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Slippery Slopes

Slippery Slope warning

by Dennis Pollock

In recent years the term slippery slope has become more and more common in the English language. The idea is pretty simple: if you play around on a slippery slope you may well fall and start sliding irresistibly downhill. Far better not to play on the slope and find yourself a nice, dry, flat piece of ground on which to play games. Of course what people refer to is not a literal slope, but a decision or an action that will almost surely lead to terrible future consequences.

While the Bible never uses this term, it certainly does caution the people of God against placing themselves in circumstances that have the potential to lead to their downfall. The Christian life espoused in the Scriptures is for the most part fairly conservative. Yes, we can point to those exciting times God asks His children to step directly into harm’s way with faith and courage, and trust Him for deliverance. We love to read the exciting stories about David and Goliath, and how Daniel faced the den of lions, and Elijah faced down King Ahab and a host of the prophets of Baal. God does at times call us to act in a most “unconservative” fashion, but this is always the exception. In terms of our daily lifestyles, Christians are called to get along with people, submit to those in authority over them, pay their taxes, live peaceable, non-violent lives, and avoid situations that lead to our undoing: physically, morally, or spiritually. Paul sums up this life in his letter to Timothy: “...that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2).

The most important slippery slopes the Christians must avoid are those that can lead us away from God and the upright life He desires for us – the moral slippery slopes. These are situations, circumstances, and activities that either directly tempt us to sin or simply place us in the position where strong temptation becomes a likelihood. One of the components of our Lord’s model prayer consists of these words: “Lead us not into temptation…” Every time we pray these words we should be reminding ourselves of the folly of exposing ourselves unnecessarily to strong temptations that have the potential to cover our lives with the stench of sin. It is hypocritical to pray fervently for the Father to keep us from temptation, and then go out and walk directly into the very heart of temptation. That for which we pray must direct us in the steps our feet will take.

A Major and Common Slippery Slope

One of the most common and potentially devastating slippery slopes faced by Christian husbands and wives is the particular set of actions that serve as an antecedent to adultery. No child of God ever enters marriage planning, hoping, or expecting to get involved with adultery. At the time of the wedding the expectations are high and the vows are sincere. Considering just how strongly the Bible condemns adultery and how utterly antithetical this act is in the eyes of the church, one would expect that unfaithfulness among Christians would be nearly non-existent. And yet it frequently surfaces among men and women who attend Bible studies, raise their hands to the Lord during their church’s worship service, and give thanks to God before every meal.

No Christian man or woman ever meets someone they are attracted to, learns their name, and then rushes with them to the nearest motel room to make love. There is always a process, and this process is usually nearly identical in most cases, with a few details changed. In nearly every case the two individuals find themselves in a situation where they frequently spend time together. Conversation takes place, and over time the conversations get longer and more personal. Attraction results and increases. Both parties soon realize that the attraction is mutual. After a while a physical element is added: hand touching hand or a hand on the shoulder… Within a few months the couple are in bed together, doing something they never thought they would do. At first there is guilt, but even that disappears after a little while. The slippery slope has claimed two more victims.

The Bible declares: “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty” (Proverbs 22:3). Too many Christians pray for the Lord not to lead them into temptation, and then turn around and walk straight into temptation seemingly clueless that they are crossing into a land fraught with danger, a land of darkness and peril that has claimed men and women far stronger and smarter than they. The road that leads to sexual immorality has a boundary marked by warnings of the Spirit which firmly declare, “Thou shalt go no further.” Ignore these warnings and your fall is nearly certain.

The boundary line is not the point where the urges are powerful and the attraction nearly irresistible. By that point you are pretty much a lost cause. It is in those early stages where the conversations run a little too long, the details become a little too intimate, and the delight in each other’s company is beginning to go beyond an ordinary working relationship. Catch yourself early enough and you can say no. Wait a little too long and you won’t want to. Those who play on slippery slopes will sooner or later fall and slide. It is just a matter of time. For this reason our Lord Jesus tells us, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…” (Mark 9:43). His words are simply another way of saying what Proverbs warns us about: "See the danger, and take refuge."

