On the journey of what it means to truly “Follow” Jesus, we are faced with the dangers of temptation and compulsive sins, by which the Enemy would “threaten to un-do us!” (to use a phrase from Luther’s A Mighty Fortress)
These dangers are not only for the person overcome by a sin, but also for the whole church community. (listen to the recent sermon on this important teaching in Galatians 5:25-6:5).
We are called to what the Scripture and the Church through the centuries have called watchfulness – sober attentiveness that pursues constant communion with God. We said that the stages of temptation that lead to greater and greater danger go like this:
1. Provocation (or suggestion)
2. Interaction (or giving attention)
3. Consent (or forming images in the imagination)
4. Captivity (or taking action)
5. Domination (or Compulsion)
I referenced Frederica Mathewes-Greene and I would like to post the excerpt from her book, The Jesus Prayer, that I have blogged on in the past. She goes into much more detail that you will find very helpful. She begins by asking a question that frames the issue in terms of the Greek word Logismoi or sinful thoughts. Her use of nous is the Greek word usually translated ‘mind’ or ‘heart.’ It is the ‘spiritual heart’ where we can commune with God. Here is the section of the book (permission pending.)
Q: BUT HOW CAN YOU FIGHT AGAINST (sinful) THOUGHTS?
Let’s think of a (thought) as a temptation, a provocation or suggestion. By stages we pass from merely fielding a thought to being chained to compulsive sin…
This is when the thought first appears…such as our Lord himself experienced when he heard the word, ‘Command that these stones become bread.’ . . . It is not within our power to prevent provocations.
This is the stage at which your nous engages with the thought, whether entertaining it or arguing against it…It has a foot in the door… The advice of the Fathers is consistent: cry out for God’s help… as St. John Climacus says, “Flog your enemies with the name of Jesus.”
At this point, the nous (mind or heart)has become intoxicated with the thought and embraces it…these images give pleasure or arouse fear, in either case the connection of constant prayer has been broken, and the castle wall is breached.
Once the person has consented to the thought, the ability to put up any further resistance crumbles. The temptation is put into action, and that deals a wound to the soul such that it will be weaker the next time this(thought) comes around.
After giving way repeatedly, the process from initial thought to final action no longer requires a sequence of stages; the mere appearance … is sufficient to vanquish all resistance. The term passion, in this context, means something akin to a compulsion or addiction.
[from Mathewes-Green, Frederica (2009). The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God (pp. 149-155). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.]