Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:17-18)
A mature Christian is known not only by his courage for Christ but also by his discretionary wisdom, knowing what he should run away from.
I knew of a very successful evangelist several years ago who God was using all over America. He and his wife had a ministry in New Orleans and they sought to redeem people in the sex business to the Lord. Eventually the man became entangled in a sexual affair himself with a former prostitute, lost his marriage, lost his testimony, and lost his ministry. (He did not lose his eternal salvation, for that was secured already in Christ.)
But such stories are common among Christians, whether in ministry or not. We are taught in scripture to resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). Yet, as we grow closer to Christ, as we increase in knowledge and usefulness to God, we should realize that the proper response to many temptations is to run away from them. A mature Christian will know not only his strengths in Christ, but he will also know his weaknesses, and he will avoid those things he knows that he cannot handle.
There are four temptations mentioned in the New Testament that we are instructed to flee from – not to stand and fight, but to avoid, to get out of the area of temptation. We will do this by avoiding people who are bad influences, circumstances that tempt us, and we will put around us positive things that prevent us from being caught up in these matters. What are these four?
Flee from Idolatry: (1 Cor. 10:14): Idolatry is the worship of something as God that is not God. The text particularly referred to those believers in Corinth who had recently been converted to Christianity, that they should not play around with temptations that sought to draw them back into their own religion of idolatry. The idolatrous practices of pagan religions perverted the concept of God, lowered the dignity of mankind, taught numerous superstitions, and had many ungodly practices – temple prostitution, homosexuality, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, and other such things. But it had an emotional pull on many new Christians, so the solution was to flee idolatry and to let God strengthen them by his grace through biblical doctrine.
As Christians today we are to avoid those things that draw us into the worldly philosophy, pagan idolatry, and the worship of anything that sets itself up in the place of God.
Flee Youthful Lusts (2 Tim. 2:22): The specific temptations are not delineated here, but we have little problem filling in the blanks. Along with sexual fantasies (which are spoken of elsewhere), we would add the self-centeredness of youth, the lust for attention and praise, the desire for immediate gratification, the prideful imaginations of that promote the “myth of self” – that we are special and unique and better than others, the lust for self-glory, the feeding of our insecurities.
Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11). In Christ we must flee the temptations that draw us back into perpetual childhood.
Flee Materialism (1 Tim. 6:10-11,17): “The love of money is a root to all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Timothy was instructed to flee a materialistic lifestyle and to instruct others to do the same. It is easy for us to be tempted with materialism. It is another form of idolatry ( Col. 3:5) and it leads to a covetous lifestyle. Materialism destroys faith in God, diminishes the power and might of God, teaches our hearts to be more and more selfish, re-routes our thinking from generosity to selfishness, promotes inappropriate pride or shame – depending on whether we have much or have little, and leads to a general neglect of the more important things of life – namely love, righteousness, honesty, integrity, compassion, service, inner peace and joy.
True faith in God enables us to live confidently, to see him as the “Father of Lights,” who is the source of all good things in this life. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). It teaches us to trust him to provide for us – to give us the opportunities to honestly earn money – and to bless others. Christians see the spiritual world as much more important than the physical world. Materialism reverses this order, until we are fearful
Flee Sexual Immorality (1 Cor. 6:18-20): We should follow the example of Joseph who, when tempted by the wife of Potiphar, ran away rather than tried to stand his ground and fight the temptation. Avoid putting yourself in any situation that compromises your sexual integrity and fidelity to your spouse.
God created sex as a beautiful gift to marriage, as a tender expression of love between husband and wife. In marriage there is no defilement in the sexual relations between husband and wife. They are pure, holy, and blessed (Heb. 13:4). But to seek sexual experiences outside of marriage is to put the gift ahead of the Giver of the gift.
It si not enough, of course, to just avoid these temptations. We should also seek to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. We must grow into Christlikeness by focusing on the good as well as avoiding the evil. But these four are specific commands that teach us our limitations, and instruct to avoid the temptations that come into our lives in these areas. We are wise if we follow the advice of scripture and flee from these things.