Temptation: Just Run Away

I read a heartbreaking blog entry earlier today, about a pastor who apparently chose to commit adultery. And I also blogged a few days ago about a relative of mine who committed fornication and is now pregnant out of wedlock. Several weeks ago I learned that an elder from a church I used to be part of, a man in his 50s with two grown children and two grandchildren, a former schoolteacher, had abandoned his family and run off with an 18 year old former student of his. The relationship had been going on for at least 2 years, possibly longer.

When I hear about these things, oddly, my first thoughts are about my own vulnerability. If pastors and elders are vulnerable, what possible confidence can I have that I’m not also vulnerable? And in view of that, what can I do to lessen the chances that I’ll make the decision to sin just like all these people did?

1 Corinthians 10:12-14 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Matthew 6:13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

1 Timothy 6:11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

2 Timothy 2:22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.

1 Corinthians 6:18 Flee immorality.

The Bible often calls us not to _overcome_ temptation, but to _flee_ from it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 tells us:

* When we think we’re strong, we’re actually vulnerable
* We all face pretty much the same temptations
* God’s has made provision for us to endure temptation
* That provision is an escape route

Proverbs frequently compares our life to walking along a street, and we’re told to not even get close to the house of the adulteress. We’re to keep our eyes fixed straight ahead, and not even to _look_ to the right or the left.

I mentioned an elder who ran off with a teenage girl earlier. I’m fairly sure how the relationship started, and I think it began entirely above board. Perfectly innocent. Nothing bad whatsoever. It was not sinful.

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.

In retrospect, it may not have been sinful, but it was _foolish_. It would have been better to forego the “neutral” relationship and have _fled_ from the temptation, to have taken God’s escape route as early as possible.

It’s true that nobody accidentally commits adultery. You make each decision willfully and knowingly. But it’s equally true that the situation you’ve gotten yourself into may strongly influence your decisions, and you might wind up making decisions that you wouldn’t have if those circumstances weren’t true.

A man generally commits adultery in his heart long before he does so in his flesh. It is the affiar of the heart that produces the affair of the flesh. And you have far less conscious control over your affections than you do your physical actions.

I’m in a small group Bible study with several couples that are close to my own age. Every last woman in that group is attractive. But right this minute, there is basically no chance at all that I would commit adultery with any of those women. I have not committed emotional adultery, so it’s unlikely that I’d commit physical adultery.

However, what if I were to foolishly wind up spending a lot of time with one of those women? What if we had long, deep conversations alone? What if I wound up getting myself emotionally attached (in an inappropriate way) to one of these women? If I were there to comfort her, to encourage her, etc., in a unique way? Do you think that might increase the odds that I’d choose to commit adultery given the opportunity? Of course it would.

Would it be _lawful_ for me to develop a deep relationship with a woman who is not my wife? Yeah, I think so. Nothing in the Bible forbids it. But would it be _profitable_? Clearly, it would be foolish, so I should avoid it now. Temptation, especially sexual immorality, is not to be withstood and overcome. It’s to be avoided, even fled from.

I believe boundaries are wise in a Christian’s life. It’s wise for me to put internet filters on my computer. If I’m tempted to look at things I shouldn’t, the filter provides an extra level of protection. It’s wise for me to not be alone with women other than my wife and relatives. It’s wise for me to have accountability in my life. It’s wise for me to put things in place to make it easier for me to flee temptation and harder to succumb to it.

Christians have no right to classify non-sinful things as sinful. I cannot look at you and say that you maintaining an emotionally intimate relationship with someone other than your spouse is _sinful_. The Bible says no such thing, as far as I know, and I cannot bind your conscience in such matters. But it’s not particularly difficult to recognize that, while it may or may not be sinful, it’s certainly dangerous and unwise. I don’t think it’s wrong for Christians to point out the potential danger and the relative wisdom of certain situations. In fact, I think we have a responsibility to each other to do this.

God’s law defines sin for us. We’re called to live lives of holiness. That is more than avoiding the “don’ts”. It’s not about keeping rules.

