Chapter 4 – Anatomy of Temptation that Leads to Sin and Bondage

The purpose of this chapter is to highlight the implications of succumbing to any given temptation.  It should also serve as a tool to assist us in our introspections and to trace the roots of our sinful habits.   Correctly identifying our shortcomings helps us differentiate false guilt and self-condemnation, from the conviction of the Holy Spirit.   True convictions should result in our confession and repentance, ignoring them blasphemes His grace

 

Temptations can be understood as trials or tests allowed by God.  They consist of ungodly thoughts or demonic suggestions purposely devised to induce a soul to sin.  God allows the demons to tempt us in order to help us with our spiritual growth (Jas.1:2-4).  It is by this testing that we become souls of proven character before God, our fellows and ourselves.  We nurture our ability to trust God as we endure and learn to overcome.

 

Concerning the progression from mere suggestion to actual consummation of sin, it is important to note that our culpability does not begin until we contemplate carrying out the temptation.  Being provoked with an evil thought is not sinful; entertaining these evil thoughts is indeed sinful and is cause for repentance.  The fact that the demons are able to make suggestions that our souls are able to perceive, does not constitute culpability on our part, nor does reacting to the suggestion.  However, as soon as a thought is recognized as being evil, if not dismissed and disposed of immediately, culpability begins.

 

When a soul decides to pursue virtue and embarks on a journey of spiritual growth, the demons take note and begin their onslaught of evil suggestions.  This venture is much akin to swatting a wasp nest with a broom, for in order to bring the goodness of God into our lives, we need to expel the impurities and clean house; Jesus uses this analogy in Luke 11:24-26.  For those new to spiritual growth issues, this is a warning to be prepared for some truly absurd and grotesque thoughts when uprooting demons.  We need to be prepared for these temptations to be stronger and more persistent than usual when making our first serious effort to expel them.  There is no need for alarm, it is normal to be disturbed by their foul suggestions.  All that needs to be done is dismiss these thoughts for what they are, the desperate activity of demons being thwarted and displaced.  Also, keep in mind that demons are not omniscient; they cannot read our minds, they merely perceive our activity and send predictable temptations aimed at our individual weaknesses.  The work of C. S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”, is an amusing and lighthearted reading that provides much valuable insight into the workings and activities of demons.

 

Our Lord knows our weakness and promises us that that we will not be tempted beyond our ability to endure (1Cor.10:13).  However, since we are infected by sin (or concupiscence), we share in the battle described by St. Paul in Romans 7:14-25 and it is understood that we will have our failings (1Jn.1:5-10).  For Christians, the prescription for sin is confession and repentance, activities that should become an integral and regular practice for those pursuing virtue.  It is understood that owning up to one’s shortcomings can be emotionally painful and mentally anguishing.  Initially, it hurts our sense of self-worth and our positive self-image to see ourselves covered with grotesque blemishes, but the consequences of not doing so are much, much worse.  Sin, because it is outside the will of God, has ungodly consequences (2Pe.2:2-22).  Deception and denial fool a soul into believing it is without sin.  Anyone who says they have nothing to confess is a liar (Jn.8:51-59; 1Jn.1:5-10).  Furthermore, if unaddressed, such delusion can lead to false sense of security concerning the eternal disposition of one’s soul (1Cor.6:9-11; 2Thes.2:1-12).

 

Succumbing to a particular sin with regularity engenders a habit.  A habit becomes an addiction when a soul’s ability to abstain is compromised.  Such addictions most assuredly rob us of our ability to serve our Lord freely and without making allowances for sin.  St. Paul refers to these addictions as “slavery of sin” in Romans 6.  Addictions are diseases of the will.  They compromise a soul’s ability to make life choices freely and without undue coercion from within.  Activities that make a soul very susceptible to addiction include gambling, intoxication, homosexuality, pornography, and abusive relationships.  Twentieth century psychological studies once termed these behavioral imbalances as “neurosis”, and later by a variety of labels under the heading of “anxiety” and “personality” disorders, but do so without acknowledging sin.  The refusal to acknowledge sin as the underlying cause of these ailments leads to perpetually addressing the symptoms without ever remedying the root cause.  Again, confession and repentance of our sin is how we overcome.

 

If a soul surrenders to an addiction to the extent that they no longer consider it sinful, the stage is set for being overcome and possessed by evil.  The modern psychologist refers to such cases as “psychotic” or “psychopathic” while generally dismissing the influence of evil.  This collective misdiagnosis by the scientific community has rendered their “treatment” ineffectual, and to drawing the conclusion that such chronic cases have no cure.  If not for the miraculous healing power of Our Lord Christ Jesus, their assessment would be correct since the ability to acknowledge Truth is so severely compromised.  However, let us not discount the usefulness of modern medicine in treating psychological disorders, but rather hold fast to the belief that true healing is from Christ.  Our confession and repentance of sin followed by accepting His forgiveness, heals in Truth.  The point to be made here is that the sooner a sinful suggestion is recognized and dismissed, the easier it is to do so again.  The opposite is likewise true.  Once a particular sin is repeated, it then becomes easier to repeat the sin and harder to repent.  This is why it is important to impress upon children the importance of virtue, so that they may enter adulthood without the burden of spiritually crippling habits.

