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.)