2 Timothy 2:22 tells us to _flee_ youthful lusts and _pursue_ certain good things. If all we’re doing is trying to not sin, we’re ignoring what sanctification really means. We’re also doing it the hard way. Fleeing from youthful lusts is a lot easier when I have something positive to pursue instead. At some point, it’s less about what you _shouldn’t_ do and more about what you _should_ do. And if you’re pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness, you won’t be flirting with sin and temptation. You won’t be standing right at the edge of the cliff. Your liberty will be used to serve others, not to serve your flesh and get away with everything that’s not strictly forbidden. And _that_ is what we’re called to, not to just avoid sin.

(Disclaimer: I am nowhere near the level of sanctification I just described! Don’t read this as “I’m so much better than you”, because I’m probably not.)

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16 Responses to Temptation: Just Run Away

  1. Jared says:

    The Bible often calls us not to overcome temptation, but to flee from it.

    Isn’t this contradicted by this:

    and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

    ?

    I know you highlighted “way of escape,” and I’m not saying temptation is a good thing, but that verse seems to say that “with” temptation, God will provide the way of escape also.

    I like the way the NIV renders that verse:
    “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

    And what about James 1:1-3?

    Not saying we should seek out temptation. Or, again, that it’s a good thing. But I think you might be drawing an exegetical line between “fleeing” and “resisting” that’s not really there. The other “flee” verses you cite don’t say to flee temptation but say to flee actual sin.
    It’s an interpretative point, but I agree with your general thesis, which is that we should set boundaries for ourselves.

  2. Phil says:

    This is so true. I, for one, am tired of the “overcoming” temptation sermons and books because it seems to set up a super-class of Christians who simply aren’t tempted. Yes, the Lord has given me total immunity from what would otherwise be overwhelming temptation, but those occurrences are extremely rare in contrasts to the duration of life. If even Jesus was “tempted” then so can *ANY* of us. Jesus used the way out and did not sin, he didn’t just cite some best-seller-of-the-month incantation and wish it all away.

    As you might have read on Thinkling’s blog, I’m semi-open (at least in private, like online *grin*) that I once carried on an adulterous affair. Not just extra-marital sexuality for sex’s sake, but a full fledged affair. Based on that, I’d like share another angle that I believe you may be missing when it comes to adultery.

    There are “cheater” (two-bit scoundrels) and there are “men who have fallen” (those men “ensnared in sin” [Gal 6:1] of adultery). I’m sure you’ll agree the difference between your pastor/friend who committed adultery versus, say, Bill Clinton, is a night and day difference. My point is that we need to take each case individually, as God does, and examine the hearts of those involved before.

    To me, having been there myself and with other men, there is an angle we’re missing — the allegedly innocent spouse. We often immediately declare the other spouse to be faithful and innocent of any and all wrong-doing in his/her spouse’s affair. This is not only unfair, it’s unbiblical in a great many cases. We cannot, as Christians, preach a “one flesh” doctrine of marriage, and yet simultaneously take the mindset that the “innocent” spouse has nothing to do with any of the cause-effect factors in the adultery. Anyone who’s spent time in a pastor’s/counselor’s chair will tell you that the “innocent spouse” is a rare creature. The Scriptures specifically lists adultery as a potential outcome of sexual denial or unbiblical possessiveness of one’s own body from the spouse. Some early Reformers advocated divorce for sexual denial because they thought it both justifiable (as a form if “unfaithfulness,” is it not?) as well as a preferable option to committing adultery.

    Come on, do you hear those jokes in the church about “…he’s sleeping on the couch tonight for THAT one!!”? Well, think on this: What if the husband had instead joked about turning to another woman? Would we all not chastise him for threatening adultery, even if joking? Of course. But until the advent of pop-psychology and the importation of that harlot’s doctrine into our churches, it was recognized for centuries that dereliction of the “marital duty” was every bit as serious as adultery. It was Biblically, and rightly, understood as the primary cause of adultery (unless the guy was a two bit scoundrel to begin with).

    I applaud your thinking and understanding that, as a human being, you’re not so sanctified yet as to totally discount the idea of ever falling to adultery. But remember your “other half” has as much to do with it as you so. And visa-versa.

    Phil

    PS: While I haven’t read it, I’ve hear outstanding reviews from thinking Christians who’ve read “Affair-Proof Your Marriage” by Lana Staheli.

