Flee!

God gives us the strategy for responding to temptation:
FLEE!

by Don Hooser

There are many physical and especially spiritual dangers that can confront God’s people.  What should they do when threatened?

In most circumstances, God’s advice is:  FLEE!  Escape!  Run for safety!  In fact, it is not advice that is optional.  God commands it!

Understanding this subject is critical for our spiritual survival.  Christians need to know when to flee and what to flee from.  They must be prepared to act quickly when faced with dangers.

It is surprising to know that the phrase “resist temptation” is not in the Bible.  Neither are the phrases “resist false teachings,” “resist heresies,” or “resist danger.”   Neither is “resist sin” (in a way, Heb. 12:4 is one exception).  On the other hand, the Bible in many places exhorts God’s people to flee or escape.  God’s emphasis is on fleeing temptations and deceptions rather than “resisting.”  He knows our chances for success and survival are much greater when we remove ourselves from the temptations or deceptions.

It is surprising how often God’s people don’t flee when they should.  Why don’t they?  This will be analyzed later.

God’s admonition to flee is so simple and practical.  It works!  Why hang around and suffer harm when it could be easily avoided?  Why not save yourself?

“Flee” is often the best course of action when there is physical danger.  One example is in Matt. 10:23 — “But when they persecute you in this city, flee to another.”  Another example is in Matt. 24:16 where it is speaking of God’s people being threatened with an approaching army — “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”  Another example is in 2 Cor. 11:32-33 — Paul’s escape from Damascus.

However, God is even more concerned that His people flee spiritual dangers — from sin and temptations to sin, from bad influences and environment, and from deceptions and false teachings.  God doesn’t just suggest — He commands us to flee these things!

“Flee fornication!” (1 Cor. 6:18)  “Flee from idolatry!” (1 Cor. 10:14).  “But you, O man of God, flee these things (all kinds of evil — verse 10)! (1 Tim. 6:11).  “Flee also youthful lusts!” (2 Tim. 2:22).

How clear!  But do we do it?  God allows temptations, “but with the temptation will also make the way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13).  Do we take advantage of the way of escape — do we escape?

God wants us to avoid “the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Heb. 12:1).  “By faith he (Moses) forsook Egypt” (Heb. 11:27), and God’s people today must flee their Egypt, or their Sodom and Gomorrah.

As we are reminded during each Feast of Unleavened Bread, God wants His people to stay away from the leaven of sin that will corrupt and destroy us.  One sin leads to another, like one rotten apple corrupts all the apples in the barrel.

Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).  “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17).

Avoid bad influences.  Choose your friends wisely.  “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33).  “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Pro. 13:20).  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (Psa. 1:1).

Some people flee from the wrong things.  For example, they flee from work and responsibilities.  Rather, they should flee from laziness and irresponsibility.  And God’s people should not flee from all risk and danger.  Sometimes they should take risks for the sake of others or for a cause.  Don’t be like the hireling that selfishly flees instead of staying to protect the sheep (John 10:12).

Why is God so concerned for His people that He advises a rather drastic action — fleeing?  Because “you are of more value (to God) than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31).  God paid a great price for mankind — the life of His Son.  He doesn’t want to lose His investment.  His great desire is to complete the work that He has begun in His disciples (Phil. 1:6).  He wants them to practice all the spiritual safety measures.  He doesn’t want them to take unnecessary risks.  He wants to protect and safeguard His children.

How much do Christians care about their own safety?  God’s people often expose themselves to dangers unnecessarily.  Obviously, God is more concerned with their safety than they are for themselves!  Why?  God loves us more than we love ourselves!  God sees the present dangers and foresees the future dangers much more clearly than we do.  God is much wiser than we.

God wants to give His children His wisdom.  He cautions us.  He warns us.  Heed His wisdom!  When there are dangers or temptations, flee.

Why do God’s people often ignore God’s command?  The answers are very important to understand.  Sometimes it’s because we don’t see how much danger there is.  Sometimes it’s because we don’t place a very high value on the gift of eternal life.  Sometimes it’s because the bad influence is so tempting — we’re lusting for it.

Sometimes it’s because Christians are overconfident and cocky in thinking that we can resist the temptations and influences without fleeing.  We are naive and foolish if we don’t realize how vulnerable we are to being influenced.  Some are so foolish as to want to see how close they can get to sin without actually sinning — how close they can get to the edge of the cliff.  They may want to “test” themselves.  They deceive themselves by putting great trust in human strength.  They intend not to give in to temptation, but “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

This cocky attitude is often the mindset of God’s people when they watch entertainment and advertising that is clearly ungodly.  Even when programs contain nothing sinful, most program our minds to think of everyday life as being totally divorced from God — as if God is nonexistent or irrelevant.  We mustn’t expose ourselves to subtle evil influences.  Let’s protect our minds and hearts — our values and standards.  Let’s pray like David, “turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things” (Psa. 119:37).  May our eyes and ears flee from looking at and listening to wicked and humanistic trivia.

Paul warns, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).   We need a healthy fear of Satan and the temptations and dangers he puts in our paths.  And we need the right kind of fear of God — the reverence and fear to disobey.  That fear will lead us to obey His command to flee from temptations and deceptions.

We should know what our weaknesses are — where we are especially vulnerable to temptation.  These may be addictions, long-standing habits, or other weaknesses.  We especially need to flee from those influences!  Otherwise, we are programming ourselves for failure.  We are courting disaster.  Don’t tempt yourself!

Sometimes God’s people choose not to flee because they think that to run is cowardly — being a chicken.  Men especially want to live up to a macho image.  Some brag that they would never run from a threat — that they would stand and fight no matter what.