Other Slopes

stairs warningThe path to sexual immorality is perhaps the most flagrant and obvious slippery slope but it is certainly not the only one. Once, after a surgery, my doctor gave me a prescription to help me get through the subsequent time of pain and soreness. The pills worked beautifully, in fact, they worked too well. They not only dealt with the pain but also gave me a wonderful sense of well-being. I began to look forward to the time when I would take them. After a while most of the serious pain was gone, but I was enjoying the pills so much I took them even for the slightest and most insignificant pains. Finally the pain and soreness were almost gone. I was allowed a refill of the original prescription, and decided to fill it, thinking that these pills worked so well that they would come in handy even for ordinary headaches or other slight pains. Aspirins never gave me the buzz these powerful pills did, and it seemed a pleasant prospect to think that over the next year or so, anytime I had a pain, I could take one of these pills and get pain relief, plus feel on top of the world.

But as I looked at the bottle filled with such sweet pills, I suddenly recognized a danger. Until that time I had often heard about people being addicted to prescription pain relievers and had wondered why anyone could get so excited over a pain-relieving medication. Now I knew full well how it could happen, and it dawned on me that I wasn’t all that far from it. I then did something kind of radical, something that was painful but in my mind necessary. I poured the pills in the toilet and flushed them out of sight. From now on, if I needed a pain reliever it was back to aspirin, ibuprofen, or Tylenol. Some might call me silly for doing that, but I don’t think it was at all silly. The Biblical term for taking that kind of action is prudent: “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” And prudent is infinitely preferable to simple.

Road to Slavery

People never jump into addictions. They work their way toward them quietly, gradually, and in small, incremental steps. And somewhere along that path there is a border, a point of no return, or perhaps more accurately, a point of “not likely to return.” As followers of Jesus Christ we not only want to avoid crossing that border, but we should have no desire to get anywhere near it. Only a fool would want to test himself by seeing how close he can come to his own destruction without actually being destroyed.

The Bible gives numerous exhortations to avoid placing ourselves in the path of temptation and spiritual ruin. In Romans we are told to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14). Foolish people make provision, indeed they make ample provision for their sinful nature to have its lusts utterly and entirely satisfied. But wise people so direct their circumstances and the paths of their feet that they give very little provision for the sin nature to give expression. Former alcoholics should not get jobs in bars, or attend parties where the liquor flows freely. Men who struggle with pornography dare not linger over Internet search results that promise sexually titillating material. Young unmarried couples must refuse to spend time alone in empty houses. Former drug addicts cannot become best friends with drug users.

Traveling by plane is considered about the safest possible means of transportation. But suppose this wasn’t the case. Suppose you had about a twenty percent chance of perishing on any particular flight. This would mean that if you flew five flights you would almost certainly be killed. How many people would fly on airplanes in such a case? The answer is nobody – at least nobody in their right mind. A twenty percent fatality rate is way too high to risk your life.

And yet this is precisely what many people do as they frolic and cavort on slippery slopes that lead to destruction and spiritual ruin. They justify their actions by saying that they are not actually committing sin. And they may be technically correct. But playing on and around the borders of sin is surely the game of fools.

We suppose that we are strong enough to resist and win in the end; we assume that we will not be like all the others. We will turn and go back when we reach the very edge of the slope. The Bible says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). Peter was absolutely confident that he would never deny the Lord, saying: “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” (Matthew 26:35). He did not know his own heart. When the pressure was turned up, he turned out as weak as any other man. He should have prayed to have been kept from temptation, as Jesus had taught him.

"Lord, Keep Me!"

Jesus rescues Peter

Most men and women are far more concerned with physical dangers than spiritual ones. This is revealed even in the things for which we pray. When we pack all the kids into the car for a two week vacation we are likely to pray for safety and "travel mercies" but rarely do we pray that we might get through our journey without strife or conflict. We pray for healing, we pray for jobs, we pray for money, we pray for things. But how few ever pray to be kept from sin, to be preserved blameless throughout the day, to be kept out of situations that might lead them to stray from the path of righteousness. How rarely do men and women pray that they might be kept faithful to their spouse, and that the Lord would keep them from falling into sexual immorality! Too often we just stumble through life failing and falling but never quite understanding that the same Jesus who has saved us from the penalty of sin through His cross and resurrection has the power to keep us from its power as well.

In Jesus Christ we can overcome; we can be victorious in the struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. But we must recognize that a major part of this victory involves walking wisely and avoiding those circumstances and snares that can spell disaster for us. Paul instructs believers, "Flee fornication." Not dabble with it, not see how close you can come to it without actually falling in, not ponder it, fantasize about it, or continually watch it on television, but flee from it. This surely applies to every ensnaring sin. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

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