The Stages of Temptation & Addiction: Part 1

March 20, 2019

The Church often teaches us that within our spiritual life, there will be warfare. And if warfare, then there must be an enemy. And if an enemy, then we are under attack. If you have ever wondered what these attacks look like, and how we are tempted to sin, then stick around and let’s look at the six stages that lead to temptation, sin, and addiction.  


In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.  


My beloved we have often been taught that the devil is the greatest adversary of mankind. Constantly trying to make us fall in his traps, wanting us to distance ourselves from God and in so doing, giving ourselves over entirely to the slavery of sin and the passions. St. Peter describes this very warfare by warning us that we must “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) And so, it is only befitting for us, if we are to battle valiantly in our daily spiritual warfare, to take the time and study the tactics used by the devil in his attempts to make us fall.  


Now the Church has done a great deal to help equip us for the battles we face when fighting for our salvation. She has given to us the holy and divine mysteries as the greatest source of strength, she has made accessible to us the tools required to build a virtuous life, and she has opened her arms wide with compassion to welcome us no matter how often we fall. And among those things that the Church offers us, is the centuries of spiritual experience that her saints have accumulated and left behind for us in the teachings on spiritual warfare. Today we will discuss some of these teachings that were left for us by many of those who successfully fought before us and have succeeded in the spiritual race. In this two-part series, wwill seek to understand what are the stages of temptation that lead to sin and addiction in our lives. And so for this first video, Let’s go ahead and take a deeper look at the first three stages of temptation than can lead to addiction.  


The first stage that we experience when we are tempted is called “Provocation” or “Bait”. Now this provocation can be as simple as a word or an image which appears in the heart without your consent. It appears in the mind as a simple possibility. Now this thing that provokes us, that seeks our attention seems to be outside of us; we didn’t create it. For instance, ican be a simple thought of a possible sinful deed, but at this point, we have not allowed the thought to fully develop – it is merely teasing us or trying to bait us as the name says. Think for instance of a person who goes fishing – see the image here. The person who goes fishing will attach a worm or a prop of some sort to the fishing hook in an attempt to make a fish think that food is ready to be consumed. When in reality, what the poor fish doesn’t realize, is that this bait is attached to a sharp metal hook which will pierce right through it, and will be used to reel it in.   


Now at this point, the person who has been provoked or baited has not committed any sin! The bait, the provocation, isn’t yet sinful because it did not depend on us to produce it. And so every person is subject to this first step – all of humanity is provoked and baited by Satan in an attempt to pull us into a state of sin. 


Now it seems right for us to ask what are we typically baited with? From this it follows that Satan sends the bait to us by means of the bodily appetites; our thoughts, memories, an image through our eyes, a word through our ears, and even a scent that we small afar off. All of these and many more bodily functions can be used to stir up some appetite which is sleeping in the subconscious of the human person.  


St John Climacus explains just how quickly such a provocation can come upon us. Listen to how he describes it:  


What happens is this. In a moment, without a word being spoken or an image presented, a sudden passionate urge lays hold of the victim. It comes faster than anything in the physical world and is swifter and more indiscernible than any spirit.  It makes its appearance in the soul by a simple memory, which is unconnected with anything, independent of time and inexpressible, and in some cases comes without the person him self realizing the fact. Someone who has been able to detect such a subtlety, someone with the gift of mourning, may be able to explain how with the eye alone, with a mere glance, by the touch of a hand, through a song overheard, the soul is led to commit a definite sin of unchastity without any notion or evil thought.” [John Climacus – The Ladder of Divine Ascent]  


What St. John is describing is nothing short of a trap that is set. We have been baited – like that fish in the water, we see what look like something appetizing, but it is truly bait that attempts to lure us in.  


Now the second stage is that of disturbance. In this stage, after we have been provoked, we experience a momentary disturbance of the heart or the intellect. The suggestion has been thrown at us, we’ve been provoked, and we’re briefly aware that something has happened within us. This suggestion, this thought, has touched us. We become aware of that! And so, because we are aware that we’ve been provided an opportunity to potentially sinwe also realize that we can either follow this through into sin or to resist it. Now again, its important to note that just like in the first stage of provocation, at this stage also there is still no active sin on our part. What we’ve experienced is only the suggestion to sin and the mental awareness of its possibility.  


However, that being said, what we do next is critical: we will either remain without sin or allow ourselves to fall 


And this brings us to the third stage: called coupling” or “mingling”Coupling is when we have given our attention over to what has provoked usThis is when we pause for a moment and consider what is happening to us. We typically take a closer look at what is being presented to our heart and our mind. Still, this state is sometimes not sinful. The decisive moment is when our thought takes a position 

If we have rejected the thought once we’ve identified it as potentially sinfulthen we have escaped by God’s grace. If, however, we start to think about it, to relish the idea in our mind, the “coupling” or the mingling of our thoughts with that which is demonic and sinful has already happened. It is when we have done the later that we have joined ourselves with the evil thought; it has become part of us. By it we have entered the state of sin and we can hardly stop the full development of this process once it is set in motion. And while here we discuss these three stages in depth, and we take our time to discuss and understand them, in reality, these actually happen within the person so very quickly – milliseconds even! Hence why we need to study this process carefully in an attempt to prevent our falling into sin.  


Now we have seen the first three of six stages of temptation that can lead to a fully developed passion and addiction. God willing, in our second part of this series, we will review the other three stages: Assent, Captivity, and Passion.  

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