Proverbs 4:23 instructs us to guard our hearts with all vigilance, for from the heart flows the springs of life, but how do you guard your heart?
Everyone has their personality and temperament. The better you know the strengths and weaknesses of your character and personality, the better you can guard your heart. We also need to know our specific sinful desires, for example, pride, covetousness, selfishness, cruelty, sexual perversion, envy, temper, and so forth. We need to consider the particular sins we find attractive; that is, the sins we fall into most. We need to know our spiritual weaknesses; are you prone to doubting, timidity, a critical spirit, insensitivity, etc.
When the disciples were not welcomed into a Samaritan village, they asked the Lord if they should call fire down from heaven upon the inhabitants. The Lord rebuked them, saying, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of’ (Luke 9:51–56). If they had known their spirit, they could have guarded against it. David tells us (Psalms 18:23) that he kept himself from his iniquity, that is, the sin to which he was particularly prone.
Some people are naturally gentle and easygoing. In itself, that is a noble nature. When grace reigns, this nature is a great blessing. However, it needs to be watched; otherwise, its strength can become its weakness. Other people are naturally moody, sour, and ill-tempered so that they easily fall into envy, malice, selfishness, harsh thoughts of others, and many other sins. Others are naturally passionate, and they have a list of sins to which their nature makes them especially prone.
If you want to be kept away from temptation, take time to study your nature. Get to know the kind of person you are, and do not try to justify or excuse the evil and weakness you find. The better you know the evil and weakness of your own heart, the better equipped you are to avoid entering into the temptations to which you are particularly prone. Think of your heart as a place where traitors live; these traitors are your sinful desires and weaknesses. Temptation is always waiting to take advantage of them. Be thankful for any friend who is willing to tell you the kind of person you are and the weaknesses of your nature that you need to guard against. This will be painful, but never forget, ‘faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27:6)
2. Guard your weaknesses
Knowing your weaknesses is not enough. You must also know how temptation would take advantage of these weaknesses. There are particular occasions, company, individuals, employments, places, etc., that make temptation stronger. For example, if a person has a weakness for gossip, there are certain people and places he should try and avoid. If a person finds that pictures or reports in a newspaper stimulate unclean thoughts, they should avoid them.
The examples that could be given are endless, but no two people will have to avoid precisely the same things. This is one reason why we must be careful not to judge other people’s liberty. Each person must get to know what will give temptation an advantage over him and do all he can to avoid these things. Many people can walk through a field of cut grass without suffering from hay fever. The person who does suffer from hay fever will be wise to avoid such a field. In the same way, each of us needs to know his particular ‘allergies’ that bring temptation and seek to avoid them.
Obviously, it is not possible to avoid every occasion of temptation. If we are wise, we shall plan to avoid all we can. When duty or providence brings us into an occasion of temptation, we must trust God to keep us.
This article simplifies John Owen’s ‘What Every Christian Needs to Know,’ first worked on by A. Swanson.
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