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An ancient remedy for dealing with temptation is being rediscovered.

"In the quietly sizzling field of self-control studies," writes Daniel Akst in the May, 2011, issue of Reason, an ancient remedy for dealing with temptation is being rediscovered.

Today it's called, "precommitment," and by it those who are seeking to master some forbidden desire are preparing themselves for the arrival of temptation by making commitments well in advance to resist it.

Precommitment is a method for controlling one's actions against some future undesirable course. In precommitment we make an agreement to endure a penalty should we fail to resist the temptation we're fairly certain we will have to face. In fact, a website has come into being where you can put up some money and the name of a "trusted referee" who will make you pay should you fail in your precommitment. You can even arrange to have your money paid to a charity, or even to a hated enemy, should your self-control fail you.

So whether you're trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or exercise regularly - whatever you are trying to control yourself to do or not to do - you can now get online assistance with the perfect precommitment contract to suit your needs. As Mr. Akst summarizes this practice, "while we don't have much say over the desires we have, we certainly can decide which we prefer and then search for ways to act on that basis. Self-regulation will always be a challenge, but if someone's going to be in charge, it might as well be ourselves."

My dad used to say, when one of us boys would hit on some keen insight or accomplish some unlikely task, "Well, a blind hog'll find a ripe acorn every now and then." So it is, from time to time, with the realm of social sciences. Precommitment, of course, is nothing new. Biblical wisdom has been teaching this for years: "I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?" (Job 31.1) "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Ps. 119.11) "I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end" (Ps. 119.112). "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith..." (1 Pet. 5.8, 9).

The Scriptures teach us to practice self-control by committing ourselves - heart, mind, conscience, and life - to godly courses of action, fully mindful, as we face temptations, that the discipline of God awaits those who stray from that path (Heb. 12.3-11). That discipline is not pleasant, as the writer of Hebrews explains, but we choose it and covenant with the Lord to endure it as a means of encouraging us in the pursuit of holiness (2 Cor. 7.1).

Precommitment is just a contemporary adaptation of this ancient Biblical remedy for dealing with temptation.

So it's refreshing to find the wisdom of this age groping its way back to the wisdom of the Bible. The enthusiasm for precommitment as a means of self-control should encourage believers to think that their unsaved neighbors may be more open to Biblical truth than they have perhaps supposed.

Additional related texts: Psalm 73 (entire); 2 Corinthians 7.1; Ephesians5.15-17

A conversation starter: "Have you read about this new practice of  'precommitment' as a way of dealing with temptation?"

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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