Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Way of Escape

Imagine finding yourself trapped in a burning building.

The ravenous flames surround you and draw nearer and nearer.  Thick billows of black, suffocating smoke swirl around your head and fill your aching lungs.  The wall and ceiling creak, threatening to collapse at any minute and bury you alive in the inferno.

What would you do in such a nightmarish situation?

Undoubtedly, you would do everything you could to survive and frantically search for a way out!

As Christians, we face a more subtle, but no less dangerous firestorm:  The onslaught of temptation.  We live in a world in which we can’t help but be nearly constantly surrounded by temptation in a variety of forms.

Unfortunately, the enticement to give into sinful desires is intertwined into our self-centered culture.  Whether it’s through entertainment, unjust laws of the land, or peer pressure, we are constantly at risk of being lured into approving of or engaging in sin.

Without doubt, the call to not “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2) is not always easy.  However, we must recognize that the struggle to avoid sin is not a completely impossible, hopeless endeavor.  In fact, God Himself offers us relief!

1 Corinthians 10:12-13 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

God promises a means of side-stepping the snares of sin by allowing us avenues by which we can avoid temptation altogether!

Why Seek to Avoid Temptation?

The world might perceive little danger in a little temptation, especially since it’s so prevalent and all but unavoidable.  As we’ve already discussed, the world is constantly bombarding us with countless forms of temptation.

If we can’t help but be tempted, why not indulge in it… just a little?

We can go see that movie with the steamy sex scene as long as we’re not involved in actual physical adultery, right?  We can listen to music with the lewd and profane language as long as we’re not saying it ourselves, right?  We can listen to gossip, as long as we’re not participating, right? After all, one might argue, as long as you’re not actually involved in a sinful deed, it’s not technically a sin...  Right?

Turning to the Bible, we see that this reasoning could actually be far more harmful than we realize…

James 1:13-15  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

The problem is that sin is progressive in nature.  What starts out as a simple, seemingly harmless temptation can easily lead to desire, which can eventually lead to a sinful action leading to condemnation, spiritual death.

The devil is always seeking ways to subvert the will of God.  The phrase “give someone an inch and they will drag you a mile comes to mind.”  When we indulge a “just a little” temptation it’s just a matter of time before we’re caught up in sin.  Basically, when we allow indulgence in temptation, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Jesus Himself points out that sin originates in the heart.

Matthew 5:27-28 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus essentially equates sinning within the heart with the outward sinful action.  Perhaps this is because God knows all too well that it is in the heart that sin originates.

Furthermore, another danger of yielding to temptation can be hardening of the heart.  Willful overexposure to temptation cannot only lead to engaging in sin, but –far worse – it could also lead to sin no longer being perceived as wrong!

Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

This kind of ambivalent attitude toward temptation and sin can lead to further problems.  Merely indulging in temptation can become less and less exciting until only actually participating in sin will satisfy desire.  Thus, sinning becomes easier and easier until it is habitual.

In the case of a Christian, this attitude can lead to hypocrisy and a return to their previously condemned state!

2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

The simple truth is this…  We cannot afford to willfully allow ourselves to be tempted!  We must seek that way of escape God promised!

Escaping Temptation

Now that we are familiar with the dangers of temptation, let’s discuss how we can actively avoid it and look for those ways of escape mentioned back in 1 Corinthians.

The most basic means of escaping temptation is the most obvious.  If we want to avoid temptation we should steer clear of sin in general.

1 Thessalonians 5:22  Abstain from all appearance of evil.

While this verse is very broad (and possibly misinterpreted – “all appearance” can also be translated, “every form” or “every kind”), I think there’s a simple truth being presented here:  If it seems wrong, in all likelihood it probably is wrong.  The moment we see red flags pop up that something might be sinful or present us with temptation, we need to immediately turn the other direction!

The Temptation of Lust

A great example of a seemingly unavoidable temptation is that of lust.

This particular temptation is ridiculously prevalent in our already sin-saturated world.  It’s difficult to go anywhere without the potential for being tempted to engage in lust, even in the home!  Turning on the TV in the living room it usually takes just a few short minutes before you find yourself bombarded with sexually-charged programming in the form of movies, shows, and even commercials on “family friendly” networks!  Immodest dress, proactive advertising, and lewd dancing are increasingly difficult to avoid in our society – and that’s even without the added influence of the Internet!

So what are we to do in the face of such widespread temptation?

Jesus called for very desperate measures in the avoidance of lust…

Matthew 5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

We could debate the literalness of Jesus’ statement, but let’s instead focus on his point:  No temptation is worth going to Hell for.  If something is causing us to sin, we need to get rid of it!

So maybe the TV, computer, or smartphone is proving too much of a problem and we simply can’t handle the enticement of the lustful media it offers.  Why not get rid of such devices?  I suppose in our society this would be about as drastic as the dismemberment Jesus suggests in Matthew 5!

I can’t remember where, but I once heard someone say the following about resisting the temptation to lust.  Basically, you simply cannot avoid the “first look”.  If a scantily clad specimen of the opposite sex walks into your sightline, you can’t help but catch a glimpse…  The temptation is right there in front of you!  You can’t be faulted for that, you have not sinned in that instance.  However, you do have a choice in what to do next.  You can prevent that “second look” or lingering stare.  Whether or not you choose to further pursue that temptation into lust and sin is your choice.  As with all things concerning the Christian walk, it all comes down to self-control.

