Despite endless attempts to do so, fleeing sin can’t be done halfheartedly – that only sets the stage for failure. A tepid turning away is like a drunk who doesn’t buy beer anymore but still goes to all the same parties and hangs out with the same drunken crew. He’s pushed off his sin, but only a short distance.
So what does fleeing sin look like? It’s radical. It involves complete commitment.
In Genesis 39 we find an example of this radical commitment. When Potiphar’s wife propositions Joseph first he refuses her, and, when that isn’t enough and she grabs hold of his garment, Joseph takes off running. Now, grown men don’t run away, do they? It’s undignified. And they certainly don’t shed clothes to get away. But that’s what Joseph did. She was holding his cloak, so he let her keep it. We don’t know exactly what state of undress this left Joseph – was he naked, or did he just lose his outer layer? – but we do know this was no calm and cool departure. This was a man desperate to do what God wanted, even if it left him clothed only in righteousness. This is complete commitment.
Matthew 5:29 outlines another radical response to sin:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”
This passage is most often explained as a figure of speech, not to be taken literally. And that’s true enough – Jesus’ point here is to highlight just how important it is to flee sin but He isn’t prescribing the specific means of doing so.
However, we shouldn’t “explain away” the radical nature of what’s being said. God can’t stand sin and we need to do whatever it takes to fight our entrapping, entangling sins. The reason that we don’t go plucking out eyeballs is because there are other means – more effective and less harmful – of fleeing sin. But these other means can be painful too, and we may be tempted to dismiss them as too radical. But if that leaves us trapped in our sin, then we need to hear what Christ says next: better a one-eyed man in Heaven than a two-eyed man in Hell. This is about our salvation!
If your smartphone causes you to sin…
Computers and smartphones are a part of our daily lives – most jobs involve them, and almost everyone has one. But they are also portals to pornography. If that’s a problem for you, then in Matt. 5:29 Christ prescribes a radical, and vital, solution: “if your computer/smartphone causes you to sin, pluck it out.”
But how can we manage without a computer? How can we keep in touch with our friends without a smartphone? Is it even possible today to do without these devices?
Well, plucking in this case might not mean doing completely without. They can be managed via various technological and practical means. A person can:
- install accountability software like Covenant Eyes on their computers that monitors where they go on the Internet and then shares it with an accountability partner
- get filtering software that will block most (but not all – nothing is 100% effective) of the harmful content on the Internet
- use software or hardware means to limit the time your computer is hooked up to the Internet
- place their computer in a public area in the home, where other can see what you are up to when you are online
- install monitoring software on their smartphone
- swap their smartphone for a simple cellphone (some still allow you to text friends, but not surf the Internet).
What if none of this is sufficient? Then, Christ tells us to remember, better computer-less and on your way to Heaven, than a social media king on your way to Hell.
If your friends tempt you to sin…
Temptation comes in all sorts of forms, and some of us will find it harder than others to resist peer pressure. If your good buddies are into all the wrong things, and you find yourself pulled in again and again, then you need to give up on this group of friends (Prov. 13:20, 1 Cor. 15:33). It doesn’t matter if you’ve known them since elementary; don’t place your friends above God.
If your job tempts you to sin…
Some jobs involve travel, leaving you alone in your hotel room with the porn channels, or maybe it’s simple risqué R-rated films, readily available. Maybe all that time alone on the road causes temptation. Or maybe you work in an office where there is a growing pressure to conform to their politically correct culture (and in doing so deny your Lord). Or you work with coarse colleagues who have nude pics on the walls. Or you have dishonest colleagues who pressure you to fudge figures. There’s any number of ways your job can be a source of temptation.
There is also any number of ways of managing this. It could involve creativity, and a willingness to make strange requests. I heard of one man who required that any hotel room he stays at have the TV removed from his room. Maybe it means speaking to colleagues and asking them to take down their girlie pictures. It could be embarrassing. But that’s the level of commitment God calls us to.
If a workaround isn’t possible, and temptation at your job is unavoidable and causing you to sin, then don’t think it too radical to quit…even if you don’t have another job lined up (this is what deacons are for).
If your “me time” is causing you to sin…
We are called to flee from more than just sexual temptation and drunkenness – Matthew 5:29 applies to all of life.
So, for example, God also wants us to control our anger…even if you are a parent running on very little sleep. Tiredness can leave anyone short-tempered, and some of us have to watch out for this even more than others. Maybe it’s been a long day, the kids are finally in bed, and now we just want a little “me time” before we head to bed – just an hour of TV, or a couple chapters. We just want to unwind.
Except, that we’re exhausted. And that exhaustion has meant that instead of being a loving disciplinarian, we’ve been a ticked off grump every time our kids have been kids. So it might only be nine o-clock, but if your “me time” is causing you to sin, you need to pack it in early.
Now there is more to fleeing than simply fleeing from. Running from can give us only the temporary sort of victory that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 12:43-45. Here He describes a man who has a demon leave him. Success? Well, no, because after the demon leaves, the man doesn’t replace it. When the demon comes back he finds his former abode “unoccupied” and so brings seven other demons to come join him, and “the last state of that man becomes worse then the first.”
This is what comes of fighting sin on our own. Our fleeing can’t simply be an aimless fleeing from but must be deliberate fleeing to our Saviour. He can help us not only put off our old sinful ways, but renew us, so we can put on a new self (Ephesians 4:22-24) “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
When we are entangled in sin it may feel like there is no way out. It can feel like we are caught in such a complicated situation we are unable to get free. It’s important then to understand that fleeing sin isn’t complicated…but it is radical.
And while fleeing sin isn’t complicated, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Proverbs 22:6 says that if we train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old “he will not depart from it.” That works both ways, for good or evil. If you’ve been partaking in the same sin again and again, you’ve “trained” yourself – you’ve carved some deep ruts that will be hard to get out of, and easy to fall back into.
That means fleeing from sin may be hard to do. But it isn’t hard to figure out what to do. It is a matter of placing God as first and throwing off everything that hinders (Hebrews 12:1). The reason we fall into sin, then, is because we count everything as too high a cost.
Now anyone who has been entangled in sin knows they can’t get free on their own; that’s why in setting out the radical nature of what fleeing from sin involves, it’s vital we not forget the radical nature of what has already been done for us. Those entangling sins? Jesus has paid for them, so He can loose us from them. We need to flee from sin, yes, but more importantly, we need to run to the God who loved us so much He died for us to set us free.
So what does fleeing sin look like? It means running from temptation and putting off every sin and weight that hinders us. It means turning and sprinting full out – arms flailing, legs churning, spittle flying, maybe even cloak leaving – towards our Father and his secure embrace.
For more, see John Piper on Hebrews 12:1 and running.