You Are Your Own Worst Enemy

Sorry to break it to you, but you are more sinful than you think you are.

Lest you think I’m judging—I am more sinful than I think I am too. We’re more prone to wander and turn our backs on God than we’re comfortable admitting. We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinful, but “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

That’s why we can’t afford to lie to ourselves about ourselves.

Because if we do, it makes us less ready and therefore more vulnerable.

In James’s description of the process of temptation I previously shared, he writes, “Each person is tempted when …” Do you remember what comes next? We might guess, “Each person is tempted when [Satan comes in with his evil lies.]” Or “Each person is tempted when [they live in a godless world and are exposed to all its wickedness.]” But no. James writes, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” According to James, you are your own worst enemy.

You’re more sinful than you think you are.

And you’re not as strong as you think you are.

We tend to think we can handle more than we can. That’s dangerous. It’s why we’re warned, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18) and “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12).

Studies show that people overestimate their ability to resist temptation; the technical term for this is “restraint bias.” We are not able to control impulsive decisions and behaviors like we think we can.

This is why when someone brings their famous home-baked chocolate brownies to the office, you think, No way. I’m not cheating on my diet. I will walk right past it! And you do—the first time. The second time you cut a little sliver, just to taste it. The third time you walk by, not only do you eat a big piece but you somehow end up with chocolate in your hair.

What happened?

You thought you were stronger than you really were. That pride led you to rely on your limited willpower and, ultimately, to fall.

So why do we overestimate our ability to battle temptation?

We don’t understand the energy it demands. Fighting temptation is fatiguing. The part of our brain that controls our willpower has other responsibilities too. It also helps us cope with stress, monitors emotions, and makes decisions. As we mentioned in the introduction, decision-making is a muscle that gets fatigued from overuse. Here is what that means:

Your willpower will wane and wear out.

This explains why you do such a great job not saying what you want to your annoying coworkers but then go home and yell at your spouse. Or why you can be so disciplined and productive all day long, and then, once you get home, get nothing done. It’s because willpower wanes. Self-control is a limited resource. The more we use, the less we have.

We’re more sinful than we think we are.

And we’re not as strong as we think we are.

So we have to get ready.

We don’t wait to get ready when the moment of temptation arrives. Remember, that moment is fraught with peril. We’re not great in the moment. So we’re going to make three pre-decisions that will help us be ready when temptation attacks.

Craig Groeschel, Think Ahead: 7 Decisions You Can Make Today for the God-Honoring Life You Want Tomorrow (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2024), 7–9.

We have just released a 8-week study on the topic: Think Ahead by Craig Groeschel. You can get it on Amazon. It is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking.