Recently observed on the internet was a meme which encouraged the reader, “When things seem about as bad as they can get, look up because God is about to make a way of escape.”
One feels that the author of said meme is imagining some kind of deus ex machina in which the trials are brought to an end and everything turns from bad to good in one divine providential swoop.
The Bible does talk about God making a way of escape from temptation, but the application of the promise may not be exactly what some are looking for and the “way of escape” does not mean an end to trials.
We read, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13; ESV)
There are two promises contained in this passage: God does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle, and secondly, God will always provide a way of escape to each temptation.
Let’s observe the truth that this is not a promise that temptations will end. Rather, when we face temptations, God is merely telling us that He believes we have the capability of overcoming the same; else He would not let us face it. The promised “way of escape” is the ability to endure, not a cessation of trials. Likewise, we should note that this is not a promise that God’s people will always take the way of escape God has provided. There are plenty of examples one can find of individuals who have succumbed to temptation, even to the point of falling away from the faith.
What are we to say in such a situation? Was the promise of God void?
It would seem far more likely that God provided the way of escape and the individual in question chose not to take it. This also illustrates that the “way of escape” being promised is not a change of circumstances in which the temptation ceases and the problems vanish.
And what of the situation of Christ on the cross? His suffering was immense, and it ended in death. Did God not provide Jesus a “way of escape?” While some might think that Christ must be an obvious exception, we have the passage which reminds us: “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20b-21; ESV)
If the suffering of Christ is an example of the suffering God might expect us to face, then we are likely doing ourselves a disservice by expecting God to simply remove the situation that is troubling or tempting us. The trials of Christians sometimes only end in death.
We should realize that temptation does not come from the external situation in which we find ourselves, though such situations might facilitate temptation. Temptation comes from within. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:14; ESV).”
If temptation is internal, then we should not be surprised to find that the method of escape God provides might also be an internal one. Frequently the “way of escape,” is self-control, an ability to say, “no,” to ourselves or to others, and an opportunity to remove ourselves from a situation.
A man who is tempted to drunkenness is not going to be offered a “way of escape” in which all the alcohol around him suddenly disappears. Rather he is going to have to learn to turn away from friends encouraging him to bad behavior, avoid those places where he is most tempted, and find activities to replace the ones leading him astray.
A man tempted to anger is not going to find a “way of escape” in which all the people around him are now nice, polite and agreeing with all his ideas. Rather God is going to instruct such a man in how to be patient, kind and long-suffering towards those that wrong him or disagree with him.
A man pressed by financial burdens is not going to necessarily find a “way of escape” in which God providentially sends a cash windfall and all the bills are instantly paid. In such a circumstance, the “escape” may involve hard work, frugality and better financial decisions; or alternatively lessons in contentment regardless of circumstances.
Simply put, when God promises to provide a way of escape, He is not shifting the burden of resisting temptation from our shoulders to His. In spiritual laziness we often want God to do all the work for us. But that’s not how God works. He will show us the way out of the situation, but it is our responsibility to heed His word and make the decision to take the way out.
If you are looking for that way of escape from temptation and sin, Christ does offer a solution. If you would like to learn more, the church of Christ iinvites you to come study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any question you would like answered or addressed, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.