Thursday, August 30, 2012

When to Run

You hear it said that, "you can't run from your problems."  There is this negative idea about "running" from things versus facing them.  There is some truth to that so far as it relates to problems in your control, problems that you helped create, or problems that are your responsibility to handle.  But according to God's Word, there are many instances in which we should always run and we are commanded to flee--those instances of potentially harmful and sinful temptations.  These are problems from which we are strongly encouraged to run.

 You can find a lot of verses about "running" and "fleeing" in the Bible.  My personal faves on this topic are as follows:

*1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."  (I love this verse because it is reassuring to know that God provides a way out for me when I am tempted.  I can just "escape" or run away.  I also appreciate knowing that no matter how evil my temptations seem, they aren't anything new to God or to other humans like me.  Christ faced every one of them. Everyone has had them--they are "common."  Satan loves to guilt us for our temptations.  But the truth is, he has no power to do that when we realize that we are all tempted, it isn't a sin to be tempted, and "there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ," as Romans 8:1 states clearly). 

*2 Timothy 2:22 says, "So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart."  [I love this verse because it not only tells us to run from temptations that give us passions of folly, but it also tells us what to pursue in place of the temptations.  We can't just run, we have to pursue something else in order to defend ourselves against being continually tempted (or worse, being coerced into sin from that temptation).  It also reminds us that we need to be with other believers regularly in order to combat the world's temptations. We need people who also "call on the Lord" to support us, and we need friends with "a pure heart."   Furthermore, we need people who are real--those with whom we can share things honestly in our struggles and entrust with our lives.  We have to support and love each other regardless of our temptations and sins because we need each other--we cannot stand alone (Hebrews 10:25; Ecclesiastes 4:9).  We also have to be careful not to be harsh, critical, or condemning of a fellow believer's sins, so as not to become tempted in that sin ourselves, as Galatians 6 states].

In Matthew 4 we read the story of how Jesus was tempted by the enemy and how He resisted.  Jesus was God in the flesh, and even He was tempted.  But the Bible says He sinned not (Hebrews 4:15).  So having temptations in and of themselves is not "sin." In fact, in James 1:12, we read that those who withstand temptation (trials) and testing, without sinning, will be blessed.  People argue about whether Jesus could have actually been tempted since He was perfect.  James 1:14 says that temptation occurs when we are dragged away by our own evil desire and enticed.  This makes sense because you wouldn't be tempted by anything for which you truly didn't have any desire.  But this could make some think that Jesus couldn't have actually been tempted (or if He was, that He wasn't truly perfect and sinless because according to James, He would have had to possess evil desires in order to be tempted).  Since we know that Jesus was part man (human) and part God, we can dispel this idea easily because the part of Him that was God would have never allowed Him to sin and would have trumped his human side and made Him "perfect." We also know from checking both the Greek and Hebrew meaning of the word, "tempted," (of which the original manuscript of God's Word would have derived), that being tempted means to be "tested" or "proved" (not necessarily "enticed" by evil).  James even clarifies his own statement in verse 12 when he says that if you persevere the temptation or trial, you'll be blessed.  If having the temptation in and of itself was sinful, there would be no blessing for having it.  It doesn't say that you are blessed if you persevere the sin--it says clearly you'll be blessed if you persevere the "trial."  So Jesus passed all His trials and He was never dragged away to sin.  He nipped every instance of temptation in the bud long before He was ever dragged away and enticed.  In fact, in the Matthew 4 account of Christ's temptation, it is the devil who ends up fleeing (what a pansy)!  But in the accounts of Christ's times of struggle as being part human, He laid down a perfect example for us on how to avoid falling prey to temptation--you pray (Matt.26:38-42), you quote Scripture (Matt.4:1-11), and you run (as we're told repeatedly in the Word, such as, in my two favorite verses above).

James also explains further the notion that we are "dragged away" by our evil desire upon being tempted when he says in verse 15, that it is only after our desire gets "enticed" and then "conceived" that we can next, "give birth to sin." So he clarifies again that there are steps leading up to the actual sin that aren't "sin" in and of themselves.  The key factor here is whether or not you succeed at resisting the temptation or whether you entertain it to the point of sin.  If you entertain it, you are being enticed by your evil desires, which is the precursor to the conception and birth of the sin.  Jesus didn't entertain any temptation or sin.  He warded them off immediately by quoting Scripture, praying, and fleeing.  We, on the other hand, are sinful to the core by our nature (we aren't naturally part God, as Christ was).  So our evil desires are much more easily enticed (and we get dragged away in our temptations--we don't always run immediately).  Therefore, we have to be very cautious to guard our desires and make sure we flee upon the instance of temptation, as Jesus did.  We also must set up safeguards to shield against them, as well. I like that James uses the word, "dragged" here--it gives the connotation that believers shouldn't be willing to run toward or choose the sin for which they are being enticed because they [should] know deep down it isn't going to be a good choice.  No one with half a brain would run to sin--you'd be dragged kicking and screaming if you understood who was out to get you and what your consequences were going to be from obliging them!  So "dragged" is a perfect word choice here. Sin shouldn't be something we are easily drawn to doing (God help us).

It is also important to notice that God is not the one who tempts us--temptations can only come from the enemy, other people, or ourselves (from our own sinful desires and thoughts).  Sometimes they come from all three at the same time, which can be a real problem.  But God only allows temptation, and He allows it to build perseverance in us (James 1:2-4,13) and to "test" us to see if we'll take the way out that He's provided.

