Satan tempts us to not fear sin, so that we will not keep a safe distance from it. That’s Satan’s strategy.
Brooks characterized this strategy as “making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin.” Like many of the devil’s lies, it distorts a truth, namely that temptation is not sin. The Christian who is tempted only sins when he surrenders to the temptation; being outwardly tempted is not a sin. But the Tempter twists this truth into an untruth that says that there is no harm in getting close to sin or exposing yourself to temptations, so long as you don’t take the final step and do the sin. It goes like this:
“You need not keep a safe distance from sin. You are strong enough to resist temptation; you are strong enough to go near sin without falling into it. You need not avoid compromising situations. Sin is not so strong, and you are not that weak.”
Here’s how Brooks expressed this temptation:
“Saith Satan You may walk by the harlot’s door though you won’t go into the harlot’s bed; you may sit and sup with the drunkard, though you won’t be drunk with the drunkard … you may with Achan handle the golden wedge, though you do not steal the golden wedge.”
The Scripture’s primary teaching regarding temptation is to flee from it. Few Bible truths today are as neglected as this one. Our spiritual forefathers understood well both their own sinfulness and the alluring power of sin; for them, fleeing temptation was the Christian’s first strategy for growing in holiness. But today, we think far too little of sin’s power and far too much of our own spiritual ability. As a result, fleeing temptation is often regarded as a quaint notion, one popular in a bygone era when people were too uptight about sin.
But what do the Scriptures say? The Lord Jesus Christ instructed His followers to pray that they would not be confronted with temptations to sin (Matthew 6:13, 26:41). How can we sincerely pray, “Father, do not lead us into temptation” and then recklessly place ourselves in situations that overwhelm us with temptation? If I ask God to steer me away from temptation, then surely I must steer myself away from it as well! When the Apostle Paul counseled the young pastor Timothy, he told him to flee from the temptations of materialism and lust (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). When the inspired apostle wrote to the Christians in Corinth, he directed them to flee from immorality and idolatry (1 Corinthians 6:18, 10:14). These New Testament instructions reaffirm Old Testament teaching: “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on.” (Proverbs 4:14-15)
To be sure, God sometimes calls His people to remain in situations where temptation is ongoing. For example, Christian policemen face their own special temptations that are almost capable. Living in a fallen world means believers can never completely insulate themselves from temptation. God does not command us to withdraw into present-day monasteries where temptations are allegedly minimized. But the first Christian response to sinful temptation is to get away from it, if possible.
Satan tempts us to not flee temptation.
The Devil encourages us to think that the temptation does not warrant fleeing because it is easy to resist. Satan strokes our self-esteem by telling us that we are sufficiently strong to say “no” to the temptation. The Father of Lies tells us something like this:
“You have identified the temptation. You see the sin. That’s all that is necessary. You are now adequately protected from the temptation: seeing it clearly makes you immune to its allure.”
We want to believe Satan, don’t we? Distancing ourselves from a temptation or removing ourselves from a tempting environment often involves cost. Fleeing may require extra work or create inconveniences. People who notice our sin-fleeing tactics frequently reward us with scorn or ridicule. Even church members will sometimes disdain your fleeing from sin as cowardice, legalism, self-righteousness, or surrender.
Sometimes we enjoy a small thrill from being close to a sin, almost like smelling a good meal but not eating it. As fellow Puritan Samuel Rutherford wisely observed, “To want temptations is the greatest temptation of all.” For many reasons, we would rather not go to the trouble of distancing ourselves from sinful temptations.