For a while there, I was really big on self-analysis in fighting temptation. I’d break down what was tempting me most at what times. I’d define my mental state when I was most strongly tempted. I’d determine the difference between the times I overcame strong temptations and the times I fell. I invested all this time and effort to know myself and my weaknesses better, to know what helped me overcome and I’d still fall to temptations! Temptations that I knew intellectually how to beat!! Why? Because eventually it just comes down to me saying, “No.” All the self-analysis, self-knowledge and planning in the world isn’t going to help if I don’t say no.
Nancy Reagan became famous in the eighties for her anti-drug mantra “Just say No”. She was widely ridiculed by some who thought it too simple. ‘There’s peer pressure and teen immaturity and depression and economic desperation and all these things that lead to drug problems!’ they answered. All those things are true, but, however those things are dealt with, if one is to remain drug free one has to at some point just say no. Notice that Mrs. Regan never said it would be easy. She just said it was the answer. And she was right.
God tells His people the same thing about sin: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” (Isa. 1:16-17) Make yourselves clean and “cease to do evil.” Just stop it. God goes on to tell His people to refill their lives by doing good, but at base He says stop being evil. Just say no.
My Dad used to work intake at the prison system and one of his coworkers was a drug counselor. Like many good drug counselors, this man was himself a recovering addict. At the time Dad told me this story his coworker had been clean for about 20 years. He confessed to Dad that he still had cravings. Sometimes they were so strong he would sit in his office and just hang on to his desk until they passed, because as long as he hung on to the desk, he wasn’t going out to find a fix. He just told himself “no” and hung on. Now if he can do that, why can’t I just hold on and not lose my temper? Why can’t I hold on and not have impure thoughts? Why can’t I hold on and conquer the temptation to ______________?
This is not to say that being aware of yourself and honestly analyzing your successes and failures isn’t helpful. It can be very helpful in learning to avoid situations that lead to temptations and in finding strategies to assist in saying no. For example, I almost never go to the public beaches in season any more. When I want to go to the beach, I find the lesser known, little used areas where I rarely see anyone else. Why? Because the public beaches are full of naked women, which is something I don’t need to be seeing as a Christian man trying to keep my thoughts pure. (And, yes, if you are only covered up in six square inches of fabric, you are naked.) So, that helps, but at some point, alone with my thoughts, I still have to say no to temptations to impure thoughts.
God calls us to be holy. He never says it will be easy. Quite the contrary. In telling us to be holy as our Father is, Peter instructs us to “gird up the loins of your minds”. Back when robes were the customary garment of all, anyone preparing to do hard labor or exercise had to tie up the ends of his robe to avoid tripping and to be ready for the exertions to come. In the same way, being holy requires preparation for hard mental work.
We have to say “no” and hang on.
1 Pet. 1:13-16 “Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance: but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy.”
1 Tim. 6:12 “Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on the life eternal . . .”