We, as believers, fall prey to two opposite, extreme thoughts about temptation--at times, we think we are horrible people for having temptations, and then at other points in our spiritual journey, we're guilty of thinking we don't have any real issue with them.  We sugar-coat our temptations as if we're impermeable or immune to falling away from our Godly beliefs and actions.  We think if we've only slept with our spouse, we don't steal, we don't cheat on our taxes, we don't get drunk, etc., that we are basically "good" people.  We like to lump sins into "big sins" and "small sins," and we think our small ones are justifiable most of the time.  We all know that though there are more severe consequences to the "big sins," that sin is sin to God.  He hates all of it.  Some of the "small sins" we think are not that big of a deal are actually a big deal to God (like pride)--He despises it (Prov. 16:5).

Here is a list of the most common temptations that all humans face that are clearly laid out in God's Word as "sin."  There are plenty of sins listed here that we like to "white-wash" or justify at times.   But they are clearly sins from which we are to run and not even entertain in temptation.   It is a humbling list. 

(Taken from, http://www.orlutheran.com/html/tempt.html)
From "A Study on Temptation" by Dr. Richard P. Bucher
  • trusting our reason more than God and His Word
  • loving the praise of men more than the praise of God
  • complaining instead of thanking and praising God
  • self-pity
  • the neglect of prayer
  • depression, despair
  • fatalism (giving up, why botherism)
  • worry
  • the striving after fame
  • the neglect of God's Word and Sacraments
  • false belief and false teaching of God's Word
  • jealousy / envy
  • anger (temper)
  • lust, sex outside of marriage
  • slander
  • pride, bragging
  • laziness
  • gluttony
  • rebelliousness
  • theft, stealing
  • cheating
  • lying
  • coveting, discontent
  • idolatry
  • drunkenness and drug use

Upon reading this list, I was more aware than ever of my own personal sinfulness.  I have had issues in several of these areas over the course of my life and still struggle in some of them.  I shared about my biggest sin issue of "worry" in a former blog post entitled, "Habit-Swapping."  I do not believe that this list of common sins is all-inclusive.  Obviously, there are many other sins not listed here (cursing, not observing the Sabbath, and so forth).  But Dr. Bucher has covered it pretty well.  His list is a compilation of most of the 10 Commandments (see Exodus 20 for the complete list) and many of the "favorite sins" of our current day society.  He also left out murder, for example, but I'm guessing that is because this list is of the "most common" sins.  I would guess that at least half of these wouldn't even be considered "sins" to most Americans.  Sadly, some of them are even valued in our nation (i.e. seeking after fame, loving the praise of men, and pride.  We love our liquor and our food in this country for sure, too, so let's not forget about gluttony and drunkenness).  Dr. Bucher lists "anger" as a sin, but since anger is a God-given emotion that even Jesus appropriately exercised when he angrily turned over the money-changers tables in the temple, I am guessing that Dr. Bucher means that the sin associated with anger is when we act inappropriately out of our temper or rage.  In no way does God mean for us to stifle our anger to the point of never having any passion about wrong-doing.  So this list warrants the use of common sense.  

I didn't post this list with the purpose of writing a blog post of condemnation--I am the one who needs condemned here!  It is just "food for thought" on areas in which we all could stand some improvement with regard to resisting temptation and sin (and this food is safe for which to become gluttonous)!  My main purpose was to say that temptations are not sins.  We have to stop allowing satan to tell us that we are horrible people just for having them (yes, I purposefully do not capitalize his name to show disrespect--silly, I know, but it gives me a small yet great feeling of power over him)!  But the enemy takes us down the primrose path to guilt when we let him tell us we are worthless for even having temptations, and this actually only separates us farther from God, the One Who says there is no condemnation to them that are in Him (Romans 8:1).  I know from speaking to many women on various fronts that we allow the enemy too many times to put us in bondage to our temptations--even when we haven't sinned from them, and even when we despise and rebuke them.  We need to be standing victorious that we haven't sinned and give God the glory and praise for His help with that, instead of thinking we should be so perfect as to not have them in the first place. Our great enemy loves to put us in bondage, and if he can't get us to sin, he'll put us in bondage for having the temptations.

On the flip side, we have to stop "sugar-coating" our sinful tendencies towards our particular temptations.  When we think we are "doing well" in our spiritual walk, this is when we are most vulnerable to falling.  We also have to remember from where temptations come--that their purpose by the enemy is to drive us away from God and drag us into sin and misery, but their purpose by God is to make us stronger (as James 1 tells us) and get us to seek HIM.  I also wanted to drive home the point that temptations can more easily become sins if they are entertained to the point that we are enticed and coerced to sin.  As 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  In other words, we have to turn our thoughts over to God immediately (since sin always starts in the mind).  As Christ did when tempted, we must use Scripture, prayer, and running/fleeing in order to nip our temptations in the bud right at the start.  It is a slippery slope if we do not--we lose more and more control over those temptations the more we entertain them.  So those three things need to be our weapons of choice for fighting them instead of letting them drag us away and entice us to sin.  Last, we have to remember that if we succeed at withstanding temptation and sin not, we will be rewarded and blessed. Christ has the final victory over every sin and for all who trust in Him, and we can celebrate and rejoice in that fact through Him, as well.  Praise be to God!