It’s embarrassing just how corrupt and wicked our own hearts are (Jer. 17:9). It’s bad enough that we sin and are forced to address our failures with those we love and with those who can help us, but there are temptations that are so shameful that we wouldn’t dare think of sharing with someone else. There is, however, great danger in secret temptations. When we refuse to share serious temptations with others we make the pull and power of that temptation all the stronger.
Temptations are different from actual sins. Jesus, after all, is tempted in “every respect… as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Temptation is not itself sin, and yet if we avoid sharing recurring temptations with others we may find the allure of that sin is more potent. Secrecy has a power that entices us further and deeper into sin. There is something about hiding in the darkness that tempts us to love sin more and more. The apostle John notes that even when the “Light of the world” came that “men loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19). The longer temptations hide in recesses of our heart the more pull that they have on us.
In part the danger of secret temptation lies in the deceitfulness of our own hearts. We convince ourselves that we would never cheat on our spouse, for example, but as the tempting thought lingers we are already entertaining it, fantasizing about it, and secretly relishing it. The subtly of sin is such that it convinces us it is not really dangerous until we have already gone too far.
The other reasons secret temptation is dangerous lies in our limited ability to develop clear refutations of a specific temptation. We are too easily convinced that certain sins aren’t that bad, aren’t that big of a deal, aren’t that serious, aren’t that powerful, or even that they aren’t possible. A young man I counseled once, would never have thought that he could pick up a prostitute. It was so unlikely as to be a laughable concern…until the day he did it. How did he get there? The temptation presented itself and because he had no one with whom he could share that burden, then he had no one who could help him formulate a reasonable response to it. His own thoughts were not objective enough to articulate a clear rejection of this sin. Slowly but surely he convinced himself he could do it and get away with it.
The final important reason to note, is that secret temptations don’t come with accountability. Those temptations that we share with others expose us to watching eyes and helping hands. There are people who know that I am prone to losing it with my kids and are helping me to be on guard. They are asking me about it, and watching me when I correct my kids at church. I am learning to be more careful and proactive in fighting impatience towards them. But secret temptations have no watching eyes. There is no one who can question how I am doing with my secret temptations, how well I am resisting, or what barriers I am putting up to prevent giving in. No one suspects that you will fall prey to a sin that you don’t admit to being tempted by.
So, confess your temptations to one another. Even the embarrassing, shameful ones. Share with others what you find alluring, even if you’ve never given in to such temptations. If there is a sin that repeatedly draws your attention, thoughts, fantasies, it should be regarded as a potential threat. Ask for help in saying “no.” Invite others to pray that you will remain vigilant. Secret temptations have a power that makes them stronger. Break the hold such temptations have on you by bringing them out of the darkness and into the light (Eph. 5:12-13).