Imagine for a moment walking up to a dessert table with two choices. One is a perfectly shaped wedge of apple pie. Its golden brown crust is warmly inviting, the apple filling firm but oozing goodness. The second choice also seems to be a slice from that same pie but it is squished and broken with filling spilling out to cover the dessert plate. Which would you choose?
Most of us would take the more attractive of the two slices of apple pie. Why is that? They both have the same ingredients and the taste. The only difference is their looks. Yet, we choose the one we perceive as more pleasing to the eyes. This choice is an example of our second receptor of temptation, what John called the lust of the eyes.
Our eyesight is our most powerful sense. With these wonderfully designed organs, we can see the fine detail of a flower and the distant majesty of the stars. But sight also goes beyond the realities of what is visible. We interpret what we see, sometimes so fast we don’t even know we’re doing it. Our minds try to make sense of the input. What we see is colored by our perceptions, experiences, prejudices, and presumptions. A cloud may look like a pig to me and a hippopotamus to you.
What we see is so powerful that we imagine, dream, and remember through images. Sounds, smells, and touch may trigger a memory which is replayed in our mind’s eye. Even right now I can see a steakhouse where we go on special occasions. I can see the room with the view of the Illinois river, the brown wooden walls, the red and white table clothes, the large charcoal grill where the steaks are cooked, the cooler with the raw meat cut and ready to go, and so much else. But my memory can’t recreate the smell of the charcoal, the sizzle of the steak as it was laid on the grill, or the voice of our last waitress.
What this means is that when we consider how temptation intices we must consider not only the reality of what we see with our physical eyes but also what we see with our mind’s eye.
The first thing to recognize is that sin always looks good, at least in the beginning. If the actual object of sin is repulsive then our imagination gives us a picture of a beautiful outcome. I think it is fair to say that we always imagine sin before doing sin. Even if that imagining is only a blink of time.
To Adam and Eve, the fruit was physically attractive but also prospectively attractive. They likely imagined all the good things that would come. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, NASB95) They saw all the tree was good for food and could make one wise. We often think that they were tempted by the fruit but it was really everything about that tree.
Jesus was likewise tempted by sight. “And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. “Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’ ” (Luke 4:5–8, NASB95) We don’t understand the power of this temptation unless you know the rest of the story and the mission of Jesus. But Satan also erred because this temptation revealed his own twisted lust for power and glory.
Overcoming this temptation has three facets. We must guard what we see, change our perceptions, and focus on something grander.
There’s a basic tenet of motorcycling, you will go where you look. It works in cars too, but not to the same degree. Basically, if you stare at the thing you’re trying to avoid you’ll hit it. That’s just the way it works.
Overcoming this kind of temptation means guarding our eyes. We avoid, if possible, seeing things which trigger our lustful desires. We can do everything possible to avoid temptation but, the world, the flesh, and the Devil will still use our perceptions and imaginations.
When you see an attractive and beautiful person of the opposite sex where does your mind go? Do you see them for who they or for what they could do for you? That little test betrays a twist in our perception and imagination and is the seed of sin. But the same could be said about anything we see which stirs our desires to hold, possess, control, or gain glory from. We can’t always control what we see, but we can take charge of our perception and imagination.
How we untwist our perception and imagination is the third facet. Remember, we go where we look. How did Jesus overcome Satan’s temptation? By worshiping God. The bait was the world but the hook was worship. So often we worship what we see and desire without even knowing it. Our minds and souls are consumed with desire, with imaginations, with obsessive planning. Our lives would be perfect if… But, if our heart, mind, soul, and strength is focused on God then there is little room worship anything or anyone else.
The writer of Hebrews put it this way, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, NASB95) We overcome by fixing our eyes on Jesus.
I will not conclude by saying “it’s as simple as that.” It’s not. Changing what we see, how we perceive, and where we focus is a growth area. We may do fantastic at turning back sexual lust or refusing the trap of possessions, but still, retain prejudical perceptions that devalue or overvalue others. As we continue to focus on Jesus we will travel in His direction and not our own.