. We have lived with “The Rule” for 26 years and have never had anyone react to our explanation. Usually, they are grateful that we have this policy in place.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog! Blessings!

    1. J

      You are absolutely correct. I suppose the accurate way of describing it would be that David and Bathsheba’s relationship began as adultery, although Solomon was born after they married and David repented and received forgiveness. Thanks for clarifying! Maybe it was because of what his parents went through that Solomon saw the need to instruct his own son to keep to his wife alone.

  5. Anonymous

    Any practical advices for SINGLE adult Christians , most males in their 20s – 30s- 40s – to manage their sexuality?

    Even if they flee from certain temptations, the sexual drive is there – how do you handle your sexuality as unmarried but godly, biblically right?

    1. J

      I think I’ll add this to my Q&A list. I do have some thoughts about this…because in my premarital, promiscuous past I often wanted to refrain but had huge difficulty doing so because I had NO strategy. Yeah, your drive is still there, but you have to find some way to keep it in check.

      For now, cold showers, man, cold showers. :p Just kidding.

    2. Greg

      J, I second this request from Anonymous for practical advice for single Christians, and look forward to what you share! There are things I’ve personally done/followed to survive and honor the Lord, but it’s a tough topic, so I wish you well!

  6. Anonymous

    J this is a great article. One that needs to be read by all.

    I say that because I have made 2 huge mistakes of not guarding my marriage and I’ve had an emotional affair quickly followed by a sexual affair. I’m not proud of either events and it was exactly as you explained above. The emotional was a guy from my past and the sexual was when my marriage wasn’t necessarily being tended to so it and I was weak. I had the opportunity to flee, hind sight I wish I would have but I have to learn, forgive and move on. Though to be honest this article hits home more than ever now because now its pertinent that I guard my heart and my marriage because I know that I have weaknesses.

    What’s sad is I never would have dreamed I would have cheated on my husband more or less twice. People need to know that no matter how you see yourself, temptation will come when you least expect it and when your flesh yearns for it (not getting satisfied in your marriage, watchout someone will try to feed you). You have to be prepared and prepared to go through with fleeing because knowing how to flee and actually fleeing are two different things because one is knowledge while the other is action.

    I’ve learned so much in the past couple months going through all of this and repairing my marriage, but you’re right God has faithful and even though it hasn’t been easy forgiveness, trust and honest has been built back and we are stronger than before all of his happened. I trust and love my husband more than I ever have and what literally feels like a dream (my affairs) I know is a cold truth but one that won’t hold me back from being the wife god intended me to be.

    1. J

      Bless you for sharing your experience. My heart aches for you both. Thankfully, I know marriages that have come out so much better on the other side. Praying that prayer for you.

  7. Anonymous

    Jill Briscoe did a FANTASTIC message on King David’s temptation with Bathsheba. The title says it all: Getting Off the Roof!
    Here is a link if anyone is interested. Would be a great gift to someone who is not exercising wise judgment … or for anyone (male or female) who is sexual and still breathing. 😉
    Oops, I tried to paste the link in here but it didn’t work, so you’ll have to google Jill Briscoe “getting off the roof”
    Blessings to all!

    1. J

      I have issues with link pasting on Blogger. It’s one of the things I don’t like about the software, but I shouldn’t complain(it’s free).

      Thanks for the info!

  8. Anonymous

    I completely agree with the points of your post. Hubs and I have made the same rules ourselves. But, I have to redeem Bathsheba a bit. I don’t believe she was a perpetrator of adultery, rather a victim of David’s sin. Although not physically forced (as far as we know), a messenger of the KING of Israel brings her to the palace. Her husband was away at war, and she had no one to defend or help her. Sorry, I just feel like she gets such a bad rap, but was pretty much defenseless in that situation. Otherwise, points well taken! 🙂

    1. J

      I’ve heard all kinds of ideas about what Bathsheba’s role was or wasn’t in this. Was she partially at fault for bathing nude when she knew that the king’s castle had full view of her? Was she minding her own business, and boom! there came the king’s irrefutable summons? I don’t know. I can’t imagine that she wanted her hubby killed in battle so she could be with the king. Women in those days had very little say indeed.

      Thanks.

  9. Eric V

    I like the idea of flee instead of fight. I recently finished a book entitled “Wired for Intimacy-How pornography hijacks the male brain” by William M. Struthers. It quotes numerous studies including one testing decision-making ability when aroused. Surprise! It’s not very good at that point.

    I think we should also resist the temptation to think too highly of ourselves just because we attract members of the opposite sex. I struggle with that one because it feels good but really counts for nothing. We should only want to attract one person: our spouse.

    1. J

      I want to read that book, Eric! Oh, for more hours in the day to get through my to-be-read pile. Thanks for the insight.

  10. Anonymous

    Totally agree with this!
    There is an excellt book, Courage to Flee, by Dr. Jeffrey Klick that talks about this exact thing. It’s not very long and definitely worth the read!
    Thanks for your ministry!!

  11. Alecia

    Amazing. Will definitely be passing this along. I have to say though that we humans tend to make EXCUSES for ourselves all the time. We are all capable of doing whatever it takes to FLEE if we care enough about the sanctity of our marriage. I personally believe that everyone should have your “rule.” And I also believe that EVERYONE is capable of adapting to that rule if necessary. Yes some jobs and responsibilities are different than others but it just depends on what you care about more – your marriage and your example or making other people comfortable. Sometimes it also takes making changes that require more work – like taking separate cars to work lunches or cc-ing your spouse in on emails you send to people of the opposite sex. If your marriage is worth it you’ll do the work.

