As I pondered that chilling event, my mind cast back to a pastors' conference I attended nearly 20 years ago. The prominent pastor who hosted the conference was discussing the ongoing problem of moral failure among pastors. And then he said something that shocked me: "That is never going to happen to me. It is not in me to cheat on my wife, to commit adultery. I just do not have that in me."
To my knowledge, this pastor has remained faithful to his wife. But that doesn't change the fact that I think his confidence was foolish. I am a redeemed sinner, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and in the process of transformation to become like Jesus. One day I will be free from sin, from temptation and from any chance that I would ever fall into sin.
This is not that day. Whenever I hear of a Christian brother (or sister) who falls into sin, I am reminded that the darkness that brought their fall lives in me.
I have never cheated on my wife, not before marriage or since. I do not think I ever will. But I've talked to more than one person, looking up from the floor, who said, "I never thought it would happen to me." I don't plan to fall. I really don't. But it would be foolish of me to believe that I cannot.
I had a long conversation in my office several years ago with a Christian leader who was trying to hold his marriage together after he fell headlong into adultery. He was nearing his retirement years, had been a respected leader, one of those guys who no one would ever believe could fall. He did. I asked him to tell me how it all happened. It hit him like a storm -- unexpected and powerful. He had no idea what happened.
But perhaps the root of his problem was his failure to understand what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:12: "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."
Overconfidence, especially confidence in my own character and ability, is a serious problem. As long as I live in this world, as long as I still await the consummation of my salvation, the darkness lives in me. I need to fight it. I need to walk in Christ's power and make wise choices and draw near to God and resist the devil and be filled with the Spirit and ... well, you know what I'm getting at.
I make an assumption every time a command is given to believers in God's Word:
1) In the power of Christ, I can obey the command. The light of Christ is in me!
2) In the power of the flesh, I can fail. The darkness of sin is not gone from me.
I wish I could give you three or four devastatingly pithy secrets to resisting temptation. Would that it were that easy. Every saint who falls into sin has this in common -- they never thought they would. So, keep your marriage strong. Stoke your passion for Christ. Don't do stupid things (like hanging out alone with a woman to whom you aren't married). I'm sure there are others who can give better advice on this than I can.
But I write this to remind myself (and you) of the truth -- the darkness is in me. Though Christ has made it possible for me to resist temptation, I must never forget that the darkness that has consumed other committed Christians is never fully banished as long as I draw breath.
This column first appeared at SBCVoices.com. Dave Miller is pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, editor of SBCVoices.com, and second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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