But God called His people to be peacemakers.  It is usually wiser to avoid physical combat than to hurt someone or be hurt.  Jesus Christ was the most masculine and courageous man to ever live, and yet He chose to escape physical conflicts until it was the proper time to allow Himself to be arrested (John 10:39; 7:30, 44).

Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves” (Matt. 10:16).  Did He say to fight the wolves?  He said, “Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  Why are snakes wise?  They usually avoid conflicts.  They don’t pick fights.  They will try to be “low profile”, hoping to remain unseen, either by being motionless or trying to sneak away.  But when they are cornered, they will fight.  However, when we are cornered, we usually should be peaceful like the harmless doves. (Compare with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:38-45 about turning the other cheek, etc.)

On the other hand, the Bible speaks of spiritual wars that God’s people should be fighting, and we should not run from these fights.  As good Christian soldiers, we must courageously “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12).  At the same time, “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life” (2 Tim. 2:4).  In other words, he flees the worldly temptations that would hinder his soldiering.

Even more important than avoiding physical danger is avoiding spiritual danger.   Some will try to prove how “tough” they are by staying in a temptation or bad influence and “resisting” it, rather than getting away from it.  It is foolish the way that some people will jeopardize their salvation by trying to prove that they are “temptation-resistant” and “temptation-proof!”  What foolish pride!  And “pride goes before destruction” (Pro. 16:18).

Look at the example of Joseph.  There is every indication that he was a “man’s man.”  However, when he was being tempted to commit adultery, he didn’t stay with the woman to try to prove he could resist her.  He “fled and ran outside” (Gen. 39:12).  That was a literal example of “fleeing fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18).  In our immoral society, we must continually flee from immoral thoughts and actions.  We must erect hedges to protect ourselves from dangerous temptations.

“Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?  Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?  So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;  whoever touches her shall not be innocent” (Pro 6:27-28).  Flee from the fire of immorality!

What did Jesus mean in Matthew 5:29-30 about your right eye and your right hand?  Let’s look at the context.  In the preceding verse He said, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  If a man is tempted to lust when he looks at a particular woman, should he keep looking at her to try to prove to himself that he can look without lusting?  NO!  He should quit looking and thereby flee temptation.

Jesus went on to say, “And if your right eye cause 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” (Matt. 5:29).  He placed double emphasis on this by giving a similar statement in the next verse.  He meant that either the temptation should be removed from your presence, or you should remove your presence from the temptation.  Get away from whatever “causes you to sin” or risk losing your eternal life!

Some of the strongest warnings in the Bible concern false spiritual teachers and their counterfeit teachings.  We all are vulnerable to being deceived if we continue to listen to deceptive teachings.  God commands His people not to let someone preach lies and heresies to them.

Take note of the strict guideline that God inspired John to give in 2 John 10-11:  “If anyone come to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.”  Don’t listen to false preaching!  Protect your ears, your mind, and your heart.

Paul taught that when someone is teaching “contrary to the doctrine which you learned…avoid them (Rom. 16:17-18).  Likewise, to Timothy he said, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent…to the doctrine which is according to godliness…From such withdraw yourself (I Tim. 6:3-5).

To continue to listen to false teachings is like a girl allowing someone to try to seduce her rather than getting out of the situation.  This was the analogy that Paul was using in 2 Cor. 11:1-4.  Our staying in that situation will influence others to stay in that seductive situation as well.

Jesus said, “the sheep follow him (the true shepherd), for they know his voice.  Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5).  Jesus meant that God’s people should not follow a minister when they know his message (his “voice”) is not right.  Someone preaching some new strange message is a stranger, and God’s flock should flee from him.  Haven’t our parents taught us not to talk to strangers, but to run away before we are harmed?

When God’s people “flee from strangers,” they are setting a right example that will encourage others to flee from those false teachers.

We tend to equate “falling away” with leaving a church organization.  But “falling away” in 2 Thes. 2:3 refers to falling away from the Truth of the Bible and from the Body of Christ.  When church leaders fall away from the Truth and change the principle doctrines from true to false, then leaving the church organization is a godly action to keep from falling away with the leaders!  God’s people should go where the Truth is being taught.  For more on this subject see the article “Should You Ever “Leave the Church”? in the May 5, 1995, issue of In Transition.

“Fleeing” implies responding quickly and leaving immediately. Instead of fleeing from evil, sometimes God’s people leisurely take their time about coming to a decision, or else they are very slow in departing from evil.  There is a lesson for all in the instruction to the Israelites in Ex. 12:11 — “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.”  They needed to be ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice.  How ready are we to depart from evil?

When Sodom was on the verge of being destroyed, Lot and his family wanted to dilly dally.  “The angels urged Lot to hurry” (Gen. 19:15).  Still he “lingered”, so “the men took hold of his hand” to quickly lead him out (verse 16).  Lot should have left Sodom a long time before.  He “tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Pet.2:8), but he wanted to “stay put” in Sodom and tough it out.  Verse 9 says, “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation.”  It doesn’t say, “to help the godly resist temptation while they stay in the midst of it.”

Christ has warned us that the day is coming when some of His people will need to flee immediately from an approaching army.  They won’t have the luxury of a lot of time to think it over.  “Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house.  And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes” (Matt. 24:16-18).  Some people need to learn now to respond more quickly to God’s commands!

If Christians continue to escape from evil, God will count them worthy to escape the coming tribulation, and more importantly, to be in God’s Kingdom.  Jesus said, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lu. 21:36).

Fleeing is not something we do once or a few times and then quit.  We must keep on fleeing!  Peter speaks of God’s people as “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:4).  Then he gives us this sobering warning: “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'” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).

This is Satan’s world.  Satan will never give up trying to tempt us and deceive us.  God’s servants are surrounded by many dangers, especially spiritual dangers.  For our spiritual survival, God gives us a simple but vitally important command: FLEE!