Lusts—we all have them and we’re all susceptible to them. We can never be safe from them while we’re in these earthly bodies. This is because in the fall of the entire human race, the pure physical body God created for us became the sinful flesh, full of lusts.
We believers are not exempt from this fact. Certainly, when we believed in Jesus Christ, we were forgiven of our sins and saved eternally. We became God’s children, born again with His divine life. But though our spirit was regenerated, our body was not. The sinful lusts in our flesh remain.
That believers still have the lusts of the flesh is proved by many verses in the New Testament, but in this post we’ll focus on 2 Timothy 2:22. Here Paul was not speaking to an unbeliever. He gave this word to a young man named Timothy, his brother in the Lord and co-worker in serving the Lord:
“But flee youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
If the lusts of the flesh were no longer a problem to Timothy because he was a saved, spiritual person, why would Paul have given him this strong word? And what does this verse mean for us believers today?
Fleeing youthful lusts
Paul’s word to Timothy concerning lusts applies to all of us believers. Although Paul says “youthful” lusts because he was speaking to Timothy, a young man, that doesn’t mean we can ignore this word if we’re older. Whether young or old, we have a corrupted body of sinful lusts that are incited by the world. As Satan’s system, the world has only one aim: to draw us away from God and damage us by feeding our lusts. This evil world system is clearly defined in 1 John 2:16:
“Because all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.”
Today the world is increasingly persistent with its endless stream of sinful and unclean temptations. And modern technology makes it so easy to gratify our lust by just a quick tap on our phone or a click on our computer. With diverse attractions that cater to our lusts, the world is ever present, tempting us twenty-four hours a day. What should we do?
We should flee! To flee means to escape, to turn away from. It doesn’t mean to struggle with, but to run away from. The Bible does not say to resist lusts or to overcome lusts with a strong faith; no, Paul uses the verb “flee,” a definite and active word, when it comes to how to handle lusts, and Romans 13:14 says, “Make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.” We can’t afford to be passive or complacent about lusts. Perhaps more than ever before in human history, we have to flee, to run away from, lusts.
Giving in to or indulging in the lusts of our flesh brings damage to us. God created us as vessels to contain and express Him, but Satan wants to damage our vessels—spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically—through the lusts in our flesh. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 Paul spoke this word to the Thessalonian believers:
“That each one of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
Clearly, no believer is immune to the passion of lust. No matter how much we love the Lord Jesus, no matter how long we’ve been saved or how many experiences of Christ we’ve had, Paul’s word of wisdom to flee is for every believer, since lusts are a constant peril to us all. The way not be damaged and defiled by lusts but to possess our vessel in sanctification and honor is to flee!
However, Paul didn’t stop at “flee youthful lusts”; he went on to say, “Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.” To flee in an aimless, directionless way is difficult. But Paul told us not only to flee from something, but also to pursue toward something.
To pursue means to seek, search out, follow, or run after—another definite, active word.
On one hand, we are to flee something terrible: youthful lusts; on the other, we are to pursue something wonderful: Christ as our real righteousness, faith, love, and peace. While we flee, we also pursue Christ as all these virtues for our living.
Note 2 on this verse in the Recovery Version explains these virtues in our experience:
“Righteousness is toward oneself, faith is toward God, and love is toward others; peace is the issue of these three virtues.”
So when we pursue Christ, the virtues of righteousness, faith, and love can become ours. We experience Christ being our righteousness in our relationship with others, so that we can be right with them. We experience Christ as our living faith in our relationship with God for us to believe in Him. And we experience Christ as our unlimited love with which we can love everyone. As we experience Christ as all these virtues, instead of struggling with lusts, we have Christ as our real peace within.
Fleeing lusts and pursuing Christ shouldn’t be occasional events with us; instead, we should have a daily life of fleeing and pursuing. As we consider our own daily lives in the light of 2 Timothy 2:22, we might stop and ask ourselves, “If I’m not fleeing and pursuing, what am I doing?” Let us daily flee lusts and pursue Christ!
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How to have a fleeing and pursuing life
How can we have such a daily life of fleeing lusts and pursuing Christ? All alone, it’s impossible. But Paul wasn’t merely speaking theory or doctrine to us, so in the second half of the verse he gave us the practical way to flee and pursue: “with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
To flee and pursue is with those, meaning, with other believers who are also actively fleeing lusts and pursuing Christ, calling upon Him with a pure heart. Besides having a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, we all need to find some spiritual companions, ones we can pray with, read the Bible with, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus with, consecrate ourselves with, and fellowship with about growing in the Lord and experiencing Christ every day.
By ourselves, we’re no match for Satan, his world system, and our fallen flesh. But being “with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” enables us to flee the lusts of the flesh and escape the enticements of the world. And even more, by being “with those” we’re strengthened and encouraged to actively and positively pursue Christ and all He wants to be to us.
As we heed the word to be with others who run after the Lord, we also need to heed the warning in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals.”
The kind of people we’re with influences us. That’s just how it works. So we must be wise and not become companions of people who draw us away from God; instead, we can choose to be with fellow believers who are running away from the damaging lusts of the flesh and running after the Lord Jesus.
Vessels unto honor, filled with Christ
We do have our fallen flesh with its lusts, and profuse temptations and unashamed immorality are wherever we turn. But we can be believers who have a daily life of fleeing lusts and pursuing Christ with other believers. As vessels God created for Himself, we can be filled with Christ as our righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Then we can be vessels unto honor, sanctified, and useful to our beloved Master, as mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:21.
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