  12. Anonymous Man

    I’m surprised to see you miss the ONE BIG POINT of this message. The direction to flee is perfect for singles, and applicable to those who are married. But Paul directs those who struggle with sexual temptation to marry, and once married, to meet one another’s sexual needs. 1 Cor 7:5.

    So, you can either plan to face sexual temptation and make the right choice to flee, or get married and have lots of sex, and just avoid the temptation altogether.

    1. J

      I agree that “drinking water from your own cistern” is a deterrant to sexual temptation, but it isn’t the only command we are given regarding sexual temptation. I don’t think that having enough sex is marriage means you will never be tempted outside of marriage, although it is clearly one big piece of the puzzle. Thanks, Anonymous Man.

  13. Alena

    Thank you for your blog. I have been doing a lot of soul searching, lately. I found out in June that my husband had an emotional affair with someone that he works with. We have been married for over ten years, December will be eleven years, and neither one of us wants to see our marriage end. We have sought counseling from our pastor and are working to rebuild things.

    It has not been easy; however, my husband is trying REALLY hard to regain my trust. I read your blog about “Rebuilding Trust in the Bedroom,” and I am trying to take your advise about not NEEDING to know every detail from the affair. Thanks to your blog, I feel more empowered to tell him what I need emotionally and sexually, though.

    We are sort of at a “honeymoon” period right now in our marriage and sex is great!!! Actually, our sex life is better than it was after we first got married. I don’t ever want to go back to the way things were before by putting my relationship with my husband on the “back burner.” Marriage is hard and takes work but it should be on the top of the priority list!!!

    BTW, started following you on Pinterest, I love all of your vintage stuff!

    1. J

      Trust is so hard to regain after betrayal, and that is what a physical or emotional affair is. I am thankful that you are working on your marriage, and I pray that you experience long-term blessings for your commitment. Enjoy the honeymoon period! Hey, make it a really looooong honeymoon period. 🙂

  14. FatherOf4

    While I generally enjoy your blog, I have to disagree. I don’t see the Bible instructing us to flee temptation either in example or via instruction. It’s hard to imagine Joseph being ‘tempted’ when the Bible describes his situation as an abusive case of sexual harassment and attempted sexual assault. To where should David have fled that would have allowed him to escape the lust already in his heart (Matthew 5)? Solomon’s instruction in Proverbs 5 fits that of his father (Psalm 1) to avoid the association with those who will not encourage them in righteousness.
    Nor do we see Jesus running away from temptation when tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Instead we see Jesus confronting temptation with Scripture and we know with every temptation (including sexual) there is a way of escape (from the sin – not the temptation I Cor 10) including getting married (I Cor 7 – as Anonymous Man recommends).
    As the Bible does not distinguish between sexual temptation and the temptation for the rest of the sins, I’m not sure we should either. (Yes, the sexual sin is also against the body – I Cor 6, but there is no difference in the treatment of temptation.)
    Since the man-made rule [of avoiding exclusive contact with the opposite gender] to avoid temptation is based on the untrue, it will fail in it’s designed purpose (Col 2). (This does not mean the rule is not useful in avoiding the appearance of evil as it gives gossipers less to talk about.)

    1. J

      I appreciate your comment and how you put forth your disagreement with supportive scriptures.

      I don’t find evidence that Joseph wasn’t tempted; he refuses because she’s the boss’s wife and it’s a sin against God–not because he ain’t intrigued. But admittedly, the Bible does not lay out his feelings about the matter clearly.

      As to David, he could have fled…to war, where he was supposed to be (2 Samuel 11:1). He could have seen Bathsheba, averted his eyes, and gone back to bed (2 Samuel 11:2-3). As to Proverbs 5, the instruction is specifically about the temptation of an adulteress–not just an association with the counsel of the wicked in Psalm 1.

      How do you get past 1 Cor 6:18 (in context, verses 12-20)?

      I suggest we have an arsenal of defenses at the ready to combat temptation, but the primary defense in scripture is to avoid sexual temptation as much as possible. It isn’t merely about avoiding the appearance of evil (although that’s good too), but the temptation to commit evil itself.

      Thanks for the comments. You made me do more Bible study on this topic, which is always a fabulous thing. Blessings.

  15. Gregory Blake

    I totally agree that virtually every married person will be tempted at some point and I’d like to offer two more suggestions that have helped in our relationship.

    We’ve been married for 29 years now and one of the things that has helped us is the commitment to total vulnerability and disclosure. If there is attraction, we let each other know – not in a mean way but rather in a “watch me, I may need help” way. Unlike “confessing my inappropriate thoughts to a close [] friend” this strategy generates a call to action by _both_ partners. If my wife is having feelings for another, I have to ask myself why and what can I do differently to be more attractive myself. [Aside: If you are going to commit to this kind of honesty strategy, it should be agreed upon during the good times, not brought up in the middle of marital distress.]

    Similarly, one of the best affair repellents ever is letting all of your acquaintances know that anything they say to you can, and likely will be, shared with your spouse. Good friends enjoy tapping into our “collective couple brain,” but this “no secrets” approach is also great for cooling off those considering pursuing inappropriately. I’m not sure this could work for everyone, but it has definitely worked for us.

    Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing. Good article.

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