Your life, beloved, is a war and temptation precipitates each battle.
Saint Theophan the Recluse said it this way: “The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of battle is our whole life.”
St. James tells us that every man is tempted from within, being lured away by his own lusts and passions and is enticed. James 1:14
In Mark 7, our Lord says this:
Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.”
Temptation is not external. Make no provision for the flesh, says St. Paul. The war between good and evil takes place squarely between our shoulders. We may receive thoughts from angels and demons, threats, injuries, or insults from men, trials or misfortune from nature, but the decision to act is ours.
“Watch and pray,” Christ admonished His Disciples, “lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." - Matthew 26:41
Temptation lures us so that lust might conceive sin, and sin fully gestated brings forth death. James 1:15
Temptation is the mating call of spiritual death. Those who heed this call without repentance will have taken from them “the voice of the bridegroom.” See Jeremiah 25:10; Revelation 18:22
St. John Chrysostom says:
We ought not of ourselves to leap upon [temptation], but being dragged thereto, to stand manfully.”
The Life of St. Lucia serves as a vivid reminder of this teaching. When threatened with death by rape, she calmly responded:
The body cannot be defiled if the mind does not consent to sin. Even if you were to place incense in my hand and force it into the altar of demons, God would not count this as an offense on my part. He judges our thoughts and intentions, and does not hold us responsible for what others do to us by compulsion… You may order my virginity ruined, but in so doing, you will only increase the reward that awaits me.”
In The Art of Salvation, Elder Ephraim of Arizona explains that:
"Depending on the struggle you present during a temptation, accordingly you will be crowned, you will receive the award, you will take the place, you will obtain the praise before God. But if you kneel down and say, "God, stop the temptation, I can't take it anymore," and he listens to you, he knew that the benefit you would receive stopped there. What does this mean; That in temptations we must wish that God gives us patience and enlightenment to ask that he end them whenever He wants and that we study the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, because in this way we will be changed in ourselves."
Temptation is proof of the reality of our participation in the spiritual war being waged all around us. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
Christians venerate the Cross upon which Our Lord suffered and died, calling it the “life-giving” tree. “[W]e also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4
“For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:” Hebrews 10:36
If we die with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. 2 Timothy 2:11-12
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. James 1:12
For we know that Christ, who called us, is faithful to preserve us blameless in body and spirit until He comes again. 1 Thessalonians 5:24
Listen to these words from Elder Ephraim of Arizona from Counsels from the Holy Mountain:
“God allows temptations so that they might rouse us to remember Him. When we call upon Him, He acts as though He does not hear us so that we multiply our supplications and cry out His holy name, in fear of the various passions. Then, through pain of the entreaties, our heart is sanctified, and through experience, we learn the weakness of our lame nature. And thus we realize in practice that without God’s help, we are not able to do anything.
This deep experience is acquired with the blood of the heart and remains indelible; it becomes a foundation for the remainder of one’s life. The grace of God leaves and comes again, but experience never leaves, because it has been branded within the heart. And no matter how much Satan praises the heart, it points to what is indelibly written within its depths, that without God it is impossible to do anything.
If there were no temptations, pride and other passions would have turned us into other Lucifers. But our good Father, God, allows afflictions to come upon us so that we may be guarded by humility, which will lighten the burden of our sins.
When we are still in our youth, we must be tempted, for youth is easily derailed. In time the war will cease and the desired peace will come. Just have courage and patience. Do not despair, no matter how much the passions may fight you. God loves one who is fought against and fights back. Be brave, and pray also for me, the indolent, the unclean, the unworthy, the abomination!”
This is the Christian life: falling down but never staying down. We faithfully echo the words of the prophet Micah:
"Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; When I fall, I will arise;" Micah 7:8
Consider the life of St. John the Much Suffering, who spent all of Great Lent and Holy Week buried in the ground to the waist as he valiantly fought against lust, and on the evening of the Resurrection, a serpent appeared and seized the head of the monk in its jaws. Then Saint John cried out from the depths of his heart:
“Lord! Why did You leave me for so long in torment?”
“I tried you according to the power of your endurance,” was the answer. “I brought upon you temptation so that you might be purified like gold. It is to the strong and powerful servants that a master assigns the heavy work, and the easy tasks to the infirm and to the weak.”
Thus, the words of King David are true:
Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies." Psalm 108:13
Finally, let me leave you with a story from Elder Ephraim of Arizona:
"There was once a monk who happened to slip and sin by himself continually, yet he would always arise at once and do his prayer rule. The demon that kept throwing him into sin lost his patience seeing the courage and hopefulness of this brother. So he visibly appeared to him, and said to him with vexation:
Don’t you fear God, you defiled wretch? You have just sinned, so with what face can you now stand before God? Aren’t you afraid that God will burn you?
But since this brother had a valiant soul, he said to the demon:
This cell is a forge: you hit and get hit. As God is my witness, Who came to save the world, I will not stop fighting you, falling and getting up, beating and being beaten, until my final breath—and let’s see who will win: you or Christ!
When the demon heard this unexpected reply, he said:
I won’t fight you anymore, because if I do, I’ll make you win crowns.
Thenceforth, this brother was delivered from the warfare, and he sat in his cell weeping for his sin.