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How Well Are People Dealing with Temptation?

Updated: Jun 10


Every day, we’re tempted to do something that we know will not honor God. The Center for Bible Engagement (CBE) has extensively studied the topic of temptation and found that nearly everyone—old or young, male or female, a mature believer or a new Christ-follower—feels tempted in some way on a daily basis. For men, lust and pornography present a nearly universal temptation. While rates are lower among men who attend church, the fact remains that three out of five cite this as their most common temptation. For women, temptations are more varied and individualized.


To further understand how Christians are resisting or giving in to temptation, CBE surveyed over 8,000 believers who spent more than 84 million days following Christ. We discovered:

  • Men and women differ markedly in terms of what tempts them.

  • The types of temptations women are susceptible to tend to be very personal or unique to each woman.

  • Among men, temptations related to sexuality are most common.

  • For women, a personalized approach to facing temptation might be more promising, while for men, approaches dealing with sexual temptations are most needed.

 

Our survey results concerning the temptations believers face and how they deal with them provide important information that can help others “win the day” spiritually.

 

Our Study

A total of 8,285 self‐identified Christ-followers completed our survey across all 50 states in the U.S. About two‐thirds (63.1%) of respondents were women. Respondents were primarily middle‐aged with a mean age of 49 years, and the majority (72.1%) were married. About one out of five were either divorced (11.8%) or single/never married (9.8%). Only 0.5% of respondents indicated they were “living with a significant other.”  


The majority of participants had been believers most of their lives, attended church at least once a week, and were involved in activities believed to foster spiritual maturity.

  • Almost all reported praying at least once a day.

  • Four-fifths had read or listened to the Bible at least four days in the previous week.

  • More than two‐thirds had a close friend or mentor that helped them grow spiritually.

  • A little more than half participated in a group Bible study other than Sunday school.


How Are Believers Tempted?

A minority of respondents (and at times a significant minority) were engaged in behaviors that could put them in jeopardy spiritually, physically, or relationally (see Figure 1).

 

Figure 1. Respondents Engaged in These Habits at Least Once Every Few Months


With the exception of sex outside marriage, men were more likely than women to engage in risky behaviors. Although men and women differed in their responses, they were generally small with two notable exceptions: destructive/violent thoughts towards self/others and pornography.

  • Men (20.4%) had destructive or violent thoughts more often than women (15.0%).

  • Men were ten times more likely to report pornography as a habit than women. Almost one out of four Christ‐following men indicated they engaged in pornography at least once every few months.


When asked which temptations were most frequent, the answers differed dramatically between women and men. Women reported a wide variety of temptations, none of which accounted for much more than a tenth of the total responses. Although only for a minority, the most common temptations for women were gossiping, overeating, and overspending. 

 

Figure 2. Most Frequent Temptations for Christ­-Following Women

For men, temptations related to sexuality were most common. In fact, the temptation of sex was reported ten times more by men than the second most frequent temptation (laziness).  

 

Figure 3. Most Frequent Temptations for Christ­-Following Men

 

Survey respondents were also asked about the impact temptation had on their lives. Sex was most commonly named as the temptation that had the most impact, accounting for one‐fifth of Christ‐followers. Overeating was the second most common response (5.5% of the sample).

Although sexual temptation had the most impact for both men and women, it was named more commonly by men. One out of three (33.7%) men indicated sexual temptation had affected their lives most, compared to 15.3% of women. Overeating was the second most common response among women (8.3%). For men, alcohol (2.7%) was second.

 

How Often Are Believers Tempted?

When asked “how many times they felt tempted to do wrong yesterday,” four out of five (80.8%) Christ-followers reported being tempted between one and 10 times. About half (49.9%) indicated they were enticed between one to three times the previous day. On average, men reported significantly higher levels of temptation than women. Men reported an average of 14.4 temptations in the previous day, and women reported an average of 10.7 temptations.

 

We also asked how many minutes believers had been tempted to do wrong the previous day. Respondents gave a wide range of responses from zero to 600 minutes (essentially all of their waking hours). The average number of minutes enticed was 36. 

 

To explore the impact of temptation further, we asked how many days they spent thinking about the temptation. Responses ranged widely from none to more than 900 days (i.e. about three years). On average, believers spent nearly a year thinking about their most serious temptation. Men dwelled on it significantly more days than women (342 days and 310 days respectively).

 

When asked whether they yielded to the temptation, the majority of believers indicated they had at least some of the time. Sixteen percent responded “yes” and two‐thirds (63.4%) answered “sometimes ‘yes’, sometimes ‘no.’”


Again, we found statistically significant differences between men and women. Men were more likely than women to indicate they did not yield to temptation. It’s very likely, however, that yielding is related to the type of temptation (e.g., sex vs. gossiping) versus a fundamental difference in the ability to resist enticement. 

