And let's assume for now that you've had a moment where you leaned into that challenge and said, "Yes, the next time I encounter that temptation, I'll turn from it."
Unfortunately, many of the lessons we've heard about temptation are just too simple. The lessons usually include a Bible verse (like 1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee from sexual immorality..."), and then a story of success.
It seems to like it's actually tempting to tell people that, "it's just that easy." And more often than not, that temptation wins the upper hand and we resort to saying that very thing: "Avoid that, do this, and everything will be okay...it's just that easy."
But when we try to do it, we find that it's NOT that easy.
Temptation is stronger than our cute sayings make it out to be.
But the Scriptures do insist we should flee, or turn away from, the things that will trip us up as we follow Jesus.
In the verse I just cited (1 Corinthians 6:18), we're told to flee from sexual immorality - turn away from using sex in ways that bring dishonor to God and shame on ourselves.
Again, in 1 Corinthians 10:14, we're told to flee from idolatry - turn from pursuing aspects of creation as if they were as worthy of worship as the Creator God.
And again, in 1 Timothy 6:11, we're told to flee from the love of money - turn from desiring money to pump up your status and security.
So the instruction we've always gotten, to "flee," is certainly biblical. The reason it often fails, though, is because it's incomplete. When we try to flee, to turn away, we find that we don't know where to go! When we don't have anywhere to go, we turn back around and get consumed by the temptation.
We give in to the sexual immorality.
We give in to the idolatry.
We give in to the love of money and the status it can bring.
Then we hear a typical lesson on temptation, and commit again to flee from it. And then when we sense the temptation creeping up, we try to flee again...and the whole cycle repeats itself.
I think the problem with the bare advice to "flee" is that we forget that the Bible exhortation to "flee" is found in the midst of a larger narrative about grace, redemption, and hope. When we extract it from its canonical home and offer it as a "truth nugget" to combat temptation, we cut its legs off and render it nothing more than a piece of powerless advice - on par with Chicken Soup for the Soul.
The key is to recover the Biblical narrative in which we hear the Biblical commands and exhortations.
So 2 Timothy 2:22 (ESV) tells us, "Flee youth passions [lusts]..."
Okay, that's where we were when we got stuck and turned back around.
But the verse continues:
"...and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart."
Fleeing is not enough. Flee AND pursue.
Flee the temptation and pursue the purpose of God with the people of God. Together, those two things will help to get you out of the cul-de-sac of temptation.
What Would You Do?
What To Do When You're Stuck