When It’s Not a Choice Anymore
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. Matthew 26:41
Modern medicine defines addiction as a brain disease of reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. What this means, is that at one time, the addict may engage in voluntary behavior, but through repeated rewards, the brain is rewired. Over time, the once voluntary behavior becomes compulsive. Choices are gone, and even though it hurts to continue the behavior, the addict cannot stop. Addiction is characterized by this inability to discontinue a behavior despite its destructive consequences.
I know this to be true in my own life. In my appetite for drugs, I made horrible choices, but once I became addicted, I was hopelessly out of control. I was no longer making voluntary decisions, and even though I knew my life was coming apart, I couldn’t stop. I’d surrendered to temptation and had become enslaved to it.
In today’s passage, Jesus commanded his disciples to actively avoid temptation. In the story, he wrestled with God’s will about his imminent arrest and crucifixion while his disciples slept. Using the event as a teaching opportunity, Jesus told his disciples that they must remain vigilant, with eyes on God, actively avoiding temptation.
Temptation by itself, is not a sin, and is certainly not always my fault. If I’m out for a run, and a neighbor offers me a beer, I’ve done nothing wrong. If I find myself in a bar, being offered a drink, then I’ve willingly entered into temptation. When I travel far enough down the road of temptation willingly, I eventually surrender all control. In any addiction, if I go far enough, the temptation eventually chooses for me.
Jesus insisted that we abandon temptation before we enter into and become enslaved by it. For me, this means I can’t have access to certain medications. It means that I should stay out of the donut aisle at the grocery store and it means that I shouldn’t go near certain websites or TV shows. If I want to live free, I must avoid those things that would enslave me.
In Christ, we have the freedom to follow him or to follow ourselves. When we follow ourselves, we become enslaved to our destructive appetites (Galatians 5:1). Once enslaved, it takes profound, painful, radical change to get out. It would be far easier if we followed Jesus command to actively avoid temptation in the first place.