  3. Jared says:

    Phil, I don’t know if you were responding to me or to Robert, but I personally found much to like in your comment. I do think, also, that you make a good point about “the other spouse.” I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with someone who has been guilty of adultery pointing such a thing out, but that’s my own sensitivities — not a disparaging of the truth in what you said.

    I have no idea which kind of adulterer NW’s pastor is — whether a scoundrel or someone “ensnared.” Being charitable, I’d assume the latter. He is not my minister, although I did about 9 years ago, serve under him. I always had personal problem with him, and this is well known to the Thinklings. Honestly, I never liked the guy.
    But I haven’t been around him for nearly a decade, and so I have no idea what kind of person he was or is. My brother is on staff at that church, and I have close friends and family still there serving. Because of this, I prefer to assume he was a “good man” who fell, not a creep who got his just desserts.

    But either way, I cannot presume to know the level to which his wife was interested in the marriage bed. You make a valid point about the issue, but I’m not sure it can be applied.

    Again, interesting angle, though.

  4. Isn?t this contradicted by this:

    I don’t think so. The “way of escape” is the means by which we stand up under temptation. I’m not silly enough to think that I can somehow isolate myself so that I won’t ever be tempted, but I can build in things that help me not succumb to the temptation. This might include accountability, or perhaps deliberately manipulating my circumstances such that I’m too afraid of “getting caught” (like leaving the door open should I find myself alone with a woman), or by finding the way to escape. I think that’s part of enduring temptation – it might include fleeing from it so I don’t wind up in sin. But of course sometimes you can’t physically escape (for instance, girls at the mall who dress trashy) and in those cases the way you endure the temptation will be different.

    I don’t think “endure” and “flee” are contradictory, but complementary. I’ve heard Christians before that claim you really ought to deliberately expose yourself to temptation in order to build up your endurance. Perhaps it was hyperbole, but I disagree with their fundamental point regardless of whether they were exaggerating or not.

    And what about James 1:1-3?

    James 1:1-3 has to be understood in the context of James 1:13-15. Trials come from God and develop our character and maturity. Temptation to do evil comes from our own evil lusts, and never from God.

    between ?fleeing? and ?resisting? that?s not really there.

    I think that fleeing is one of the ways we resist temptation. In a lot of cases, it’s probably the best approach.

  5. Jared says:

    Well, it was hairsplitting, I admit. But I thought you’d be interested, in light of the hairsplitting you do on occasion over at Thinklings. I think there is a difference there in the “fleeing” and the “enduring,” and I thought your strict hermeneutics might detect it.
    I mean, all I was doing was pointing out that most of the verses you cited said to flee sin, not temptation.

    But our fundamental response to temptation is probably the same (regardless of the difference in our personal boundaries).
    I’d point out, though, that Jesus did not flee temptation. He wasn’t looking for it, that’s for sure. But when it came, he stood his ground and resisted.
    Not saying that’s prescriptive for all of us, but I think it’s an important factor in considering the “fleeing is the best approach” idea.

    But, yeah, people looking for temptation are whacko. I’d agree with that.

  6. Phil says:

    Actually I was writing my reply to Robert when you were writing yours! ;-) I saw your when I clicked “preview” on mine! But, now I *will* respond to you.

    Thanks for the agreement and support. It’s a mini-campaign of mine to see fairness and equity (Bible: “justice”) applied to adultery as we do other sins. Because it makes us feel so darn good, we like to beat up on sexual sinners more so than others. For pastors, this drum is especially tempting because it’s a sure-shot for scoring points with the pietists. As a Reformed believer, grace is critical to me. The Word says that “He mocks the proud, but gives grace to the ________.” Whom did He resist? The sexual sinners especially? The thieves? The divorced? Nope. “…the proud.” Not to sound like some goo-goo, all-you-need-is-love, Minerth-Meyer, fluff-bunny liberal Christian, but… PRIDE *is* the matter of the heart which Scripture teaches will directly and actively alienate us from God’s grace.

    To my disappointment, you write:

    > I?m not sure I?m entirely comfortable with someone
    > who has been guilty of adultery pointing such a
    > thing out, but that?s my own sensitivities ? not
    > a disparaging of the truth in what you said.

    First, I’m glad you acknowledge ownership of your sensitiveness, and that such mindset is not in accordance with the Bible. You’ve heard of an “ad hominem” attack? Jared, *this is ad hominem thinking*… and I do not see it as compatible with a regenerate mind of Christ.

