God does not stutter when He talks about the consequences of unrepentant sexual sin.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality…that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,6)
“Let the marriage bed be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4)
It's clear God takes these kinds of sins very seriously, so seriously that He’s going to pour out His wrath on those who don’t repent.
I know you know that.
I guess it might be conceivable that this might be a new thought for people like the Colossians. But it's definitely not a new thought for people like us. We, though in our society this seems to be changing, but at least for the most part, we still know that sexual sin in thought, or in deed, is serious because it’s idolatry and it’s going to be judged.
Yet the sad fact of the matter is even though we know about how God is going to judge these kinds of sin and we know about how God wants us to hate these kinds of sin and some of us even have begun to understand why God wants us to war against these kinds of sin, in spite of all that head knowledge it seems that within the church there are almost as many who fall to these kinds of sins as without.
I don’t want to get too depressing here, but we do need to be realistic. We could just talk about Christian leaders. It seemed for a while there that you kept hearing about one leader after the other falling into these types of sins. I remember in college, there was a point when I was like 'will it ever end?'
But it’s obviously not just Christian leaders that struggle with this issue.
Professing Christian men and women are struggling with this issue big time. We could talk about outward acts of sexual sin – like sexually immorality or sexual impurity or we could talk about the inner desires – the thought life – either way this is a major problem within the church. I’m afraid if we could see the thoughts of many of those who are going to church today throughout the week we’d be pretty grossed out at all the sinful sexual passions and desires.
To keep going, it’s not just Christian leaders and Christian men and women it’s also our young people. I read recently a pastor who was saying that 75 percent of the people who come for pre-marital counseling within his church have fallen into some kind of sexual sin. That is within the church – and he happened to be the pastor of a good church.
That kind of statement is pretty much in line with what recent statistics are telling us about the activities of many of the young people within the church who claim to be believers.
Josh McDowell describes the results of one particular survey, saying “The [study] participants were youth who are intensely involved in church activity (Sunday school, worship, youth group, Bible study) Yet . . . the survey reveals that our youth are living on the moral edge, closer to disaster than we ever imagined. . . . Large proportions of our youth -- a majority of whom say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ -- are involved in inappropriate, immoral, even illegal behavior. . . . The data show that young people from good Christian homes are succumbing to the pressures of our society. By the time they reach the age of 18, over half (55 percent) have engaged in fondling breasts, genitals, and/or sexual intercourse. These results illustrate that even Christian young people from committed Christian homes are adopting the world's view of morality and sexuality.”
The question of course is why?
I mean this is a serious problem.
You may have even asked that question of yourself. You’ve come to church for a long time, you’ve heard the Word of God, you know what the Bible says about this issue, but you are just trapped in sexual sin. For some it may be outward sins, for others it may be more inward. But either way you find yourself wanting just what the non-Christian wants, thinking the way the non-Christian thinks, desiring what the non-Christian desires, and living the way the non-Christian lives when it comes to this whole issue of sexual sin. And you want to know – why.
I think Paul gives us a couple of hints in Colossians 3:5ff.
There are some who claim to be Christians and yet are living in this kind of sin and are in bondage to this kind of sin because quite frankly they have a wrong idea of what it means to be a Christian.
This whole exhortation to deal with sexual immorality, impurity and these evil desires is founded on something. That’s what the therefore at the beginning of the verse is all about. Do this "because," Paul is saying..."because of what God's already done for us in Christ."
“If then you died,” chapter two verse 20 and “if then,” chapter three verse one, “you have been raised with Christ.”
That’s the reason we can and must say no to these types of sins. It’s not because we somehow have super self-control in and of ourselves, it’s not because of how we feel, it’s not because we are really religious and we had a super quiet time, it’s not because we’ve been going to church for a really long time, the reason we can obey Paul’s commands is because of what God has done for us in Christ.
If you are a believer it’s not just that you changed your opinion about Jesus it’s that Jesus changed you.
I think of how John Newton once put it after his conversion, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not even what I hope to be, but by the cross of Christ, I am not what I was.”
If you are a Christian, although you used to be in bondage to this world, that’s not true any longer, you now at this point in time have a new life. A definitive, once for all break has been made. You have been rescued from the power of sin. It no longer has the hold on you that it once had. You no longer live under the lordship of sin. That’s an essential part of what it means to be a true Christian. And any growth in godliness is completely based on that.
