Friday, January 31, 2014

Fleeing Lusts – 2 Tim 2:22

Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (NKJV)
Fleeing Temptations
I usually look for the best translation of a verse when I use it in my writing. I also rotate between various versions just to make sure I don’t violate copyright permissions established by publishers of the various versions. I looked at the New Living Translation and was tempted to use it not because it is a good translation but because it injects the words “anything that stimulates” youthful lusts. Those words do not appear in the Greek nor are they even implied by the Greek or context. I almost choose this version because it brings out a concept of how to avoid lusts, youthful or not. While the concept certainly has merit, it isn’t what God said through Paul in this passage.
Is there a difference between fleeing lust and anything that stimulates lust? Yes, there is. Fleeing things that stimulate lust would be correctly identified as fleeing temptation. Fleeing lusts implies that you have already succumbed to the temptation. You have them; the problem isn’t to stop them from being stimulated the problems is to get rid of them. However addressing temptations is a good place to start.
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, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor 10:13 NASB)
We should all be familiar with 1 Cor 10:13. It establishes several truths that we should consider, as they are fundamental to living godly lives.
1.       Everyone is tempted and I’m not the only one that has been tempted in whatever temptation I’m facing at the moment. Some want to claim exemption for their behavior, succumbing to sin, because no one knows the problems they face. They feel that Jesus’ teachings don’t apply to them because He didn’t face the same problems they have. They completely ignore Heb 4:15-16 which tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way and because He was tempted, we can draw near to Him for the grace that is needed to stay away from the temptation or the lusts that are already there.

We often think of grace as that which has saved us through faith (Eph 2:8). The acronym for GRACE is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. While this is true, most of us forget that grace is much more than what appears when we are saved. Grace actually is God working in us to live godly lives. Once we are saved, it continues to train us to get rid of ungodliness, worldly passion, and lusts while helping us live godly lives (Tit 2:11-12).

2.       God is faithful. If we don’t believe that God is faithful, then we won’t believe that He will help us in times of trouble or temptation. It’s as simple as that. Unbelief in God’s faithfulness will result in yielding to temptations and the inability to flee from sin. Each morning when we get up and face a new day with new trials or even the same old trials and temptations, God is faithful because His love and compassion never fail and are renewed every morning (Lam 3:22-23).

3.       God allows temptations to come into our lives but is not the source of our temptations. Our temptations come from our own desires (James 1:14) and they come from the tempter (1 Thess 3:5) who is Satan (Matt 4:3-10). Satan isn’t the primary source of our temptations simply because our own selfish desires are doing a good enough job of keeping us from living godly lives that Satan doesn’t have to bother. Even if our temptation is from Satan, we must remember that God has allowed it. If comes from our sinful nature, the flesh, God has allowed it. Some people use this as an excuse to follow the temptation into sin. They say God made them the way they are, so that means it is OK to do the things that the Bible clearly labels as sin. Not so, as the next points will make evident.

4.       Temptations are never allowed that are beyond our ability to overcome. Now, a word to those who do not have the Holy Spirit living in them, people who are not Christians, who have not yielded their lives to Jesus Christ and repented of their sins. You have no ability to overcome your temptations. The ability we have to overcome temptations is only because of the Holy Spirit living in us (Rom 8:13-15). He gives us all the power we need to overcome temptations. We let temptations fester into sin when we ignore that power or don’t ask for His help to overcome. Temptations and trials come so that we will grow in our faith and in character not because God wants us to follow them into sin (Rom 5:3-5).

5.       God always provides a way of escape from temptations. You have to believe this truth. If you don’t believe what God has said, then you are defeated already. Since He has provided a way out, then we must look for it and take it. This is where we run right back into our desires. If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t take the path provide out of temptation because we really want what the temptation is offering. We can’t blame God if we succumb to sin; we can’t even blame Satan; we have made a choice to ignore the way out because we want the sin more than we want holiness and to please God.