 

Stages of Sin*:  From provocation to losing the will to combat evil 

 

*adapted from St. John of Damaskos (675-749) “On Virtues and Vices”, The Philokalia, Vol. II, pg. 337-338

 

1)      Provocation– an ungodly thought or suggestion yet without passion and without

mental imagery, no sin or culpability for sin exists at this stage.

  • Mt.4:1-11, Satan attempts to distract Jesus from the Will of God

 

2)      Momentary Disturbance– the provocation’s initial effect upon a soul, brief loss of

stillness, hostility and/or enticement, yet without sin or culpability.

  • Rom.8:6-8, a mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God
  • 2Cor.10:5, take every thought captive and destroy all those contrary to His will
  • Col.3, instruction to be free of all hostile thoughts and replace them with love

 

3)      Coupling/Communing – taking mental possession of, and entertaining a provocation, contemplating it and giving it mental imagery, the start of culpability, a lapse of watchfulness.

  • Mt.5:28, Jesus says to look at another lustfully is adultery
  • Mt.15:19-20, Jesus says that evil thoughts in our hearts destroy our purity

 

4)      Wrestling – a soul’s activity to resist a provocation; two possible results, 1) a passion that leads to assent, or 2) destroying it and returning to stillness.

  • Rom.6:21-23, St. Paul says Christians are free to choose goodness
  • Gal.5:17, the conflict between the spiritual soul and a soul in the flesh

 

5)       Assent – giving approval to a provocation, the decision to act on a passion.

  • Rom.14:22, St. Paul says to act on a desire is to give it approval, though the faithful conscience will bring conviction when there is error

 

6)      Actualization – the sinful act, succumbing to temptations or provocations, acting on passion.

  • Gen.3, the story of mankind’s original rebellion against God and the consequences of sin

 

7)      Prepossession – sinful habit, predisposition to yield to a particular provocation.

  • Ac.8:18-23, St. Peter rebukes Simon over his bondage to sin
  • Rom.1:26, those whose accept sinful ways incur a total break from goodness
  • Gal.4:8-9, St. Paul speaks of being a slave to sin
  • Eph.4:19, St. Paul speaks of succumbing to sin such that it becomes one’s practice
  • Col.2:8-9, St. Paul warns against being captivated by the ways of the world
  • 1Tim.5:13, St. Paul speaks of learning sinful habits
  • 2Tim.2:22-26, contrasting godliness with the insanity of being addicted to sin
  • 2Tim.3:1-7, human will is weakened by continual indulgence in ungodliness

 

8)      Captivity – obsession resulting from habitual sin, a life controlled by evil passions.

  • Mt.4:24:  Jesus heals those possessed by evil
  • Mt.8:16:  Again, Jesus heals the demon possessed
  • Mt.8:28-33:  Jesus commands the demons to leave a possessed soul
  • Titus 3:3:  St. Paul speaks of slavery to sin for those unwilling to repent

 

Commentaries:

“You should also learn to distinguish the impassioned thoughts that promote every sin.  The thoughts that encompass all evil are eight in number:  those of gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem [narcissism] and pride.  It does not lie within our power to decide whether or not these eight thoughts are going to arise and disturb us.  But to dwell on them or not to dwell on them, to excite the passions or not to excite them, does lie within our power.  In this connection, we should distinguish between seven different terms, provocation, coupling, wrestling, passion, assent (which comes very close to performance), actualization and captivity.”

St. John of Damaskos (675-749); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 339-340

 

“For the devil is in the habit of promoting in the soul whatever he sees is in accordance with the soul’s own disposition, whether this be joy of self-conceit, distress or despair, excessive toil or utter indolence, or thoughts and actions that are untimely and profitless, or blindness and unreflecting hatred of all that exists.  Quite simply, he inflames in the soul whatever material he finds there already, so as to do it as much harm as he can, even though in itself the thing may be good and acceptable to God, provided that it is used with due restraint by one who is able to judge things and to discern the intention of God hidden in the six passions* that surround him…”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 233

* see commentaries on Goodness at the end of Chapter 17

 

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One thought on “Chapter 4 – Anatomy of Temptation that Leads to Sin and Bondage

  1. Pingback: A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians | A Primer on Virtue

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