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Real Men Flee Temptation

Real men do what?

Growing up as a child who watched and played sports in Northern California, I can vividly remember a slogan the Oakland Raiders once used to heighten fan participation: “Real Men Wear Black.” Certainly this was a catchy promotional tool for a professional football team. But more than that, it told men that if they were truly masculine they would wear a particular color of clothing that was anything but light or soft. Black is to be worn by men. Black is intimidating. Black says, “I’m dangerous. Look out.” The slogan appeared everywhere, and even today, the image conveyed by the Raiders is that of being dangerous, proud, and a bit rebellious.

A simple slogan wouldn’t normally be cause for great alarm. But what’s troubling is the fact it represents a widespread cultural mind-set. Masculinity, in our world, is often defined in terms of brute strength, brash independence, material wealth, ruthless power, or romantic charm. But the Bible has a different perspective on what it means to be a real man. Paul, instructing the men of Corinth toward true masculinity, wrote, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). True masculinity doesn’t idolize sports, money, status, or the passing pleasures of this world. The lusts of the flesh come naturally to sinners, and any self-indulgent boy can consume himself with his own desires. But a real man does what is hard. He is a fighter, but not in the sense that the Raiders meant. Rather he fights for his Savior’s glory, for his own sanctification, and for the spiritual good of those around him.

One chief way to do this is to flee temptation. Yes, that’s right—real men run away. If sin is the great enemy of the Christian, then a man of God must be a skilled soldier in putting to death the sin that remains in his life. Puritan John Owen said it best: “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”1Real men not only flee from sin, but from the temptation that precedes sin. For an excellent example of that principle, we need to look no further than the pages of the New Testament.

A Young Man Named Timothy

Timothy had grown up in a God-fearing home—his mother and grandmother faithfully taught him the Scriptures. We are first introduced to Timothy in the book of Acts. There we are told, “Paul…came to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:1-2). This young man would quickly become one of Paul’s dearest companions and most trusted colaboraters. He had a good reputation in his hometown, but God had bigger plans for Timothy and called him to become one of the chief workers in proclaiming the gospel message throughout the Gentile world.

But living the Christian life was not always easy for Timothy, even after he became a pastor in Ephesus. As we learn from Paul’s letters to Timothy, the young man was engaged in a daily spiritual battle—fighting hard to shepherd his own soul and the souls of those under his care. The apostle exhorted his young disciple to suffer for Christ, guard the truth, and diligently handle the Scriptures. While young Timothy was mature beyond his years, as a Christian man he understood what it meant to be in a constant war against sin and temptation.

Timothy’s Example in Resisting Temptation

In this chapter, using Timothy as our model, we will examine four key elements to resisting temptation in a way that honors the Lord.

1. Request Help from God

Have you ever felt like your battle against sin was impossible to win? Perhaps you’ve thought, I want to flee from temptation, but at times it seems like I just can’t. If so, you are not alone. The apostle Paul essentially said that very thing in Romans 7. He wrote, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (verses 18-19 esv). Even Paul understood the daily battle between his spirit and his flesh. But the apostle’s words did not end in despair. In the end, he looked to God for help and final victory. In triumph, he declared, “Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 7:24–8:2).

The disciples experienced a similar struggle—their mind telling them to do one thing but their flesh wanting another. On the night Jesus was betrayed, while in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked His disciples to pray for Him as He prepared for the cross. They loved Him dearly and would have done anything they could to defend Him. But in that moment, they couldn’t even keep their eyes open long enough to stay on the lookout. What was Jesus’ response? “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Because He recognized the frailty of the human condition, Jesus commanded His disciples (and by extension, all believers) to prayerfully depend on God’s strength for victory over temptation.

In Hebrews 4, some of the most encouraging words in all of Scripture are written for those struggling to flee temptation. Speaking of Christ, the author of Hebrews explained, “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (verse 15). How comforting it is to know that Christ Himself understands what it is like to endure temptation and gain victory over it! Being wholly God, He could never sin. Yet being wholly man, He felt the full weight of temptation pressing against Him. When Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, Jesus had gone without food for 40 days. He was famished and physically weak. Yet even in that depleted condition, He prevailed over the devil’s false promises. His victory over temptation would continue all the way to the cross, where He finally conquered sin once for all.

Having endured the most severe temptations imaginable, Jesus is sympathetic to the ways in which we are weak at the moment of testing. Our right response, when facing temptation, is to turn to Him for help. The author of Hebrews made this very point: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (verse 16). If we are to find victory over temptation, we must depend on the Lord for strength and grace.

Timothy understood the need to ask God for help in the fight against temptation. As one of Paul’s missionary companions, he had seen his mentor kneel in prayer many times. On one occasion Paul requested prayer from the Ephesians, just in case he might be tempted by cowardice (Ephesians 6:19-20). Timothy too was susceptible to the sin of cowardice (2 Timothy 1:7-8). So Paul instructed him to pray—specifically for those whom he might be tempted to fear, such as government officials (1 Timothy 2:1-8). As persecution against the church mounted, Timothy surely remembered Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Having been well taught by his mentor, Timothy knew that the only right way to respond to his fears was to pray.

Even at the end of Paul’s life, when everyone had deserted him, the apostle continued to encourage Timothy with the fact that “the Lord stood with [him] and strengthened [him]” (2 Timothy 4:17). The message for Timothy was clear: No matter what hardships he faced, he could depend on Christ. That lesson proved invaluable to the young pastor. When Timothy was later sent to prison, he resisted his fears and remained faithful to the Lord (cf. Hebrews 13:23).

Article excerpted from Nathan Busenitz's book Men of the Word (Harvest House Publishers, 2011. Copyright (c) 2011 by Nathan  Busenitz. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Nathan Busenitz serves on the pastoral staff alongside John McArthur at Grace Community Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary. He has MDiv and ThM degrees from the seminary and is currently pursuing his ThD. He is he associate editor of the book Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong and is the managing editor of Pulpit magazine.