6.       Temptations may stay around for a long time. We are able to endure or stand up under our temptation or trial. Some versions say we may endure and others say we can endure. In English, there is a big difference between permission (may) and able (can). The Greek is dunamai[1] from which comes the word dunamis[2] which means force or miraculous power. Dunamai simply means to be able. It doesn’t matter how long the temptation lasts or how often it returns, we are able to endure it. When we chicken out and say we can’t endure it, then we again show that we don’t believe God. If He says we are able to endure it we should. If we don’t, we have only one person to blame and that is ourselves. We haven’t called on the power of God to enable us. We have looked at this life, the riches of this world that we may lose or some other thing that we desire more than resisting the temptation.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom 13:14 RSV)
I’m still having a problem with fleeing “anything that stimulates” youthful lusts. I thought that Rom 13:14 sounded a lot like this. However when I looked up what it means to make provision, the ideas behind it is to be active in preparing to meet a future need. To do this you have to think about and plan how to do it. If we are to make no provision for the flesh then we can’t have it in mind. What I’m beginning to think is that if we are in or around things that stimulate lust, then we haven’t been faithful in the step before this which is to make no provisions or circumstances can surprise us.
There is always the problem that we may be minding our own business and the temptation presents itself to us without warning. Joseph ran into this when he was working for Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him on more than one occasion but he refused. Joseph was stuck in his position as slave. He couldn’t flee the situation as long as she didn’t do any more than talk to him about it. I’m sure that as a young man, her advances were able to stimulate youthful lusts but he didn’t yield. When it got physical he had to flee even at the cost of unjust accusations.
Perhaps Paul had Joseph in mind when he addressed this to Timothy. Timothy was young but was obviously becoming very effective in his ministry. While all lusts and temptations are available to each of us, it is hopeful that as we grow in Christ and wisdom, we will not be as easily tempted by lusts. If we look at some of our fallen Christian leaders in today’s world, it is obvious however, that even older men or women of God can be tempted by sex, power, money, or anything that tempts a young person.
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Ps 119:9 ESV)
The bottom line for any of us is to let the Word of God guard our purity. If we are seeking to please God instead of our own lusts or those that the world tells us we need, we will find the answers in the Bible.
Paul says that we should pursue positive, godly traits along with other who have a pure heart. Purity of heart can only come after salvation. So if anyone thinks that all the seeking and work to avoid lusts have a goal of salvation, then they have missed the point. All these things can only be pursued after salvation.
I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Phil 3:8-9 NIV)
The way to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace is to become a Christian first. Then we have righteousness from God. We have Jesus’ righteousness imputed to us. From there, we are able to put that righteousness into practice in our lives, to pursue it means is to have our lives look more and more like the reality of the righteousness of Christ that is declared to be ours. The only way to pursue all these virtues is to pursue God since they are all gifts from Him.
Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore! (1 Chron 16:10-11 NKJV)
We can’t really pursue God because the implication is that we are trying to catch or capture Him. We can’t literally seek God because He is spirit and we can’t find a spirit or see a spirit unless he chooses to reveal himself to us. However, this is the concept that comes from the Bible. We are to purse His character in us; His character will be seen in us. We are to seek His strength and others will see Him in us.
It is ironic that many people claim to seek God even though He isn’t far from any of us (Acts 17:22-28). By His grace, He provides life for each of us whether we are good or bad. Yet it is only to a few that He reveals Himself. Many don’t find Him because of the way they seek Him. They are doing it on their own terms; in their misconceptions they believe that any sincere search will lead them to God. In essence, they believe that they can find God because they have good intentions and God will reward them for their search. If this were true they would have the right to boast of their accomplishment when they found God.
However the Bible makes it clear that finding God is not something we can do by ourselves. It is God who gives us the ability to find Him as a gift so that we can’t boast (Eph 2:8-9). Seeking God on our own terms is nothing more than a self-serving form of religious works.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8 KJV)
No one can be pure of heart unless God purifies his heart.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:12 NIV)
We aren’t Lone Rangers. In the battle against lusts, the devil, and the world, it is much easier for two or more to stand together and fight. We see many examples in the Bible of two or more accomplishing great things. Jonathan and his armor bearer defeated a small outpost of Philistines killing twenty of them. The result spread even further as the whole Philistine army turned tail and ran allowing a great victory for Israel (1 Sam 14:1-23).
What would our country look like today if we had Christians holding each other accountable to flee from lusts so that whether we are in our families, work, politics, or any other place, we would be examples of holding the truth of God in reverence by living godly lives? What would it look like if we had people going out two by two to share the Gospel with others? It’s pretty scary to try to do it alone.
That is why Paul said to purse all these things along with others. Having someone in your life that can ask you if you have been fleeing lust or caving in helps overcome those sins. When we confess our struggles and failure to others, we can be healed from ungodly lives that result (James 5:16). This confession isn’t a substitute for confessing our sins to God but a means to help us do exactly that. I suppose, if we were perfect, we wouldn’t need to be accountable to other because our accountability to God would be sufficient. However there is encouragement to call on the Lord with other even when we recognize the sufficiency of God.

[1] NT:1410 dunamai (doo'-nam-ahee); of uncertain affinity; to be able or possible:
KJV - be able, can (do,  -not), could, may, might, be possible, be of power. (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
[2] NT:1411 dunamis (doo'-nam-is); from NT:1410; force (literally or figuratively); specially, miraculous power (usually by implication, a miracle itself): (Ibid)

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