Today’s reflection is inspired by Proverbs 25:28, A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. In the pre-modern world, there weren’t air forces, drones, ballistic missiles, battleships, biological agents and other sophisticated long-range weaponry. When an army wanted to attack a city, they needed boots on the ground. It was a messy, manual, in-your-face kind of process. Walls were of the essence. Walls provided an extra layer of protection from enemies and unwanted intruders. Without walls, a city could be overrun by attackers within minutes. Walls gave the people inside the city time to mount a defense. Walls also conferred a strategic advantage, such that the enemy approaching on foot would require greater numbers / firepower to penetrate them. In short, a city with walls was a lot easier to defend than it was to attack.
A Lack Of Discipline Makes Us Vulnerable
A city broken into and left without walls is an image of exposure, vulnerability, and danger. A city in such condition was liable to being attacked, pillaged, or burned to the ground. Instead of having to focus on knocking down the city walls, the enemy could go straight to the people, houses, and valuables within the city itself. We recall in the story of the fall of Jericho, the great miracle was getting the walls of the city to fall down (Joshua 6). Once the walls had fallen, the city, aided by the panic and consternation that ensued, was all but lost.
Have you ever felt like a city broken into and left without walls due to a lack of self-control?
Take the issue of sexual integrity, for example. There are times where I felt like the only thing keeping me from sinning / missing the mark / slipping up / relapsing was circumstance. I wasn’t going to chase out temptation, but if it made it’s way to me, then my probability for success was not good. In fact, in the absence of my self-control, it was always a question of when, not if, I was going to relapse.
How To Overcome Temptation
In the world we live in, a passive, go-with-the-flow, hope-for-the-best approach to break bad habits / compulsive behaviors / addictions has no chance of succeeding. There are simply too many temptations in circulation. I’m talking about the internet, media, culture, and the myriad corrosive forces modern people are exposed to on a daily basis.
I know there were societies at some places and points in history that weren’t hyper-sexualized. However, in the modern world, anyone without self-control has no chance of beating pornography or living a life of sexual integrity. And the same is true of drugs, food disorders, and so on, where temptation abounds.
When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.James Clear in Atomic Habits on Discipline
We should take steps to reduce temptation to the extent we can to in order to increase our probability for success. This site is full of tips, examples, and suggestions with that goal in mind. Case in point, maybe press pause on trash music, movies, and comedy, not hang out with perverted friends, establish accountability relationships, limit internet usage, especially at certain times of the day, take steps to reduce stress, and take steps to process past trauma and current life stressors.
However, at the end of the day, we should always be cultivating self-control. Even the best processes designed to protect against temptation are going to fail, because they were never meant to be fool-proof. In fact, even if we could eliminate all temptation, we might not want to, because that would prevent our character from being tested and refined. Just like the immune system gets stronger and develops anti-bodies and resistance by being exposed to moderate amounts of germs, bacteria, and viruses, so, too, does our character get stronger in the face of some temptation or evil.
Jesus Christ, who had the most intelligent processes of anyone, was tempted. Temptation is inevitable, whereas self-control, by definition, depends on us.