Maybe you’ve seen that hilarious news footage of a man unexpectedly coming face to face with a bear. He is on his own property, distracted by his phone, when he looks up right into the face of a marauding bear. The man’s reaction is exactly what we would expect—he turns tail and runs away as quickly as he can. A news helicopter captured it all for our amusement.
There are several places in the Bible where you, Christian, are commanded to flee, to turn tail and run from an enemy far more vicious than any bear. You are told to flee from sin. Some sins are so strong and so dangerous that you simply cannot mess around with them. Just like you can’t fight a bear and expect to win, you can’t tangle with these sins and hope to emerge unscathed. Yes, you are to put sin to death and yes, you can have confidence in the inward work of the Holy Spirit. But you always need to respect the power and deceptiveness of sin, and you always need to acknowledge your weakness and proneness to depravity. For your soul to survive and thrive in this world, you need to learn to flee.
“Flee” is a strong word. The Bible does not tell you to amble, meander, lope, or trot from your sin. It tells you to flee. Fleeing involves effort. It involves straining. It involves speed. You flee when you need to find and experience safety from a threat—a threat like a bear. You flee when it is too dangerous to remain where you are, when standing still would put you in mortal peril. What are we to flee? George Knight points out that “Paul always uses ‘flee’ in relation to particular sins, not sins in general.” His concern, then, is to warn you about those sins that are especially attractive and deadly.
“Flee from sexual immorality,” he says to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:18). You are to flee at the first hint of sexual sin. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). You are to flee idolatry too, which is so often expressed in the kind of sexual immorality that plagued the church in Corinth, but which may appear in other forms.
He returns to this theme in his letters to young Timothy. “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:9–11). You are to flee materialism, the desire to be rich and to be known and respected for what you have accumulated. And, more generally, “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul warns Timothy of the danger of self-indulgence and selfish ambition and the other passions and excesses of youth.
Stott provides crucial application: “True, we are also told to withstand the devil, so that he may flee from us. But we are to recognize sin as something dangerous to the soul. We are not to come to terms with it, or even negotiate with it. We are not to linger in its presence like Lot in Sodom. On the contrary, we are to get as far away from it as possible as quickly as possible. Like Joseph, when Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, we are to take to our heels and run.” This kind of fleeing is not a mark of weakness, but of strength, not of spiritual infancy but maturity. The mature Christian knows when to turn tail and run.
Interestingly, the command to flee is sometimes accompanied by an opposite command—the command to pursue. This, too, is a word that implies effort. If fleeing is fast and purposeful, so is pursuing—it is moving quickly and purposefully toward instead of away from. If fleeing involves determination and effort in sprinting away from a vice, pursuing involves determination and effort in racing toward a virtue.
“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). These are four crucial marks of every true Christian. “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Here, too, Paul tells you, through Timothy, to strive for the key Christian virtues. “Pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1), that greatest of all virtues. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19). Peace and mutual upbuilding come through the very virtues Paul elsewhere commands you to pursue.
Because I can say it no better than Stott, I will give him the concluding remarks:
So, then … we are both to run away from spiritual danger and to run after spiritual good, both to flee from the one in order to escape it and to pursue the other in order to attain it. This double duty of Christians—negative and positive—is the consistent, reiterated teaching of Scripture. Thus, we are to deny ourselves and to follow Christ. We are to put off what belongs to our old life and to put on what belongs to our new life. We are to put to death our earthly members and to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. It is the ruthless rejection of the one in combination with the relentless pursuit of the other which Scripture enjoins upon us as the secret of holiness. Only so can we hope to be fit for the Master’s use.
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