    But let’s test the fairness of your admitted “sensitivities.” According to your “sensitivities,” those guilty of a sin are out of place speaking against it. Let’s test that. On those grounds, are you offended by….

    – a recovering drug addict warning others about the dangers of drugs?
    – an unwed couple warning others about pre-marital sex and consequences?
    – an ex-gang member warning young urban kids about gangs?
    – a fallen pastor ministering to other pastors about adultery?

    *The Hypocrisy Test*: Jared, do you forbid yourself from ministering against all sins which you’ve committed, or do you only hold these “sensitivities” against others?

    I could go on, but I have a more Biblical example of how dangerous that mindset is, Brother. *Did Paul (who was responsible for the murder of Stephen, and self-proclaimed worse of sinners) offend your “sensitivities” when he, a murder himself, wrote against murder in Romans 1:29, Romans 13:19, and 1 Timothy 1:9???* Of course not. Paul understood that past sin (once repented for) was sitting on the bottom of God’s ocean of forgetfulness, never again to be held against the saints. And it’s God’s opinion and viewpoint that matters, whether we be thinking of ourselves or others. This proves your “sensitivities” to be not only inequitable, but clearly unbiblical. *This is the ugliness of prejudice.*

    I would encourage you, Jared, to take your “sensitivities” (prejudice inspired by the flesh for sure) to the cross and leave them there. Before you ever entertain such prejudice again (or worse for a believer, attempt to rationalize it), I would remind you that there is really one being in the universe who is already doing his full-time job of holding sin against the saints. Satan. Now, even if in your heart only, if you go viewing another believer because of their past (a.k.a prejudice) then in your heart you are falling to the deception of the Devil, rather than falling (and allowing others to fall) upon the mercy and grace of Christ.

    *You cannot go to your knees and expect to receive grace credited to you when, in fact, you withhold crediting that same “undeserved mercy or favor” from others.* God is not fooled here, Jared. You shouldn’t be either.

    Phil

  7. Jared, you’ll notice that I use words like “often” describing when it’s best to flee temptation. So regardless what the majority of verses say, many of them do indeed paint temptation as something to be avoided. “Lead us not into temptation” is part of what Jesus taught us to pray. Fleeing is often, but obviously not always, the right way to withstand Satan’s onslaught. 1 Cor 10:13 tells us that “the way of escape” is given by God so that we can endure the temptation. I think that shows us that fleeing temptation is often a part of the way we endure it.

    regardless of the difference in our personal boundaries

    Personal boundaries are just that – personal. I can’t define something as sinful if the Bible doesn’t do so pretty clearly. All I can Biblically do is explain what my standards might be, and why I think they are wise. But I cannot make my boundaries necessary for righteousness or in any way bind your conscience.

  8. Jared says:

    Goodness gracious, did you miss the point!

    I’m trying not to take offense here. I blatantly admitted it was my “sensitivies” making me uncomfortable, not the fault of your own. I blatantly admitted the truth in what you were saying.
    Is it wrong to admit discomfort? I didn’t accuse you of any sin in what you said.

    Your last few paragraphs I find harsh and arrogant, an over-reaction to things I didn’t mean and really didn’t say.

    It wasn’t an “ad hominem” attack, because I wasn’t attacking you. I put the blame of my discomfort on me, and I’m not even that uncomfortable about it. So I reject with real discomfort your insinuation that my thinking is not in keeping with a regenerate mind. That, sir, is rude and uncalled for, as was your saying I’m being “fooled” and withholding God’s grace from others.

    Ridiculous.

  9. Phil says:

    > Goodness gracious, did you miss the point!
    > I?m trying not to take offense here.
    […]
    > Your last few paragraphs I find harsh and arrogant,
    > an over-reaction to things I didn’t mean and really
    > didn?t say.

    As I try to go over your posts and mine as objectively as any of us can, I have to ask if either of us was OVER-reacting to the other person – or – if either of us was UNDER-estimating the impact our words (and the driving attitudes behind them) can have on others. I would submit to you that a bit of both might have taken place here, and I apologize up front for my own in that…

    > It wasn?t an “ad hominem” attack, because I wasn?t
    > attacking you.

