The battle against sexual temptation isn’t won simply with Internet filters and accountability partners. It is won with Spirit-filled convictions, which over time produce new affections and desires. Filters and friends are precious weapons in the fight, but they cannot win the war for us.
Joseph knew how to win the war, and he only had a fraction of the divine revelation we have. After he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, God brought him to the house of Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man. . . . His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:2–3). So, Potiphar “made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had” (Genesis 39:4).
But someone else in Potiphar’s home also admired Joseph. “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph” (Genesis 39:6–7). Filled with lust for someone other than her husband, she said, “Lie with me” (Genesis 39:7).
But filled with strength and conviction, Joseph refused.
“Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8–9)
Five life-giving convictions fueled Joseph’s courage and self-control in the face of temptation. If you’re still losing the battle with sexual sin, perhaps these seeds haven’t yet taken hold in your own heart. Ask God to drive the roots deeper as you pore over his word and walk with him.
1. Trust is priceless and fragile.
Joseph says, “Behold, because of me my master” — her husband — “has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge” (Genesis 39:8).
Sexual sin destroys trust. And in every direction. Joseph’s expressed concern is not mainly that he would ruin his career or lose his money, but that he would betray Potiphar’s hard-earned — and easily lost — trust. This is not the greatest conviction under Joseph’s self-control, but it is the first he mentions, and it’s important for defeating sexual sin. Do you prize the trust you have with your spouse, your children, your boss, your friends, your church, or are you secretly all too happy to risk that trust to try to satisfy your flesh?
Joseph knew to tread lightly with all the trust he had been given, to treat Potiphar’s faith in him as precious — and fragile.
2. Authority is about service, not privilege.
Again, Joseph says, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you” (Genesis 39:8–9). Potiphar had given Joseph unparalleled authority over his home, over his business, over all his possessions, which afforded Joseph unparalleled access and privilege — such that he would even be left alone in Potiphar’s home with his wife.
Our headlines are filled with gifted and powerful men who have abused this kind of authority, leveraging their position and power to take advantage of women under their influence. But Joseph refused to abuse his role, even when Potiphar’s wife seduced him day after day (Genesis 39:10). “I will not lie with you.” And he went to prison for years.
Joseph knew whatever authority he had been given to him by Potiphar (and ultimately by God) was a commission to serve others, and not to use others — to die to himself for others’ joy (2 Corinthians 1:24), not to pursue his own pleasure at others’ expense.
If only more Josephs were leading companies, producing films, and pastoring churches — men who refused to use their power and authority to satisfy their secret sexual cravings, but instead received their power and authority as a commission to serve and protect.
3. Marriage is sacred.
Joseph continues, “He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife” (Genesis 39:9). Potiphar’s wife was willing to trade her marriage — their vows, their covenant, their union — to have a handsome young man for a few minutes. But her marriage was worth far more in Joseph’s eyes than it was to her. Joseph knew God had joined Potiphar to his wife. He knew that just as God Almighty had formed Eve and brought her to Adam, so he had sovereignly brought together this man and this woman.
Jesus says, “‘A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate”” (Mark 10:7–9). “Because you are his wife.” Or, because you are her husband. Or, because I am her husband. Because I am his wife. There are storehouses of purifying power behind rock-solid reasons like these.
Do you want the strength to defy sexual temptation? Meditate on the divine sanctity of marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).
4. Sin is not just wrong, but repulsive.
Trust, authority, and marriage are all massive motivations against adultery, but these last two convictions are the foundation under every other motivation for purity and fidelity. First, we learn to deny temptation by learning to hate sin. Many so-called Christians know that sin is wrong, but the key to killing sin is not simply knowing sin is wrong, but feeling that it is repulsive. As we grow in Christ, sin becomes, over time, more and more offensive, even disgusting.
When other men would be all too happy to jump into bed with an attractive, powerful, and eager woman, Joseph asks, “How could I do this great wickedness?” (Genesis 39:9). Adultery is not just wrong; it is wicked. And it is not wicked; it is a “great wickedness.” When you say “No” to temptation, is it because you know this is wrong, even though everything in you wants to do it anyway? Or do you find yourself increasingly conflicted — feeling the pull of sin’s allure, but also seeing and despising the ugliness behind all the pretty makeup? Sin is wrong, but it is also not worth wanting in the first place. Ask God to make it more offensive in your eyes.
5. God is better than sex.
Sin becomes more and more offensive, even disgusting, as God becomes more beautiful, more precious, more satisfying. Adultery loses its seductive power because its pleasures pale next to the deep and enduring joy he promises (Psalm 16:11).
Joseph talks about how devastating this affair would be to Potiphar, who has trusted him with everything, but he ends by asking, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). David says the same when he confesses to God about his adultery, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalms 51:4). Potiphar’s trust was precious to Joseph, but God was more precious. Potiphar’s judgment was fearful to Joseph, but God’s much more so. Potiphar’s reputation mattered to Joseph, but Joseph lived for the glory of God. How could I do this to God?
Joseph was not mainly worried about losing his job, his money, or some sexual pressure. He refused to lose God. His glory was too beautiful, his friendship too precious, his promises too great for Joseph to lie with her. If you want to stay out of bed with someone else’s wife, make yourself as happy as humanly possible in God.
Strength to Persevere
Potiphar’s wife did not try to seduce Joseph just once. “As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her” (Genesis 39:10). Joseph didn’t just say “No” one time. He refused repeatedly and persistently. She kept trying, and he kept refusing. His convictions didn’t just keep him from one misstep, but strengthened him over and over and over again. He didn’t wear down. Trust was still precious. Authority was still about serving. Marriage was still sacred. Sin was still wicked. God was still better.
If you are just saying “No” — to adultery, to pornography, to sexual immorality of whatever form — because you know it’s wrong, you may soon run out of gas in your war against sin. But if these five truths are taking deeper and deeper roots in your heart, you’ll keep adding cylinders to your engine. The next time sexual temptation comes, remember Joseph and the convictions that kept him out of bed with someone else’s wife.