Of course that means of escape only works if you are actively, genuinely seeking it.   It’s obvious that if you willingly put yourself in a position in which the temptation of lust is completely overwhelming that you are far more likely to succumb.  In other words, someone actually seeking to avoid the lure of lust isn’t going to head to the local strip club or nude beach.

In less ridiculous examples and more realistic situations, if you have a problem with lust and are truly trying to overcome it, change the channel, impose website self-restrictions, or simply look the other way.   Like one trying to escape the house fire, don’t run headlong into the flames!  If you don’t want to get burned, don’t play with fire!

Switching gears for a bit, I’d like to discuss dating…  As a former young person, I know all too well the lustful temptations that dating can bring.  To those who are dating, I offer the following suggestions for avoiding the temptation of lust:  First, only date someone who has the intentions of marriage.  If marriage isn’t something that they want, you probably shouldn’t be dating them in the first place.  Likewise if you yourself don’t have intentions to marry, then perhaps you shouldn’t be dating anyone.  Marriage is indeed about love, but in addition to that marriage serves an important role in the avoidance of adultery.  Sex is intended by God to be between a husband and wife.
Paul spoke about the principles of marriage stating this very point.  In the process of discussing marriage, he suggested that unmarried Christians should remain so (perhaps recognizing that even something as admirable as starting a family could distract from commitment to God).  However, he knew that humans have basic sexual desires and pointed out the following.

1 Corinthians 7:9  ...But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Basically:  If the temptation of lust is so great, one should seek marriage rather than risk succumbing to sin.

Finally, if you do find someone that has the ultimate intention of getting married, please remember that the person you are dating is what I like to call your “potential future spouse”.  If you truly love them, then you should care enough about their spiritual welfare to not do anything to jeopardize their commitment to “keeping the marriage bed holy” (Hebrews 13:4).  Obviously, if your significant other is pressuring you to do something you do not want to do, then the question is:  Do they truly love you or do they have other, less noble intentions?

Overcoming Peer Pressure

Another form of temptation that we all face is the influence of our family, friends, and co-workers.  Peer pressure can operate very subtly and Our peers can cause us to fall into sin in ways we don’t immediately recognize.

1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”

Proverbs 22:24-25  Make no friendship with an angry man, And with a furious man do not go, Lest you learn his ways And set a snare for your soul.

Just a few examples of the detrimental impact of peer pressure:  Family can influence your beliefs on doctrinal issues that aren’t scripturally sound.  Friends with potty mouths can alter your vocabulary, causing you to share in their profanity.  Your co-workers can lead you to be involved in workplace gossip.  On a much larger scale, society as a whole can pressure you on societal norms, getting you to soften your stance on spiritual issues that you otherwise would not.

Unfortunately we cannot always avoid the influence of peers and situations such as these can happen without us even realizing it.  So how do we combat peer pressure?

In this case, I say fight fire with fire;  If “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6) then I think you need to choose your company wisely!

Proverbs 13:20 (GNT) Keep company with the wise and you will become wise. If you make friends with stupid people, you will be ruined.

I can think of no better company for a Christian than with fellow Christians.  The Church, the body of Christ is designed by God in such a way that Christians can come together not only to worship, but to help build each other up!

Ephesians 2:20-22  …Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,  in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,  in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.

Fellow Christians need each other.  The Christian walk can be such a lonely walk.  We need not bear our burdens alone.  I can think of so many instances when I was feeling down during the course of a week and a Wednesday night Bible study filled me with such encouragement and new energy.  The company of fellow obedient believers who are truly dedicated to God’s work has a positive impact that can’t we can’t afford to neglect coming together as often as we meet.

Jesus famously says in Matthew 18:20 that “…where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”  Again, I can think of no better company!

Are You Looking for a Way of Escape?

This question which serves as our final point can work on two completely different levels.

First of all, when we are confronted with temptation, do we genuinely seek a means of escape or not?

Unfortunately, we can all probably think back to too many instances in which we knew for a fact that we were being tempted, but allowed ourselves to continue down that path toward committing a sin.  We might even lie to ourselves, telling ourselves that we “had no choice”, as if someone was holding a gun to our head, compelling us to sin.

James 4:17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
If I may turn a phrase to make a point:  “To him that knows to not do evil - but does it anyway - to him it is sin.”

Since God offers us a means of escape, we have no excuse!  If we allow ourselves to be tempted, it’s our own fault!

You might have even heard someone go as far to say that God Himself was responsible for the temptation that led to their sin; that they were being tested and that they failed.  As if God was guilty of their wrongdoing!

Obviously, this is simply not the truth.

James 1:13  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

As we discussed earlier in this lesson, one is “drawn away by his own desires” (James 1:14).  God is not responsible for sin, it is the sinner who bears that burden!

Romans 6:1-3 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

As Christians we must be actively seeking an escape from temptation and be actively avoiding sin!

But what if one is not yet a Christian?

To those I would ask the same question, but with a slight rewording:  Are you looking for a way of escape from the burden of sin?

If so, you are in for the greatest blessing you could possible receive:  A chance at redemption.

Perhaps you are sincerely looking for an escape from sin, but have not yet taken that first step.  If this be the case, please do not delay.

2 Corinthians 6:2 For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

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