 

Even if a believer does not yield to temptation, just the fact that they were tempted can have an impact. For example, we found in related CBE research that the temptation of lust and high rates of pornography use are associated with more feelings of hopelessness and bitterness, feeling a need to hide from others, and feeling unable to please God (Cole & Ovwigho, 2013). This is especially true for those who believe that thinking about temptation is as bad as committing it. In our temptation study, one out of two (48.8%) survey participants said they believed that thinking about temptation is as bad as committing it. An additional one‐tenth (9.6%) responded that they weren’t sure.

 

How Do Believers Resist Temptation?

Temptation is a fact of life for believers; however, we also know that through Christ we can resist temptation:

 

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1 Corinthians 10:13


When asked what helped believers “resist temptation yesterday,” not surprisingly, most of their answers were spiritually based. About one‐fourth (26.6%) responded that their relationship with God helped them resist temptation. Similarly, one out of five engaged in God’s Word and almost the same proportion prayed to Him for help.

 

Figure 4. How Did You Resist Temptation Yesterday? 


Interestingly, very few respondents said that other people, some type of accountability relationship, or church helped them to stand firm against temptation. Almost two‐thirds (62.1%) of respondents answered “no” when asked if anyone had held them accountable for their thoughts in the past seven days. Of note, women (33.9%) were significantly more likely to report having been held accountable than men (31.9%).

 

How Does Temptation Affect Scripture Engagement?

Many Christ-followers see engaging in Scripture as the best means for resisting temptation. For some, however, the tendency is to run away from God and His Word in times of struggle:

 

Temptation absolutely affects my interaction with God and how often I read the Bible! I can tell you, the last thing in the world I feel like doing after I have failed to resist temptation is to read the Bible with a guilty conscience, even if I have asked for forgiveness. Reading the Bible while I feel guilty makes me feel like a charlatan and like I'm just using God. I get exhausted just thinking about how much work needs to be done before I become a better Christian.


It sometimes makes me feel like a failure and that reading the Bible is a waste of time because I just keep failing.


When we explored the relationship between the number of days engaged in Scripture and the amount of temptation, we found that those who read or listened to the Bible at least four days a week reported being tempted to do wrong more times in the previous day (mean = 12.2) than those who were engaged in Scripture one to three days (mean = 11.9) or not at all (mean = 10.4). The differences, however, are not statistically significant. One possible explanation for the counterintuitive direction of this trend is that those who are actively involved in God’s Word may be more sensitive to temptation. In other words, they may be more likely to perceive, remember, and report possible temptations because the standards of a holy God are at the forefront of their minds.

 

Regarding longer-term impacts of temptation, more Scripture engagement is significantly associated with fewer days spent thinking about temptation. Believers who read or listened to the Bible at least four days a week spent an average of 318 days thinking about the temptation that had the greatest impact on their lives. Those who were not engaged in Scripture at all reported thinking about the temptation for an average of 384 days (about two months longer).

 

Preparing to “Win the Day” Tomorrow

When asked if “winning the day over temptation today will be the first step toward winning the day tomorrow,” the vast majority (92.1%) agreed. In addition, when asked “what currently helps you win the day spiritually,” believers named reading the Bible as their number one strategy, followed by scriptural engagement (25.3%) and prayer (23.3%). A relationship with God rounded out the top three, accounting for 15.0% of the responses.


As goofy as it sounds, when I die, I want to hear “Well done my good and faithful son.” I think of this and how sad God must be when I sin.


You are not guilty of sin because you are tempted. You are guilty when you dwell on it or act on it.  Best way to resist is to change thinking to something else, especially to God and Jesus.


Responses to the open‐ended question about how people win the day spiritually indicate that many believers desire help given in a personal, non‐judgmental, confidential, and easily accessible format:


It is difficult to talk to people you know at church about specific problems (especially for pastors). Perhaps having a forum where Christians could get in touch with other Christians online for accountability purposes.


I am searching for some really good, in-depth Bible studies to which I can apply myself, preferably online as that is so accessible. I prefer the interactive kind that cause[s] me to think and really evaluate myself before God.


It would be great to have a Christian friend to talk to, someone who I wouldn't think was being bothered or burdened talking to me. I've paid for Counseling in the past, but don't have insurance to see the Counselor anymore.


Conclusions

Christ‐followers face temptation each day. Even mature believers who engage in Scripture and prayer still struggle with destructive behaviors, such as pornography, gambling, and violent thoughts. In our study, virtually all believers faced temptations multiple times a day. For women, the type of temptation varied from gossip to overeating to negative attitudes towards their spouses. For men, sexual temptation was a common theme, identified as an issue by almost two‐fifths of male believers.

 

Respondents also indicated that their relationship with God, reading Scripture, and prayer helped them to resist temptation. For some, however, feelings of guilt associated with temptation prompted them to run away from God instead of running towards Him. To battle temptation, the findings suggest believers must frequently engage in God’s Word. In addition, Christ-followers both want and need connections with other believers to deal honestly with their temptations, to hold each other accountable, and to encourage each other to keep running towards Christ and not away from Him.

 

See related CBE research:


See related topics from Our Daily Bread Ministries:

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