    And I didn’t take it as a direct personal attack, trust me. What I said was “ad hominem thinking.” Here’s why…

    > Is it wrong to admit discomfort? I didn’t accuse you
    > of any sin in what you said.

    What I felt you saying was that although my words were OK, I (me, personally, the speaker) made you uncomfortable. Because, even if in your mind, my message was… let’s say “tainted”… by the person (hominem) speaking — hence, ad hominem. One is active discrimination (which you didn’t do), the other is just passive internal, heart-level discriminatory thinking about another person. For example, it’s same the difference between acting racist and just harboring racism.

    What I took from your first response to me was akin to, “Good points, Phil, interesting angle? but I have a hard time [personal feeling] hearing from one guilty of that sin.” Frankly, Jared, those words seemed laced with disrepect. It colored everything else you said. You weren’t on the receiving end of them, but I was, therefore I can understand your surprise at my (over)reaction. But as you can imagine, I’ve heard such before, felt that same “Scarlet Letter” discrimination before, and you should know that. Yes, I understand that you were just expressing that you felt uncomfortable with me posting what I did. And no, there’s nothing inherently wrong with admitting discomfort with brother?s personal moral history. But like a racial slur, such an admission can just be very, um, “revealing.”

    > So I reject with real discomfort your insinuation that
    > my thinking is not in keeping with a regenerate mind.

    It was not my intent to say that you didn’t have a regenerate mind (that would be “ridiculous” as you say), but only in this particular thing. The length and firm tone in my letters simply for thoroughness, which went overboard in spite of intentions. I was only trying to make a thorough case, on multiple levels (logical, theological, and even person) for what I was saying. I understand how you could have felt “thoroughly” condemned because of the tone, and for that I ask your forgiveness.

    Jared, it’s clear that you are a man of God. I can discern that readily, and I wouldn’t waste my time like this if you weren’t. I assure you that I don’t say that to butter you up at this point. I also assure you that the true motivation for my letter was because I know how the thoughts and feelings of the heart can — in spite of our best attempts otherwise [Matt 12:34] — pour out upon others. Quite simply, even though your “discomfort” was just a personal feeling, all I was trying to do was to get you to look at it for what it is, where it’s rooted, or maybe take an second look at it.

    Phil

  10. Jared says:

    I admitted the truth of what you said.
    I do not and did not say you had no right, for whatever reason, to say it.
    I admitted that it was my own sensitivities that brought to mind the image of someone who has committed adultery placing some blame on a betrayed spouse. Surely you could understand the pause that might give someone, even if they had not ill thoughts toward you. I was not accusing you of anything nor harboring anything akin to “racism.”

    I expected that you had been on the receiving end of folks reluctant to forgive, and that perhaps you have endured a stigma that is hard to shake. I sympathize.
    It wasn’t my intention to add to that.
    I think perhaps it is this residual sensitivity of yours that maybe evidences a harboring of bitterness on your part. Completely understandable, but I still reject its aim at myself.

    In any event, I accept your apology. Please accept mine for not being more careful with my words.

  11. brokensaint says:

    just what i needed to read. thanks.

  12. Eric says:

    Robert, your post should be required reading for all married men, especially the parts about being aware of and taking control of the situations in which you find yourself — in advance. It’s often too late to try to make up your mind when you’re faced with the decision; that preparation should have taken place long before (ideally, at the time you spoke your wedding vows).

    But, even if we find that we’ve failed to adequately prepare for temptation, it’s comforting to know that we’re still empowered to flee/overcome (take your pick ;-) it through the grace of the King.

  13. Mac Swift says:

    Deliciously HILARIOUS comments here. :-D

    I wrote a followup HERE for your education, and to allow Phil in particular to respond in fairness since I verbally smacked him around with a wet noodle.

    Well what else can you expect from an *unregenerated* mind. :-O

  14. Phil says:

    I responded on Mac’s site. But I thought I already apologized for overreacting (text above) and that I never meant that Jared or anyone else was unregenerate. Wish I’d never posted here.

    Phil

  15. Mac Swift says:

    Phil,

    That’s just dry humour on my part (being unregenerated). :-D I don’t think you should ever apologize for expressing yourself truthfully. If only more people could do likewise… :-/

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