Spiritual Contraception

  Author: Tim Bouffard

Warning: This is not an article dealing with the issue of contraception from a Christian perspective. I am only going to use the idea of contraception as a metaphor for a different issue - temptation to sin. I recently helped someone work through a specific temptation. Together, we considered the following passage from the Book of James:

James 1:13 "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

Temptation comes from within, not from without. Of course, there are outward influences and dynamics that can provoke temptation, but temptation is connected primarily to our desires, not outside factors. I can't say, "I was tempted by the chocolate cake sitting on the counter," or "I was tempted by the picture of the woman in the magazine." Temptation is my desire to eat the chocolate cake or my desire to enjoy the picture of the woman in the magazine.

James uses the metaphors of conception and birth to describe the space between desire and sin. Desire is "conceived" - that is, joined to fulfillment. Desire that becomes fulfillment gives birth to sin. Sin leads to death; physical death, but also the death of joy, peace and righteousness. Death is isolation - from God, from others, from peace and from wellbeing. Feeling isolated or separated is one of the most disturbing emotions we experience as humans. How can we avoid this? We need to keep from sinning.

How does one keep from sinning? It is not by removing temptation. Certainly, removing influences that can trigger temptation can be helpful, but I can't remove the desire. Therefore, something needs to prevent the conception of sin. "Spiritual contraception" needs to be utilized. What is an effective means of spiritual contraception? It is yielding to the Spirit rather than to the desires of the flesh.

Galatians 5:16 "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."

Walking by the Spirit - yielding to his desires rather than to the desires of the flesh - prevents the conception of sin. Typically, desire is experienced as growing tension or pressure. We seek an immediate, sometimes enjoyable, but always effective means of relieving the pressure or releasing the tension. If we feel angry about something, we seek to relieve the tension associated with the emotion. Our flesh desires relief so we might swear, punch the wall, throw an object or holler at someone. We experience an immediate release of pressure and "feel" better. However, inappropriate (flesh-related) release of tension is often harmful to ourselves and others and is an affront to God. So the release of tension that comes after throwing an object is followed by feelings of guilt, shame and regret. Of course, we don't like those feelings and attempt to remove them by rationalizing our behavior or attempting to ignore it. But eventually, this leads to more internal tension.

Instead of relieving the pressure in flesh-oriented ways, we can relieve the pressure of temptation by yielding to the Spirit. This requires awareness of the tension and a recognition of the fact that we are tempted to relieve it through the flesh. At this point, we need to consider what it would look like to relieve the pressure by means of the Spirit. So, rather than throwing an object, I can choose to carefully set the object down or resist picking it up to throw it and wait for the release of tension. Slamming the door is an immediate self-soothing behavior, but it does not accomplish the will of God. Walking through it and quietly shutting it does not bring about immediate relief, but the effect will last longer and result in positive emotions knowing that we have honored God by yielding to the Spirit rather than to the flesh.

This seems to apply to any temptation. For example, if a person was tempted to view pornography which often is a means of releasing pressure (primarily sexual tension but also the relief of stress), they can yield to the Spirit by choosing not to view pornography, waiting for the eventual release of tension and experiencing humble gratitude for having honored God rather than having yielded to the flesh. Similarly, if someone was tempted to spend money they don't have which is also a means of releasing pressure (often from stress or from covetousness), they can yield to the Spirit, choose not to go shopping, wait for the eventual release of tension, occupy themselves in some productive fashion and experience humble gratitude for having honored God and avoided making matters worse.

Take a few moments to think about what you are being tempted with right now and choose to cut off the desire before it conceives and gives birth to sin. Then thank God for his help and enjoy the feeling that comes from having honored him and being free from the trap of sin and temptation.