We don’t overcome sin because of our natural resources, we can only overcome sin because of what God has done and is doing in us.
The problem is there are people out there who take the name Christian, who go around calling themselves Christians who have never died with Christ and who have never been raised with Christ. They are religious and they maybe even like these false teachers here in Colossae are serious about going through the motions of worship, but they’ve never been transformed. And so it’s not surprising that they are living in sexual immorality and thinking like the world thinks because there has been no decisive break in their lives from the world. They are hypocrites. They may look real but they are in fact fakes. They are Christian in name only.
Sure they are religious, yet their religious activity, verse 23 of chapter two, looks good, sounds good, but is ultimately of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. It’s like they are taking a pit-bull for a walk and using a shoe-string as a leash. That little shoe-string may look a little like a leash, and it may make them feel a little better, but you and I know that little shoe-string is not going to do them any good stopping that pit-bull from doing whatever it wants to do.
I think it was John Owen who said, “Unless a man is a true believer – one who truly belongs to Christ – he can never mortify a single sin.” He’s absolutely right.
If you’ve got a person who is just given over to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness it’s not going to do you much good to just exhort them, exhort them, exhort them to stop – first you’ve got to take a step back and help them think through honestly whether or not the therefore of verse 5 is in place first, because before they can go about dealing with their sin they must first be converted. If they aren’t converted and you are exhorting them to deal with their sin, well, that’s like placing a gun in the hands of a dead man and telling him to protect himself.
But and we’ve got to keep going here because I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, non-Christians aren’t the only ones who fall into these kinds of sins. If a person falls to some of these sins that Paul describes, one explanation is that it may be that he is not a Christian in the first place, but that is not the only explanation that can be biblically given.
The fact that we have died a very real death with Christ to sin once for all in the past, the fact that God has transformed us in such an amazing, remarkable way, does not mean that we have somehow been so delivered from sin that we are not going to struggle with it, and I’m talking struggle with serious sins, while we are still in this world.
I could prove that to you in a whole number of different ways. We could just take a look at some examples in Scripture of true believers who fell into this kind of sin, think King David.
But probably the simplest way to prove this to you would be to look at our text. After all this command here in verse 5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” is given to who? People who are already Christians.
This verse is not about how to become a Christian. This verse is about what we must do as Christians. Which indicates that Paul clearly realizes that Christians are going to face and struggle with these kinds of temptations. In a very real way. This is no imaginary battle. This is war.
You’ve got to hear that.
If you think that you become a Christian and then you are placed in this magic little bubble where you aren’t going to face temptations to do very bad things, then you are living in a fantasy land – and you are in for a rude awakening.
Whatever Paul means when he says that you died with Christ he doesn’t mean that you are not going to have to war against sin. Because here, Paul, the very one who preached that if you are a Christian you died with Christ meaning there’s been this definitive break in your life with sin, in the very next verse, the very next verse talks about how you need to on a daily basis die to sin.
He’s confronting us with a biblical reality.
It’s called the reality of indwelling sin.
To quote John Owen, ‘When God saves us sin loses it’s authority but not its being, it loses its rule but not its life.”
The fact you are a believer doesn’t mean you are not a sinner; which means if you are just kind of sitting back as a believer and not seeking to actively apply the gospel to your every day life, not obeying Paul’s command here, to put these kinds of sin to death, even as a believer you are placing yourself in a very dangerous position where you are likely to fall into these kinds of sins.
When we think about being a Christian in this world we can say, yes, we have died to the world with Christ, yes, we have put off the old nature in Him yet at the same time we are not in heaven yet, we are living in this sinful world in a mortal body and we are exposed to all sorts of temptations, and we’ve got these powerful desires within us that incline us to do the very thing we don’t ultimately want to do and the kinds of things we know that we should not do, which helps us begin to understand why even Christians sometimes fall and brings us really to the punch-line of Colossians 3:5 and 6.
The world’s perspective on sexual sin is very different from God’s. He hates it and he is going to judge it because ultimately it is rooted in idolatry. We as believers are new creatures, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be faced with temptations; temptation to sin in very grievous ways so we need something more than simply knowing that these kinds of sins are wrong, and we need something more than simply knowing why they are wrong, we need to know how to win the battle against these temptations if we are going to live holy lives in this sin-saturated world.
We'll look at what Paul says about just that tomorrow.